Verbs are probably the most difficult part of speech to learn in the Portuguese language. If you want to learn Portuguese, practicing verb conjugations is going to take up a lot of your time: not only are they an essential component of Portuguese grammar, they are also extremely complex, especially when compared with English. A typical English verb might only have five different conjugated spellings, and even with a relatively complex verb like “to be,” it’s still fewer than ten. A Portuguese verb, however, can conjugate with over 50 distinct suffixes–even more than other Romance languages such as Italian and French. To help you through this minefield, you can work with an expert tutor to learn Portuguese verbs the easiest way.
To complicate matters further, the grammar of verb conjugation is different between European and Brazilian Portuguese. This isn’t surprising considering the complexity of the subject and the length of time for which the languages have been evolving separately, but it doesn’t make life any easier! For example, when describing a continuing action, European Portuguese uses the infinitive form of the verb, whereas Brazilian uses the gerund–so “I am reading” would be estou lendo in Brazilian, and estou a ler in European Portuguese. It’s important, then, that when you start to learn Portuguese, you decide which type you’re learning early on, to avoid confusion.
There’s no way to cover all of this highly complex subject in a short blog post. Instead, we’ll take a look at one verb: querer (to want), and some of the many different ways it can be conjugated.
Querer (To Want): Infinitive Form
The infinitive form is what you might call the “default” form of any Portuguese verb. It’s the one you’ll find in the dictionary or at the top of the verb table. The infinitive form of a Portuguese verb always ends with an “r.” In speech, it’s used in a similar way to the infinitive form in English, as a nominal expression of an action or state at an unspecified time, as in é bom querer aprender português (it’s good to want to learn Portuguese).
Portuguese verbs are conjugated from the infinitive form in two basic ways: by pronoun, and by tense. We’ll take a very brief look at how this works below.
The suffix to a Portuguese verb varies according to the pronoun it’s attached to. This happens in English, too, although in a simpler way: for instance, in English, the present simple tense for “to want” has two different pronoun conjugations, “want” and “wants.” In Portuguese, there are seven:
Eu quero: I want
Tu queres: You want
Ele/ela quer: He/she/it wants
Nós queremos: We want
Vós quereis*: Ye want (you, plural or singular; not commonly used)
Eles querem: They want.
*Vós is an interesting word, most commonly encountered in prayers, in certain translations of the Bible, or in classical literature. It's used quite rarely–you're unlikely to encounter it in everyday speech in Portugal or Brazil. It can be used as a second-person plural prepositional pronoun but can also be used to address powerful individuals or deities.
At this point you might be thinking: where’s você? The answer is that você is not usually included on verb tables, but it always has the same conjugation as ele or ela. So, “you want to learn Portuguese” translates as either você quer aprender português or tu queres aprender português, depending on context.
Verb suffixes also differ depending on tense. In Portuguese, there are a wide variety of different grammatical tenses and moods. To list and explain all of them would be much too complex and long-winded, so here we’ll just show six different ways of conjugating the verb querer by tense, sticking with the pronoun eu for simplicity.
Eu quero: I want
Eu queria: I wanted
Eu quisera: I would want
Se eu quisesse: If I wanted
Que eu queira: That I want
Quando eu quiser: When I want
For each of these tenses, there are also six or seven different pronoun conjugations for the verb querer, so that’s already about forty different verb suffixes, and we haven’t even covered or explained all the different tenses. So, just for one verb, there’s a whole lot to remember.
Don’t Give Up!
All that complexity is quite intimidating, and you might even be having second thoughts about whether to learn Portuguese. However, it’s not quite as difficult as it may seem. Firstly, the verb suffixes tend to follow a pattern–it’s not totally different for each verb. Learning the querer conjugations will help you learn the conjugations for gostar (to like), and so on. Secondly, although each verb has over forty conjugations, in practice many fewer than that are generally used in everyday speech, so you only really need to learn those. If you practice with a tutor on a regular basis, you’ll be able to learn Portuguese verbs faster than you might think.