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Portuguese Sentence Structure: What You Need to Know


Sentence structure is a central part of the grammar of any language; native speakers do it instinctively. If you don’t have a firm grasp on how to structure a sentence in the Portuguese language, then you’ll find yourself hesitating every time you need to express a thought, which makes it challenging to hold a conversation. As with most aspects of language learning, the key to getting the hang of it is practice. If you practice with a Portuguese language tutor on a regular basis, you’ll find that structuring a sentence becomes an automatic process, making you a more confident conversationalist.


The way sentences are structured in the Portuguese language is not all that different from English. There are, however, some important differences that can trip you up. In this post, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between English and Portuguese sentence structure.


Similarities


Subject-verb-object

English and Portuguese are both SVO languages: in any sentence with a subject, object and a verb, the subject precedes the object, with the verb occurring in between. This is in contrast to SOV languages such as German or Italian, where the verb occurs after the subject and object.


Statements

Because both English and Portuguese are SVO languages, sentences which are direct statements tend to follow the same word order. In the translation of “he drives a car,” for example, the Portuguese language words are in the exact same order as their English counterparts: ele dirige um carro.


Differences


Direct questions

Direct questions look quite similar in English and Portuguese because they both follow the SVO structure. However, in English, an auxiliary verb is usually required. So, when translating “what do you want to eat?” into Portuguese, we drop the word “do,” and the sentence becomes o que você quer comer?


Indirect questions

An indirect question is a question that would become a statement if the question mark were removed. These are quite common in Portuguese, but are usually not expressed indirectly in English, with a verb being added at the beginning of the sentence.


For example, the Portuguese language statement ela tem uma caneta (she has a pen) becomes a question simply by adding an interrogation, as in ela tem uma caneta? To translate the latter into English, we add a verb at the start of the sentence, and the tense also changes: “does she have a pen?” For this reason, in Portuguese it can be important to pay attention to a person’s intonation to determine whether they’re making a statement or asking a question.


Negative statements

In Portuguese, in a negative sentence, the negative always precedes the verb. This is sometimes the case in English too, but not always: for instance, “is not” has the negative after the verb, and becomes não é in Portuguese, with the negative first.


Descriptive sentences

Adjective placement is a major structural difference between Portuguese and English. In English, adjectives precede nouns, whereas in Portuguese they usually follow them. So, for instance, “the red car” becomes o carro vermelho in Portuguese (there are exceptions to this rule).


What Next?


Learning sentence structure is an essential part of the process of learning the Portuguese language. You can memorize any amount of vocabulary, but without a framework with which to structure it, you’ll struggle with both speaking and writing Portuguese. The easiest way of picking up how to structure a sentence in Portuguese is to practice it with an expert. Once you’ve mastered sentence structure, you’ll find that speaking and writing Portuguese becomes a much more rewarding experience.

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