Get Portuguese tips and tutoring deals!

Portuguese Verb Conjugation: An Introduction to the Rules


Portuguese verb conjugation is very complex. Portuguese has a more complicated system of moods and tenses than almost any other Romance language, and the system of pronouns can also be difficult for English speakers. The biggest problem is the sheer number of conjugations there are to learn—a single verb can vary in dozens of different ways depending on the tense, mood, and pronoun. To guide you through this minefield, you’ll need to work with an expert tutor.


Verb Suffixes

Portuguese verb conjugation has a deceptively simple-looking starting point. There are just three two-letter suffixes for all verbs in the Portuguese language: -ir, -ar, and -er (this rule applies to the infinitive form of the verb; conjugated forms use a wide variety of suffixes, as we will see). The suffix of the infinitive form determines the suffix for all the conjugated forms: verbs ending in -ir all conjugate the same way, as do those ending in -ar and -er.


The first thing we do when we are trying to conjugate a verb in Portuguese, therefore, is to look at the suffix of the infinitive form. For instance, amar (to love) and cantar (to sing) both end with the suffix -ar; hence, the conjugated forms for the first person singular simple past tense, for example, will both take the same suffix. In this case, it’s eu amei (I loved) and eu cantei (I sang). We simply remove the infinitive suffix and replace it with the first person singular simple past suffix.


Tenses, Moods, and Pronouns

After knowing which suffix the infinitive form has, the next step of Portuguese verb conjugation is to know what tense, mood, and pronoun we are conjugating for. This is where things start to get complicated, because Portuguese has a wide range of tenses and moods, and a system of personal pronouns that is somewhat different from English. For the sake of simplicity, in this post we’ll stick to the six basic tenses of the indicative mood:


Present

Simple past

Past imperfect

Pluperfect

Simple future

Conditional


Whichever tense we are conjugating into, we also need to know which pronoun we are conjugating for. There are six different pronoun categories to be aware of, some of which contain more than one pronoun:


First person singular: Eu (I)

Second person singular: Tu (you)

Third person singular: Ele, ela (he/she/it); você (you)

First person plural: Nós (we)

Second person plural: Vós (you; plural or formal, antiquated)

Third person plural: Eles, elas (they); vocês (you, plural)


(Você and vocês are irregular second-person pronouns that evolved from third-person forms of address, which is why they are in the third-person category rather than the second.)


So, for each of the six basic indicative tenses, there are a total of six pronoun categories, which makes 36 different potential ways of conjugating a single verb for the indicative mood. Furthermore, there are three different types of verb suffix—so that’s 108 different suffixes to learn! In practice, it’s less: sometimes the suffix is the same for two or more different categories, and in most cases you won’t need to learn the conjugations for the pronoun vós, which is semi-obsolete. If you’re learning Brazilian Portuguese, you may also be able to get by without tu, which is not used in many parts of Brazil.


However, there’s still a lot to learn when it comes to Portuguese verb conjugation, particularly for a native English speaker unused to Romance languages and verb tables—and this is just for the indicative mood! If you want to master your verbs, it’s essential to work with a tutor.


Conjugation List

Below is a brief guide to conjugating for the six basic indicative tenses. For each tense and pronoun, the sequence is -ir, -er, -ar; that is, the first suffix shown is the conjugation for all regular -ir verbs, the second is for all -er verbs, and the third is for all -ar verbs.


Present

Eu: -o, -o, -o

Tu: -es, -es, -as

Ele, ela: -e, -e, -a

Nós: -imos, -emos, -amos

Vós: -is, -eis, -ais

Eles, elas, vocês: -em, -em, -am


Simple past

Eu: -i, -i, -ei

Tu: -iste, -este, -aste

Ele, ela: -iu, -eu, -ou

Nós: -imos, -emos, -amos

Vós: -istes, -estes, -astes

Eles, elas, vocês: -iram, -eram, -aram


Past imperfect

Eu: -ia, -ia, -ava

Tu: -ias, -ias, -avas

Ele, ela: -ia, -ia, -ava

Nós: -íamos, -íamos, -ávamos

Vós: -íeis, -íeis, áveis

Eles, elas, vocês: -iam, -iam, -avam


Pluperfect

Eu: -ira, -era, -ara

Tu: -iras, -eras, -aras

Ele, ela: -ira, -era, -ara

Nós: -íramos, -êramos, -áramos

Vós: -íreis, -êreis, -áreis

Eles, elas, vocês: -iram, -eram, -aram


Simple future

Eu: -irei, -erei, -arei

Tu: -irás, -erás, arás

Ele, ela: -irá, -erá, -ará

Nós: -iremos, -eremos, -aremos

Vós: -ireis, -ereis, -areis

Eles, elas, vocês: -irão, -erão, -arão


Conditional

Eu: -iria, -eria, -aria

Tu: -irias, -erias, -arias

Ele, ela: -iria, -eria, -aria

Nós: -iríamos, -eríamos, -aríamos

Vós: -iríeis, -eríeis, -aríeis

Eles, elas, vocês: -iriam, -eriam, -ariam


Irregular Verbs

Unfortunately, for many of the most common verbs in the Portuguese language, you won’t always be able to follow the verb conjugation guide above, because they are irregular. This means they have a number of non-standard conjugations that don’t fit the rules. For example, the first person singular present conjugation of the verb estar (to be) is not esto, but estou. For these words, there’s no alternative but to learn the individual conjugated forms.


Master Portuguese Verb Conjugation

As you can see, this is a very complex subject. In many ways, Portuguese verb conjugation is the heart of the grammar—if you can get the hang of it, it’ll take you a long way toward learning the whole language. To take the first step, book a lesson today; our tutors are waiting to hear from you.

Get Portuguese tips and tutoring deals!