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Common Irregular Verbs in Portuguese

By Edited Aug 25, 2015 1 0
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Credit: mjpyro

Learning Portuguese can be a challenge for native English speakers because it is very verb centric with lots of conjugations. While there are some rules you can apply to normal verbs, there are some verbs that are considered irregular.

Irregular verbs follow no pattern and have no rhyme or reason to the way they are conjugated. In fact for some like the verb for ‘to go’, you cannot even recognize the infinitive form once you conjugate it for all of the pronouns.

So since there are no rules to follow for each irregular verb, let’s jump into conjugating one of the most commonly used irregular verbs because you are definitely going to need to know this one.

Present, Past and Future Tense of Ser - to be

This is one of the most used verbs in the Portuguese language. You may already be thinking, how would I ever use that in a sentence? True, you would not say ‘I be’, ‘you be’, so instead think of it as ‘I am’ ‘you are’ or ‘it is’.

  • eu (I) sou
  • você (You) é
  • ele/ela (he/she) é
  • nós, (we)  somos
  • eles/elas (they) são

You can see that it looks nothing like the infinitive form of the verb, so you just have to memorize this.

However, to make things more complicated, there are actually two forms of the verb ‘to be’.

Why? I don’t know.

Why do they have to refer to everything as masculine and feminine too?

I don’t know those answers but for this discussion you need to understand that the verb ser in Portuguese refers to things that are of a permanent nature; things that would never change, or would not change overnight.

For instance, I could say “eu sou Americano”, which means “I am American”. Well, that is not a

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temporary form of being so you use the verb ser.

For things that are of a temporary nature like the weather, you would use a different form of the verb ‘to be’, which we will talk about next.

Past Tense

How does the past tense of ‘ser’ look?

  • eu (I) fui
  • você (You) foi
  • ele/ela (he/she) foi
  • nós, (we)  fomos
  • eles/elas (they) foram

You can see that it looks nothing like the infinitive form of the verb, nor does it resemble the present form, so you just have to memorize the past tense forms of the verb ser.

Again, remember, there are two forms of the verb ‘to be’. Ser refers to things that are of a permanent nature; things that would never change, or would not change overnight.

For things that are of a temporary nature like the weather, you would use a different form of the verb ‘to be’, which we will talk about next.

Future Tense

How does the future tense look?

 
  • eu (I) serei
  • você (You) será
  • ele/ela (he/she) será
  • nós, (we)  seremos
  • eles/elas (they) serão

The future form of ‘ser’ actually looks like the future for of one of our ‘er’ verbs from previous lessons. Again, remember, there are two forms of the verb ‘to be’. Ser refers to things that are permanent in nature; things that would never change, or would not change overnight. For instance, "Eu sou Americano", or "I am American". That is not of a temporary nature, so the conjugated form of ‘ser’ is appropriate.

Conjugating the Portuguese Verb Ser

Present, Past and Future Tense of Estar - to be

You would use this form of ‘to be’ for instances when you are referring to things of a temporary nature such as “it is cold”. Obviously that temperature is not going to last forever.

This irregular verb is a little easier to memorize because the conjugation still contains some part of the infinitive form of the verb.

  • eu (I) estou
  • você (You) está
  • ele/ela (he/she) está
  • nós, (we)  estamos
  • eles/elas (they) estão

An example of using this form of the verb ‘to be’ would be “está frio” which again means “it is cold”.  Or when you say you are hungry, you obviously are not always hungry, so you would say “eu estou com fome” which literally means “I am with hunger”. Yes, they say they are “with” hunger, fear, etc.

This irregular verb is a little easier to memorize because the conjugation still contains some part of the infinitive. Well, sort of. Relative to ser, it does have some clues, but you are still going to have to store this in long term memory.

  • eu (I) estive
  • você (You) esteve
  • ele/ela (he/she) esteve
  • nós, (we)  estivemos
  • eles/elas (they) estiveram

Future Tense

  • eu (I) estarei
  • você (You) estará
  • ele/ela (he/she) estará
  • nós, (we)  estaremos
  • eles/elas (they) estarão

The future tense of ‘estar’ is much easier to remember because you are simply adding endings to the infinitive form. Those endings happen to be the same endings as the future tense of ‘er’ verbs, so you already know this part.

There is one final commonly used irregular verb I want to talk about in this lesson.

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Present, Past and Future Tense of Ir - to go

This is one of the most important verbs in the language so you need to focus on memorizing at least the present tense of the verb. Like the verb ser, the conjugated form of ir looks nothing like the infinitive form.

  • eu (I) vou
  • você (You) vai
  • ele/ela (he/she) vai
  • nós, (we)  vamos
  • eles/elas (they) vão

I cannot stress how important it is for you to memorize the present tense of this  verb because it is used all the time.

Past Tense

The past tense of the verb ir is exactly like the verb ser. How can that be? Well, with ir, you are saying “I went” for the past tense. With the verb ser, the past tense of “I am” would be “I was”, and that is said the same way as “I went” in Portuguese. Seems strange, I know, but just go with it. But context is key to understanding it in spoken language.

So if that is not exactly clear, just take a breath and understand that you only have to memorize one method for these two particular verbs in the past tense.

  • eu (I) fui
  • você (You) foi
  • ele/ela (he/she) foi
  • nós, (we)  fomos
  • eles/elas (they) foram

Future Tense

The future form of this verb is simply adding the same ending that you added for the future tense of the verb ‘estar’, which is also the future tense of all other ‘er’ verbs.

  • eu (I) irei
  • você (You) irá
  • ele/ela (he/she) irá
  • nós, (we)  iremos
  • eles/elas (they) irão

There is another way to express the future tense of any verb by using the conjugated form of “ir” followed by the infinitive of that verb you want to express in future terms.

What am I talking about? Let me give you an example. Let’s use our 'er' verb example ‘comer’ or ‘to eat’ and express that in the future tense by conjugating 'ir' rather than using the method I showed you in Part III.

  • eu (I) vou comer
  • você (You) vai comer
  • ele/ela (he/she) vai comer
  • nós, (we)  vamos comer
  • eles/elas (they) vão comer

You are saying “I am going to eat” etc. It is the same thing as saying “eu comerei”.

I tend to use the 'ir' future tense method more often than not simply because it is less for me to try to remember. There are hundreds and hundreds of verbs in Portuguese (just like English) so I look for as many short cuts as I can find.

For instance, "eu vou ser" or "I will be". There is only one verb that you should not use with this method: "ir".

After all, it seems a little odd to say "Eu vou ir", vou being the conjugated form of 'ir'.  Technically it is not incorrect though, but nevertheless, this is one that you might want to go ahead and memorize the ending.

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Summary

Brazilian Portuguese Rosetta
Credit: mjpyro

There are 14 other types of verb tenses that are used in spoken and written form such as “I may go” or “I might have gone”, but that is beyond the scope of this lesson. There are entire books written on this subject.

While Portuguese may seem complicated at first, it really is no different than trying to learn English. English has these types of verb tenses also, we just never think about them in that way. While we do not always change the verb in the present tense based on the pronouns, we do have past tense forms that do affect the verbs.

But with Portuguese, it is like the process is on steroids, and that is why many people new to the language can become frustrated and give up. I have said in previous lessons, focus on learning as many verbs as you can in the present tense, then expand on those verbs in the past and future tense. Do not worry about the other various conjugations. Those main three types, present, past and future, will get you through any conversation you need to have.

However, I learned early on that if you just get the present, past and future tenses right for your main verbs, a normal Brazilian speaker will understand what you are saying. It may not be absolutely grammatically correct, but they will understand you, so relax. A lot of these rules will eventually become second nature to you. Do not give up.

But if you are serious about learning Portuguese, you should start out with some CDs or mp3 programs and listen and read Portuguese learning books. I started out with the Pimsleurs series and have seven or eight different Portuguese learning books in my home, but the Rosetta series is also very good. 

Stick with it and with time, it will become clearer.

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