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Portuguese : Verb Tense Usage

The Portuguese verb is initially difficult to handle for English speakers because it leans toward inflection rather than compound constructions (compare virei to I shall come).

Inflections are the dozens of specific endings you see in the table of Regular Verb Endings (although there you see that Portuguese also has a number of compound tenses). On the other hand, regular verbs in English only inflect in the present indicative -s (he/she/it talks), past tense/past participle -ed (talked), and present participle/gerund -ing (talking). That's quite a contrast!

The most troublesome verb forms tend to be the preterite and imperfect tenses in the indicative, and the subjunctive mood, either because of the high numbers of irregular verbs (especially the preterite) or because there is simply no strong parallel in English (notably the imperfect indicative and the imperfect, present, and future subjunctive).

Remember that the inflected indicative is unique to Portuguese, and must be used carefully. Lastly, and perhaps the most basic rule of Portuguese verbs in the context of a sentence, remember that Portuguese verbs rarely take a pronoun as their subject except for clarification or emphasis (falo I speak; eu falo I speak, I do speak).

For a more detailed look at Portuguese verbs, please see the site's Quick Grammar reference guide.

Tense or Form Definition of Usage Portuguese and English Examples
Infinitive The most basic verb form that either complements a conjugated verb or stands alone to reflect no subject in particular. fazer = to do
Inflected (or Personal) Infinitive No exact English equivalent. It mainly serves one of three purposes: 1) to shade the verb as a polite indicator (ex.: não fumar no smoking rather than não fuma don't smoke), 2) to show that the infinitive is tied to a subject (pede para fazermos o favor he asks us to do the favor), 3) to replace any tense or mood with an infinitive (pede para fazermos o favor he asks us to do the favor rather than pede que façamos o favor he asks that we do the favor). eu fazer = I do, I might do, (that) I do
Present Indicative Denotes an action taking place in the present time frame. faço = I do, I am doing
Present Subjunctive The verb in the present attributed to an action that is desired, suggested, needed, expected, or gives a vague description of something or someone that may exist or happen. (...que) faça = (...that) I [might] do
Present Imperative Commands that something be done. faz = do!
Past Historic or Preterit Denotes a one-time action that occured in the past. fiz = I did
Imperfect Indicative Denotes a habitual action, consistent circumstance, or surrounding factors in the past (fazia frio por isso fechei a janela It was getting cold, so I closed the window). fazia = I used to do, I was doing
Imperfect Subjunctive Often coupled with se if and the conditional tense, it expresses a past action that could or might have happened. (se) fizesse = (if) I did, had done
Pluperfect Indicative A tense that is now considered archaic or literary, the pluperfect remains limited in use and the complex imperfect indicative of ter + past participle is preferred. fizera = I have done
Future Indicative Expresses future actions that shall, will, or should happen (with only a limited possibility of expressing some caution or uncertainty, e.g. farei amanhã I will/should get [it] done tomorrow versus vou fazer I am going to do [it]). farei = I will do, shall do
Simple Future Shades an action with the quality of being done in the near future or even started in the present; its English parallel is to be going to. vou fazer = I am going to do
Conditional Expresses a completely uncertain action in the present or future. The exact English equivalent is the word would. faria = I would do
Future Subjunctive Denotes an expected future action that is not certain to take place. It is usually expressed in English with the present indicative (When I [might] arrive in Paris... = Quando chegar a Paris...). Note that this tense is mainly confined to certain expressions, particularly quando when and se if when referring to uncertain future events. fizer = I might do, I will do
Present Perfect Consists of ter (in the present) + past participle and denotes an action taking place prior to an event in the present. tenho feito = I have done
Pluperfect Indicative (compound) ter + past participle, but used with ter to have in the imperfect. It expresses an action that has been done before another event in the past. tinha feito = I had done
Future Perfect Ter + past participle; this time with ter in the future indicative tense. This expresses an action prior to an event in the future. terei feito = I will have done
Present Participle or Gerund Expresses present action. When preceded by estar to be, it acts as an invariable part of the compound present progressive (action taking place at the exact time of the speaker's words). fazendo = doing; estou fazendo = I am doing
Past Participle Expresses past action; otherwise it serves as a noun or adjective. feito = done

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