While learning vocabulary and pronunciation is essential to learning any language, becoming familiar with the rules of grammar will help you learn to speak the language. It may seem daunting at first, but learning Portuguese grammar need not be difficult! There are, of course, exceptions to the rules in every language, but if you understand the basics of Portuguese grammar, you will develop a good foundation for becoming fluent in the language, and be able to pick up the intricacies later.
Learning basic rules of Portuguese grammar will make it easier to form sentences and start speaking the language! Let’s get started!
Word Order and Sentence Structure
Follow these basic rules to learn how to put words together in order in order to build sentences to express your thoughts and emotions in Portuguese!
The Portuguese word order is similar to English in that it is Subject, Verb, Object.
How you put the words together following this basic rule will depend on the type of statement you are making.
Following are five types of statements to pay attention to when learning Portuguese grammar and sentence structure:
- Indirect questions.
- Direct questions.
- Negative statements or sentences.
- Sentences that include descriptions (or, that contain an adjective or adjectives).
Don’t be intimidated! We will focus on one type of statement at a time. With a little practice, you will be able to form your thoughts in Portuguese in no time.
Let’s break down each sentence type using examples both in Portuguese and in English. Examples make it easier to remember the rules of Portuguese grammar by putting them in a context that is helpful and easy to apply.
If your sentence is a statement, you are typically expressing a fact or event.
The word order is Subject, Verb, Object.
Let’s take a look at these examples:
Subject Verb Object Prep. Phrase
Portuguese Nós lemos um livro na praia.
English We read a book at the beach.
Portuguese Ele tem uma casa no Rio de Janeiro.
English He has a house in Rio de Janeiro.
Portuguese Eu comer salmão para o almoço.
English I eat salmon for lunch.
As you can see, you can easily start to learn to tell a story by stringing Portuguese words into sentences using the correct word order, which is similar to English grammar.
If you want to ask a direct question in Portuguese – in other words, a sentence with a question mark at the end – the Portuguese word order is exactly the same as when you make a statement. All you have to do is to raise the intonation at the end to make it sound like a question.
It is important to note that while in English, you need to use a verb at the beginning of the sentence when you ask a question, it is not necessary to do so in Portuguese.
So, when you are transferring your thoughts from English to Portuguese, try to imagine that you could ask questions in English, but without the words “do”, or “are” or “will”, etc. at the beginning of a question.
For example, in English you would say “Are you (gentlemen) going to schedule a meeting for tomorrow?” In Portuguese, you would say “Os senhores vão marcar a reunião para amanhã?”. You start your question with the verb right away, and, to reiterate, inflect at the end of the sentence to make the statement a question.
Let’s look at the statements above as examples of questions here:
Subject Verb Object Prep. Phrase
Portuguese Nós lemos um livro na praia?
English Do we read a book at the beach?
Portuguese Ele tem uma casa no Rio de Janeiro?
English Does he have a house in Rio de Janeiro?
Portuguese Eu comer salmão para o almoço?
English Do I eat salmon for lunch?
As you can see, the sentence is the same in Portuguese, whereas in English, we add a verb at the beginning of the sentence to turn the statement into an indirect question. Just don’t forget to raise the intonation at the end to make it sound like a question when you are speaking.
If you want to ask a direct question in Portuguese – or, express a statement that contains a question word in the beginning and a question mark at the end – all you need is to use a question word in the beginning of the statement, and follow it with a statement. Question words are words such as what, where, who, etc.
Does that seem confusing? Let’s look at the same sentences we have been using as examples, but let’s turn them into direct questions. Take a look:
Subject Verb Object
Portuguese Onde Nós lemos o livro?
English Where do we read the book?
Portuguese Por que Ele tem uma casa?
English Why does he have a house?
Portuguese Como faço para comer salmão?
English How do I eat salmon?
The sentence structure basically remains the same, except you add a question word before the statement, and make sure to raise the intonation at the end of the sentence when speaking. That part is the same!
Now, if your statement is a negative…
Negative statements or sentences
If the sentence you want to express is a negative statement, as in a statement where you disagree with or deny something, such as, “I do not like salmon” – “Eu não gosto de salmão” – you must place the negative word before the verb for the correct word order as per the rules of Portuguese grammar.
Negative words in Portuguese are typically não (no, don’t), nunca (never), nem (nor).
The word order for negative statements remains the same: Subject, Verb, Object. You are just inserting the word before the verb to indicate the statement is a negative.
Let’s look at the following examples:
Subject Verb Object/Prep. Phrase
Portuguese Não estamos lendo o livro.
English We are not reading the book.
Portuguese Nós não vamos para a praia.
English We are not going to the beach.
Portuguese Eu não estou comendo salmão.
English I am not eating salmon.
Pretty straight forward, yes? Incorporating language learning methods can also help make learning Portuguese grammar easier.
Now, for the final step in building sentences in Portuguese, let’s look at how we express a descriptive sentence – or a statement with an adjective.
Sentences That Contain Descriptions
There is a difference in the word order of sentences between English and Portuguese when including an adjective (or adjectives) in a statemtent: In Portuguese, the descriptive word (or adjective) must be placed after the noun at all times.
In English, the adjective is typically placed before the noun, as in “She has a red car.”
In Portuguese, the same statement would read, “Ela tem um carro vermelho.”
Let’s take a look at examples using more than one adjective in a sentence:
Subject + Adjective 1 Verb Adjective 2
Portuguese A casa vermelha é grande.
English The red house is large.
Portuguese O pequeno cão está feliz.
English The small dog is happy.
Portuguese A garota alta é bonita.
The tall girl The tall girl is beautiful.
Practice, practice, practice!
Now that you understand the basics of Portuguese grammar and word order, you can practice writing and speaking each of the five different types of sentences covered.
Review the steps to make sure you are using the correct word order, write sentences, and speak them aloud. The more you practice, the easier forming your thoughts in Portuguese will become.