How to Learn Portuguese Grammar and Stop Fearing the “G-word”
It strikes fear in your heart.
The very idea of approaching it makes you want to hide.
When you accidentally gaze upon it, you recoil in horror.
Yes, we’re talking about grammar. For Portuguese students, learning grammar can be one of the scariest parts of your education.
You can’t close your eyes to it forever: Learning Portuguese grammar is an essential part of becoming fluent (or even conversational).
But while grammar may have a bad rep, it really isn’t that scary at all once you get a good look at it in the light of day.
In fact, if you approach it carefully, learning basic Portuguese grammar can be surprisingly simple. Just follow these six steps to figure out how to learn Portuguese grammar effectively and easily, and you’ll never have to fear it again!
Why Is Grammar So Important?
Grammar provides the underlying structure of the Portuguese language. Languages need a structure to function, so grammar is essential to the Portuguese language.
To construct a strong building, you first need to build a strong foundation. Similarly, to build strong Portuguese language skills, you need the grammar as a base to build on.
Besides, you will need it in order to be understood! That’s because grammar adds meaning to sentences. It’s possible that people will understand what you’re trying to say if you just stick together vocabulary any which way, but it’ll be difficult to get your exact meaning across this way.
For instance, verb tenses can let you know when something happened. If you say “I eat,” do you mean that you’re eating right now? Will you be eating in the future or maybe you had your breakfast already? Are you making a general statement of the fact that you do, indeed, consume food? Who knows!
Even if you knew thousands of words in Portuguese, without grammar, your ability to communicate would be severely limited.
Finally, using correct grammar makes you seem more like a native speaker. One of the big things that separates students from native speakers is the use of proper grammar. Native speakers use grammar quite naturally (like the way you know when a sentence doesn’t “sound” right in your native language), while students may struggle to use it correctly.
Learning Portuguese grammar thoroughly can help you seem more like a native speaker, which can allow you to interact with actual native speakers more smoothly and comfortably.
How to Improve Your Portuguese Grammar
Study grammar rules.
In conventional educational settings, studying grammar rules is the first step in the learning process. Some programs turn this convention on its head and expose you to sentences before you know the rules.
While either approach can work, at some point, it’ll be helpful to study Portuguese grammar rules. Knowing the rules can give you valuable guidance on when and how to apply them.
Memorize models you can use to craft your own sentences.
If you struggle to remember a grammar rule, memorizing models can be one of the best ways to prop yourself up until you can use the rule more naturally.
Models are example sentences that contain the grammar rule you’re targeting. Once you have a model memorized, you can try to parallel that model the next time you need to construct a similar sentence.
For instance, even simple sentences, like “O pássaro é branco” (“The bird is white”) can pack a punch as model sentences. This sentence can help you remember a common article, reinforce word gender and get you acquainted with a very common irregular simple present tense verb.
Expose yourself to authentic Portuguese.
Exposing yourself to authentic Portuguese is a wonderful and enjoyable way to see how grammar rules are used in real-life contexts. The more often you listen to native speech, the more naturally grammar rules will come to you. After all, repetition is key to language learning, and if you never see grammar rules in use, it can be difficult to apply them when you need them.
If you’re looking to expose yourself to authentic content to learn Portuguese grammar online, FluentU is a terrific option.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
But rather than just expecting you to understand everything in context, FluentU offers unique support. That’s because each video comes with interactive subtitles so you can quickly look up any word’s definition, example sentences and an associated image—all without ever leaving the video.
Plus, there are some huge grammar benefits! Word entries also list part of speech and if you look up a verb, the entry will tell you which conjugation it’s using. In addition, you can add unfamiliar words to your vocabulary list to study further later.
Want to change up your study routine? Try a quiz! FluentU’s quizzes fuse videos, images and example sentences into interactive activities and flashcards for an engaging learning experience.
Regardless of your current proficiency level, FluentU can help you work towards your learning goals. FluentU is super flexible: You select what, how and how often you watch. And as you progress, FluentU’s algorithm tracks what you’re learning to present you with level-appropriate questions that build on what you already know.
You can access FluentU wherever is most convenient for you, whether you choose to use FluentU online, download the iOS app or enjoy the Android app. The Portuguese program is currently under development, so stay tuned!
How to Learn Portuguese Grammar in 6 Stress-free Steps
Below, we share the six bare necessities you need to know in order to learn Portuguese grammar. They cover the basics and learning them will give you a strong foundation for future grammar knowledge.
In each section, you’ll also find two resources where you can practice the grammar concept and learn more about it. Use them as jumping-off points for further study!
Learn Portuguese Articles
Articles are words that come in front of nouns to provide greater clarity.
In English, our articles are “a,” “an,” and “the.” While “a” and “an” indicate a non-specific thing, “the” refers to something more specific. For instance, if you say “I have a dog,” it simply means that you have some sort of dog. If you say “I have the dog,” you’re referring to one dog in particular.
In more technical terms, “the” is a definite article, while “a” and “an” are indefinite articles.
Luckily for Portuguese students, Portuguese articles correspond pretty directly to English articles, except they have variations depending on the number and gender of the noun they’re attached to. (We’ll talk a little more about gender in the next section!)
Here are the Portuguese articles you need to know:
- O (the [masculine, singular]): This is used with masculine nouns. For instance, o cachorro means “the dog.”
- A (the [feminine, singular]): This is the feminine form of “the,” so it’s paired with feminine nouns. For instance, a semana means “the week.”
- Os (the [masculine, plural]) This one is both masculine and plural, so you must pair it with a matching noun. For instance, os pássaros means “the birds.”
- As (the [feminine, plural]): Attach this one to feminine plural words. For instance, as pessoas means “the people.”
- Um (a/an [masculine, singular]): Um is the masculine for “a” or “an.” For instance, um gato means “a cat.”
- Uma (a/an [feminine, singular]): Uma is the feminine for “a” or “an.” For instance, uma uva means “a grape.”
- Uns/Alguns (some [masculine, plural]): Both these words mean the same thing, and are used to refer to multiples of a masculine item. For instance, alguns dias means “some days.”
- Umas/Algumas (some [feminine, plural]): Likewise, these are feminine plurals that mean “some.” For instance, algumas mães means “some mothers.”
Rocket Languages offers a guide to articles. Not only can you read more about them, but you can also hear audio to help you get the pronunciation right. And if that’s not enough, you can even record your speaking through the page to compare your pronunciation directly against the example.
If you enjoy using this little guide, you can find many other useful guides, audio resources and activities on Rocket Languages to get you learning and practicing every aspect of the Portuguese language.
Study Portuguese Word Gender
All Portuguese nouns and adjectives have genders: masculine or feminine. When pairing adjectives and articles with nouns, the genders must match.
Luckily, some nouns and adjectives make it simple. Most nouns that end in -a are feminine, while nouns ending in -o are usually masculine. Similarly, feminine adjectives frequently end in -a, and masculine adjectives frequently end in -o. While there are plenty of exceptions to these rules, this is a good guideline for beginning students.
Other words can be masculine or feminine based on who you’re talking about. For instance, words that end in -ente and -ista are gender flexible. For instance, if you’re talking about your dentist, you might say o dentista (the dentist [masculine]) or a dentista (the dentist [feminine]) depending on your dentist’s gender.
UniLang offers a lesson and two exercises to help you get the basics of gender. The exercises ask you to translate both to and from Portuguese, so you’ll also have to learn a little vocabulary along the way.
In addition to emphasizing gender, the lesson also covers articles, so you can reinforce two key grammar rules at once!
Rio & Learn
Rio & Learn offers a very detailed breakdown of different noun endings and how they tie into the word’s gender. If you’re just starting to learn Portuguese, this might seem a little overwhelming. However, it’s a terrific resource once you get a little more comfortable with the language.
You may even want to print it out as a handy reference guide.
At the bottom of the page, there’s also a very helpful exercise that asks you to change the gender in the sentence, which is a good way to get more comfortable with word genders.
Learn to Pluralize Portuguese Words
Pluralizing nouns is how we indicate that there’s more than one of something. Like in English, some Portuguese nouns can be pluralized simply by adding -s at the end. However, other words are more complicated.
Here’s what you need to know about the general guidelines:
- If a word ends in -a, -e, -i, -o or -u, you can usually just add -s to pluralize. For instance, garfo (fork) becomes garfos (forks).
- If a word ends in -al, -el, -ol or -ul, replace the -l with a -is to pluralize. If it ends in -el or -ol, you’ll also need to put an accent over those vowels. For instance, animal (animal) becomes animais (animals).
- If a word ends in -il, cut out the -l and replace it with an -s. For instance, barril (barrel) becomes barris (barrels).
- If a word ends in -em, replace the -m with an -ns to pluralize. For instance, homem (man) becomes homens (men).
- If a word ends in -r, -s or -z, add -es to pluralize. For instance, luz (light) becomes luzes (lights).
- If a word ends in -ão, just sit down and have a good cry. To pluralize these words, you may need to change the ending to -ões, -ães or -ãos, and the only way to know which is right is to memorize them.
For instance, avião (airplane) becomes aviões (airplanes), pão (bread) becomes pães (breads) and mão (hand) becomes mãos (hands).
Additionally, once you’ve pluralized nouns, you’ll also need to pluralize any adjectives you use to match those nouns. Adjectives follow the same basic pluralization rules as nouns. For instance, azul (blue) becomes azuis when plural.
Can’t resist a good challenge? This Quia quiz can put your pluralization skills to the test.
You can play with one player or two, so you might want to grab any friends who are studying Portuguese to get them in on the fun.
The setup is a lot like Jeopardy. Pick a category and you’ll be presented with a word to pluralize. Get it right and you’ll score points!
Portuguese Nouns and Their Plurals Checklist
This website offers a comprehensive guide to pluralizing nouns. Plus, there are tons of examples to show you how different word endings can affect the way a noun is pluralized.
Master Portuguese Word Order
Like English, Portuguese uses a subject-verb-object (SVO) structure. The main difference in word order between English and Portuguese is simply that adjectives traditionally appear after the noun in Portuguese. Here’s how a similar sentence compares in English and Portuguese:
A criança feliz gosta de seus presentes.
The happy child enjoys his presents.
Literal translation: The child happy enjoys his presents.
That being said, there are always exceptions to the rule, so you can definitely find instances where native speakers put the adjective first.
Mal/má (bad), grande (big) and bom/boa (good) are the most common adjectives you may see in front of nouns, and their placement there can even change the meaning of the sentence. When placed before the noun, grande often means “great” but when placed after the noun, it’s more likely to mean “big.”
Similarly, the placement of bom/boa can dramatically change a sentence’s meaning. For instance, “ela é uma mulher boa” will be perceived as “she’s a good woman.” However, “ela é uma boa mulher” might be understood as “she’s a hot woman.”
Learn Portuguese with Rafa
Looking for a detailed guide on multiple types of sentences? Learn Portuguese with Rafa is hard to beat! The site offers plenty of examples you can use as models to construct similar sentences of your own.
Duolingo is a popular free learning app. It’s particularly good for studying Portuguese word order because some of the activities have you select words to form sentences, so you must select them in the correct order.
However, one drawback is that you cannot choose to use only sentence-forming activities, so you’ll have to go through other Portuguese learning activities to get to them.
Know Your Portuguese Pronouns
Pronouns are words that replace nouns. You definitely know plenty in English already:
I, me, my, mine, myself, you, your, yours, yourself, we, us, our, ours, ourselves, he, his, him, himself, she, her, hers, herself, they, their, theirs, themselves, it, its, itself.
There are tons of similar pronouns in Portuguese, too, so you’ll have plenty to learn! Thankfully, they mostly correspond directly to their English counterparts.
Here are a few of the most common pronouns you’ll encounter in Portuguese:
Nós/A gente (We)
Vocês (You [plural])
There are other forms of these pronouns (like “me, my, mine” in English) so make sure to devote some time to studying them.
The Language Island
The Language Island offers a comprehensive guide to different types of pronouns, so you can learn all the equivalents of the English pronouns you already use.
Since there are so many pronouns, beginners might want to focus on the basics until they get more comfortable—we recommend studying one type of pronoun at a time.
Study Verb Tenses
Verb tenses can indicate mood, whether something is ongoing and when something happened. Because they can pack so much information, learning to conjugate verbs is super useful.
If you’re just starting out, try to focus on simple present tense first. That way, even if you aren’t being 100% grammatically correct, you can still get your point across!
Portuguese verbs end in -ar, -er or -ir. How you conjugate them depends on the ending. Let’s look at one set of simple present tense conjugations for each type of verb ending:
-ar: falar (To speak)
-er: dever (to owe; used like “should”)
-ir: existir (to exist)
Once you’ve learned simple present tense, you might move on to simple past, then simple future. There are more verb tenses than that, but try to limit your focus at first. You’ll want to really nail down basic verb tenses before you move on to some of the more complex constructions.
In all tenses, there are also some irregular verbs. You’ll need to memorize these tricky buggers in order to get them right. You can view some of the most common irregular verbs at ielanguages.com.
Conjuguemos (Let’s Conjugate) offers activities to help you practice 12 different types of Portuguese verb conjugation.
Once you select your tense, you’ll see several different options. You might use graded practice, flashcards or games to reinforce your conjugation skills. All of the options are super useful, so choose whichever activity you like the most or switch between them to see verb tenses in different contexts.
ListeningPractice.org offers an awesome tool for verb conjugation practice that you’ll want to bookmark right away.
The tool is so flexible, you might find yourself going back to it for years to come. That’s because it’s so customizable! You can choose to limit verbs by frequency or even enter in your own verb list. You can also select which tense or tenses you want to practice and which number/person you want to focus on. All this means you can make your practice as broad or narrow as you want.
Once you’ve chosen your settings, you’ll just fill in blanks to conjugate verbs. After you’ve entered in the conjugation, you can even scroll to the bottom of the page to find a convenient link that shows you all the conjugations of that verb.
Don’t let your fear of Portuguese grammar stunt the growth of your skills—just follow our steps to start learning Portuguese grammar and you’ll learn all the basics you need to put together sentences without fear.