Portuguese Verb Tenses - Perfect vs Imperfect

Portuguese Verbs and Conjugations – Perfect vs Imperfect

If you came here thinking that this is some page about how to be perfect vs imperfect, I am sorry to disappoint you, but that is not what this page is about.

Did you know that grammar can also be “perfect” or “imperfect”? Verbs, to be more precise. Yeah, it is true. In Portuguese, we have many many many…wait for it!…many tenses, and the Perfect Preterite (Pretérito Perfeito) and the Imperfect Preterite (Pretérito Imperfeito) are two of them.

#The story behind it

Portuguese Verb Tenses - Perfect vs Imperfect2

Why are these two verb tenses called like this? Well, a simple answer could be that the first one – Perfeito – is considered “perfect” because it indicates a clean-cut action in the past. What does this mean? It means that the action of which we are talking about or writing about (or sending smoke signals about…ok, not that!) happened one time in the past and is perfectly finished and done!

The imperfect tense, however, is a tad more complicated. It normally has more this sense of duration or frequency in the past.

#The examples that hopefully will make things clearer

Action Completed

Let us look at some examples. If we want to say “Yesterday, I ate out”, we would use the Perfect tense “Ontem, comi fora.”, since it was an action that occurred in the past and it was over in the past – a perfect cycle of beginning and end.

Action in the past that happened with a frequency or for a longer period of time

If, on the other hand, we want to say that when we were young we always ate at our grandparents house, we have to use the following sentence “Quando eu era pequena, eu comia sempre em casa da minha avó.” This past action denotes frequency in the past, therefore, we have to use the Imperfect form.

Enquanto – While

In the same way, if we want to say that some action happened, while another one was also happening, we would have to use the imperfect. Like in the sentence “While she was watching TV, he was reading a book” – “Enquanto ela via TV, ele lia um livro”. Note that in these kind of constructions you can also use the Past Continuous form, which is, in this case, built with the Imperfect form – “Enquanto ela estava a ver TV, ele estava a ler“. Both have the same meaning and both are in the Imperfect form because they indicate a duration in the past.

Hours and AgePortuguese Verb Tenses - Perfect vs Imperfect 4

Another thing you have to know if you want to tackle the usage of the Imperfect is the fact that when you speak about time (hours) and age in the past, you always have to use this tense. So, if you want to say “I was thirty when I got engaged” or “It was seven o´clock when I got home”, you will have to use the following form “Eu tinha trinta anos quando fiquei noiva” and “Eram sete horas quando cheguei a casa”. Remember that age is always used with the verb “ter” (to have) and time is always given with the verb “ser” (to be – permanent form).

Querer, Poder, Desejar, Gostar de, Preferir – Polite Requests or Preferences

The imperfect is also used to make polite requests or to ask or state preferences. Verbs like “gostar de”, “querer”, “desejar”, “preferir” and “poder” are normally the verbs used for that end. If you go to a cafe, for example, and you want to ask for a coffee, please do not use the Present Simple, as that would sound kind of rude. Instead, use the Imperfect form and people will think you are polite. So, instead of saying “Quero um café”, you would have to say “Queria um café”. Add a “por favor” at the end and you will be good to go! It is kind of the equivalent to “I would like” in English. You don’t just go inside of a shop and say “I want to see that black skirt” to the lady who works there, do you? You will just say ” I would like to see…”. Get the picture? =)

Querer, Poder, Desejar, Gostar de, Preferir to speak about the past 

Finally, I would like to bring to you something that I just recently found out about the usage of Perfect and Imperfect when telling a story in the past. I already told you that verbs like “querer” and “gostar de” are used to make polite requests, etc. However, they can also be used to tell stories in the past. Now, sometimes I give my students an exercise, which goes something like this:

“Um dia um rapaz _________(levar) o irmão mais novo ao museu dos dinossauros. Eles ________(ver) o T-Rex, o Velociraptor e muitos outros dinossauros. Também _______(querer) ver um filme sobre o tempo jurássico, mas não ________ (poder), porque o projetor ______(estar) avariado.”

(Translation: “One day a boy________(take) his little brother to the dinosaurs museum. They ______(see) the T-Rex, the Velociraptor and many other dinosaurs. They also_______(want) to see a movie about the jurassic time, but they ______(couldn’t), because the projector ________ (be – temporary) broken.)

So, many people have come to me with problems to solve such a puzzle. Which one is it? Perfeito or Imperfeito? That is the question. Could you solve this exercise? Try it and the solution will be at the end.

But before you do, let me tell you one thing. The thing I just recently discovered. When referring to past actions, like in the story above, verbs like “gostar de” and “querer” and “desejar”, basically, verbs that show an intention, a desire, a preference in the past, will be used in the imperfect form if the action did not take place after all and in the perfect form if the action was carried out.

Let me try to make it more clear. In the following sentences:Portuguese Verb Tenses - Perfect vs Imperfect2

“Ontem, eles quiseram ir jantar fora”;

and

“Ontem, eles queriam ir jantar fora”.

Do you know what´s the difference? Okay, the obvious answer is that they are written with the two different tenses – the first with the perfect tense and the second with the imperfect tense. However, what is more relevant is that in terms of meaning, the first one is telling us that they wanted to have dinner out yesterday and that actually happened, while the second sentence is telling us that they wanted to have dinner yesterday, but it was not possible for some reason (although we don’t know which reason in this case).

So, do you think you can solve the puzzle exercise above? Which tense would you choose?

I am almost done explaining this to you…uffff…but before I go, let me tell you how to form the Perfect Tense and the Imperfect Tense. Let´s go?

#Pretérito Perfeito

Regular Verbs

Verbs ending in -ar

Take the radical of the verb (If you don’t know what the radical means, please click here) and add the following endings:

ei

-aste

-ou

-amos

-aram

-aram

 

Example: Verbo Falar (to eat)

Eu falei

Tu falaste

Ele/Ela/Você falou

Nós falamos

Vocês falaram

Eles /Elas falaram

 

Verbs ending in -er

Take the radical and add the following endings:

-i

-este

-eu

-emos

-eram

-eram

 

Example: Verbo Comer (to eat)

Eu comi

Tu comeste

Ele/Ela/Você comeu

Nós comemos

Vocês comeram

Eles /Elas comeram

 

Verbs ending in -ir

Take the radical and add the following endings:

-i

-iste

-iu

-imos

-iram

-iram

 

Example: Verbo Abrir (to open)

Eu abri

Tu abriste

Ele/Ela/Você abriu

Nós abrimos

Vocês abriram

Eles /Elas abriram

 

Some Irregular Verbs

SER IR TER ESTAR
EU fui fui tive estive
TU foste foste tiveste estiveste
ELE/ELA/VOCÊ foi foi teve esteve
NÓS fomos fomos tivemos estivemos
VOCÊS foram foram tiveram estiveram
ELES/ELAS foram foram tiveram estiveram

There are more irregular forms. Please refer to the following book Gramatica Aplicada – Portugues Lingua Estrangeira: Nivels A1/A2/B1 to check it out as it would be too much to put them all here.

 

#Pretérito ImperfeitoPortuguese Verb Tenses - Perfect vs Imperfect

Regular Verbs

Verbs ending in -ar

Take the radical of the verb (If you don’t know what the radical means, please click here) and add the following endings:

ava

-avas

-ava

-ávamos

-avam

-avam

 

Example: Verbo Falar (to eat)

Eu falava

Tu falavas

Ele/Ela/Você falava

Nós falávamos

Vocês falavam

Eles /Elas falavam

 

Verbs ending in -er and -ir

Take the radical and add the following endings:

-ia

-ias

-ia

-íamos

-iam

-iam

 

Example: Verbo Comer (to eat)

Eu comia

Tu comias

Ele/Ela/Você comia

Nós comíamos

Vocês comiam

Eles /Elas comiam

 

Some Irregular Verbs

SER TER VIR PÔR
EU era tinha vinha punha
TU eras tinhas vinhas punhas
ELE/ELA/VOCÊ era tinha vinha punha
NÓS éramos tínhamos vínhamos púnhamos
VOCÊS eram tinham vinham punham
ELES/ELAS eram tinham vinham punham

Ok, folks!

Hope you liked this post and that it could help you solving some of the most puzzling themes in life. Perfect or Imperfect?

And to end with grace, here is the solution for the exercise above:

“Um dia um rapaz ____levou_____(levar) o irmão mais novo ao museu dos dinossauros. Eles ____viram____(ver) o T-Rex, o Velociraptor e muitos outros dinossauros. Também ___queriam____(querer) ver um filme sobre o tempo jurássico, mas não __puderam______ (poder), porque o projetor __estava____(estar) avariado.”

Portuguese Verb Tenses - Perfect vs Imperfect2

So, how were your results? Good, bad? Please do not hesitate to leave a comment to let me know about it or to ask any question you might have.  See you later guys!

Beijinhos,

Mia.

6 Comments to “Portuguese Verbs and Conjugations – Perfect vs Imperfect”

  1. Such a wealth of information – you’re the Verb Guru! Sounds like Portuguese could potentially be a difficult language to learn, but you’ve put it in a simple to understand manner that is easy to follow and engaging. What would you recommend is the BEST way to learn portuguese for a total beginner?

    1. Hi Kegan! 

      Thanks a lot for your comment! I am glad that you found my post engaging and informative. That is exactly my goal when writing a post on any topic.

      About your question, I guess the best way will be any way that fits your personality and way of learning the best. If you want to read more about it, please check my other blog post https://learn-portuguese.org/b

      I am sure it will help you understand what I mean =) If you still have more questions, please feel free to contact me. There are new theories coming to light every day about language learning and I try to keep myself informed. I can tell you, for example, that nowadays it is starting to be trendy to not let pronunciation be the last thing to be learnt. That is starting to be a thing of the past. 

      Hope this helps!

      Mia

  2. Thank you so much for this information. I always find starting to learn languages very hard, especially the past, present tense etc.
    I am learning Spanish in Mexico right now, but your post has inspired me to start learning Portuguese too!
    Thanks for this, I will check in again.
    Keep up the great work.

    1. Hi Tracy, thank you very much for your comment. I am happy that you like my post. I can definitely encourage you to study Portuguese as it is a very rich language and spoken by a lot of people. Your Spanish knowledge will also help you especially in the beginning. Keep coming back to my page as I will provide more and more material for you to get to know European Portuguese 🙂 Let me know if you have any question.

      Beijinhos, Mia.

  3. Well… I don’t think I did too bad and this was certainly fun! Thank you for a great article.

    I’ve always been interested in learning new languages and was thinking Spanish but after doing some research for other languages, I’m happy to have read yours.

    When you mentioned European Portuguese, is there much difference in the language used in other countries?

    I can see you are definitely an authority on the language. Do you have any CDs… something I can listen to and be able to repeat the words?

    1. Hi Monica!

      Thank you so much for your comment. 

      I am glad that you didn’t do so bad, I am sure you even did quite well! I am happy that you enjoyed the article and had fun! That is my goal, to enable my students to learn in a fun way =)

      About the differences between countries. Yes, there are some differences between European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, African Portuguese, etc. If you want you can check some of the differences between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, in my other post https://learn-portuguese.org/b

      Let me know if you liked it 😉

      About the CDs, I still don’t have it as my own material, but there are some you can find in the internet. However, you can also listen to some audios that I have added to my posts. If you go to my post about the numbers, you can check the audios there, for example. I also added some on my post about pronunciation in Portuguese. 

      Here are the links:

      Numbers: https://learn-portuguese.org/n

      Portuguese Pronunciation : https://learn-portuguese.org/b

      Another thing..I am also a teacher on italki, which is a learning platform with a lot of good teachers. You can try a lesson from 8-10 dollars normally, and if you are interested, I have a voucher of 10 dollar to offer, so basically you can just try one lesson for free and if you do not wish to continue, you don’t have to. You can check it:

      https://learn-portuguese.org/l

      Ok, hope that you got enough information for continuing interested in Portuguese. Please come back often as I will soon be adding some videos for learning Portuguese and also more material and posts.

      Thank you again for your nice comment and your interest!

      Have a nice day,

      Mia

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