Posted in English

Grammar Smackdown

In a very occasional series entitled “disagreeing with my Portuguese teacher”, here’s a more complicated example of tortuous grammar from the book I’ve just finished that underscores the reason I have to keep struggling with the word “se”.


It’s confusing AF so I’ll highlight the salient words in red in both the original and translations so you can see where they go.

Talvez que o marido da tia Emília se tivesse podido salvar se estivesse na cidade e tivesse dinheiro para o médico e para os tratamentos.

I was convinced one of these was a reflexive pronoun but my teacher said they were both condicionals, not pronouns, which would make it

Maybe Aunt Emília’s husband if he had been able to save and if he was in the city and had enough money for the doctor and the treatments.

I scratched my head over this for a while because there doesn’t seem to be a main verb. I’ve just asked m’wife and she translated it the same way I would have, which makes me feel vindicated

Maybe Aunt Emília’s husband would have been able to save himself, if he was in the city and had enough money for the doctor and the treatments.

It’s confusing because the three verbs underlined in the original quote are in imperfect subjunctive tense, which can be triggered by “se” when it’s used as a conditional, so it’s hard to see if that “tivesse” is triggered by se (meaning if) just before it or by the “talvez” at the beginning of the sentence.

I reckon the first “se” is a reflexive pronoun and I’ve got my wife’s entirely unbiased opinion backing me up. In a less complicated sentence you could write it as “Se tem podido salvar” or “he has been able to save himself”. Or even less complicatesd, “Salvou-se”.

So there you go, if even two portuguese people can’t agree the meaning of a sentence, there’s no need to feel embarrassed if you don’t get it right straight away either.


Just a data nerd

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