Posted in English

Is This The Most Confusing Verb in the Portuguese Language?

Image of a "Soul Reaver" from some game called Legend of Kain, listed as under a fair use license on Wikipedia. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the article
Frankly, this image is not helping. If anything, it is adding to the confusion.

So I came across this freaky verb today: “Reaver“. No, not rever, reaver. It’s based on the verb “haver” but with the re- prefix. Its h disappears because it would be silent anyway: re+[h]aver=reaver.

Haver is a weird verb to start with because it’s almost always used in the third person singular and it means something like “exists” or “there is”, but it has another meaning, which is “to have” or “to possess” and that’s the sense that’s used with reaver. It means “have again”, “recoup” or “get back”.

Cool, cool, cool, so let’s look for examples of it in use? Most likely form we’ll come across will be re+[h]á=reá, right?

Wrong! Reaver is a defective verb, meaning it doesn’t have a full conjugation. So even though the most-used form of haver is the third person singular present indicative form, that form doesn’t even exist for reaver. The only two forms Priberam’s conjugation allows in the present tense are the nós and vós forms.

Some examples of legitimate use are given in the dictionary entry

  • Ainda não conseguiu reaver o dinheiro que gastou (he still hadn’t been able to get back the money he’d spent)
  • Por duas vezes, eu perdi óculos escuros que nunca reouve (Twice I lost a pair of sunglasses that I never got back)
  • Paradoxalmente, era quando reavia as forças que a certa altura julgava exíguas (paradoxically it was while he was rebuilding his forces that, at some point, he judged them to be too weak)

But if you look at some of the examples Priberam gives of the past-tense use of reaver you come across a citation of a page by Portugal rebelde blog:

  • Cada vez que se reouve uma canção corre-se o risco de reparar em aspetos musicais ou poéticos de que não nos tínhamos apercebido. (Every time one hears a song anew, one runs the risk of noticing a musical or poetical aspects that we hadn’t recognised before)

Well… that’s *not* an example of the past tense of reaver though. That’s the present tense of “reouvir“, meaning to hear again, surely…? And so is this citation from a blog called French Kissin’, also cited by Priberam

  • O disco não tenta sistematizar o tema, muito menos esgotá-lo. Talvez por ser tão despretensioso, ouve-se e reouve-se sem cansar. (The record doesn’t try to systematise the theme, let alone exhaust it. Maybe because it is so unpretentious, one can listen and relisten without getting tired of it)

Googling what I thought would be common forms of the verb, I didn’t really find many examples of it being used in the wild. So… It’s useful to know this exists in case it crops up in books but I don’t think I will be rushing to try and use this one in conversation!

If you’re hungry for more pain and suffering, you can find out more about reaver in this Ciberdúvidas article.


Just a data nerd

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