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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.

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Portugalist is a sort of lifestyle and travel site with an informal, magazine vibe aimed at english-speaking visitors and residents in Portugal. I’ve tended not to pay much attention to it since I don’t travel much and don’t live there. I’ve just spent some time poking around though, and I must say, there’s some good stuff on there. Their bread-and-butter content is practical and seems very up-to-the-minute: how to get a covid vaccine, navigate finances and bureaucracy and so on. For those of us exiled beyond the sea and just wanting to learn the language, they have a modest-sized language section which doesn’t have much direct learning material but acts as a directory out to other sites and channels where you can find the right course.

Here are a few things I liked, in case you’re not already familiar with it

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Double Participles

Some verbs have two past participles: one that forms part of compound verbs and one that is used primarily as an adjective

InfinitiveStandard ParticipleShorter Participle
AcenderTens acendido a vela?A vela está acesa
AceitarEle tem aceitado as desculpasAs desculpas foram aceitas
ElegerOs americanos têm elegido TrumpO palhaço cor de laranja foi eleito
GanharEu tenho ganhado muito dinheiroO jogo contra Ucrânia já está ganho
PagarMuito obrigado por ter pagado a contaNão te rales, pai, a contas está paga
ExpulsarO governo tinha expulsado o embaixadorNão trabalhei e acabei por ser expulso
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I have an evernote page containing interesting and curious sightings of grammar in the wild that I wanted to think about later. I’ll try and make sense of them if I can, but I’m not absiolutely sure what they all mean to be honest, so if you’ve any suggestions I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Cento e tantos degraus de escada é obra, mesmo para quem se apresenta com o cóccix em condições 

I can’t remember where I turned this one up, but it mostly struck me because of the phrase “em condições” which obviously means “in good condition”, so that’s an idiomatic expression to keep in mind. It’s quite a grammatically interesting sentence though really. If I were to try and say that I’d be much more fromal and use more words. I would love to be confident enough to be this relaxed and groovy with my writing. “Cento e tantos” is unusal too. I’ve only ever seen “cento e tal” for “a hundred or so”.

Sabe que eles se podem desligar quando se quer, não sabe?

This sentence by Mario Zambudjal has two instances of “se” which seem to be different. In “se podem desligar” it’s reflexive: they can doisconnect themselves. And in “quando se quer” it’s putting the verb into passive mode, if I’m reading it correctly. “When required”. So putting it all together, “You know they can disconnect at will, don’t you?

Fiz figas para que não me esperassem situações semelhantes às que levaram o Valquerença, sete anos atrás, a riscar-me do quadro do pessoal

I think this is another one from Zambudjal. “Fiz figas” is interesting. It literally means “I made figs” but Gtranslate translates it to “I crossed my fingers”. Fazer figas is more like this in fact, according to the description in Priberam. The meaning is the same as crossing the fingers though: it’s meant to ward off bad luck.

A tua resposta pôs-me a cabeça à roda 

This line from Lúcia Vaz Pedro’s Camões Conseguiu Escrever Muito para Quem Só Tinha um Olho… exemplifies an aspect of grammar that I can never quite get right. I’ve tried to use it a few times but screwed it up every time. It’s got the reflexive pronoun with Pôr but… why? It’s the head that’s spinning so why doesn’t she say “pós a minha cabeça a roda”? Why does it have a reflexive pronoun instead of a posessive pronoun? I asked my wife about this and she just said it’s how it works.

O que lhe passou pela cabeça…

This isn’t reflexive but in other ways, it’s similar to the one above. Why isn’t it just “passou pela cabeça dele/dela?” Why does it need the indirect object “lhe” when it looks like it needs a possessive? The possessive would give you more information. “Passed to him through the head”? Again. my wife just says that how it’s done. It’s a sense of actively passing through the person’s head and it is more grammatically accurate than using the possessive. I might need to sit and meditate on this for an hour or two, I think

Um teste às defesas da sala.

This sentence appears in Z by Manuel Alves. A test to the defences of the room. It’s an example of a preposition that’s used very differently in portuguese than it would be in english.

A perseguição aos Judeus

This one turned up in a history book. I would have expected it to be “dos” instead of “aos” for “The persecution of the Jews

Envolveu-o em operações especulativas tão ruinosas que o atirou para a bancarrota 

This is from Vaticanum by Jose Rodrigues dos Santos. “Para” can be used for “to” in some contexts and “for” in others. In this one, it’s used for someone being thrown to bankruptcy. The guide unhelpfully defines “atirar para” as “lançar para”

Demasiado fatigado para se meter em explicações

Another one from Vaticanum. “meter-se em…” is equivalent to “get involved in”. he was too tired to get drawn into explaining himself to the cops.

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One of the things I’ve been doing in my non-portuguese life is trying to learn poems. I had some idea that it would be nice to have more poetry in amongst the clutter of my brain, and also good mental exercise now that I’m well into middle age and finding myself forgetting stuff all the time. In the last couple of weeks I have memorised two. I can now recite Weathers by Thomas Hardy or The Subaltern’s Love Song by John Betjeman by heart. I like the Betjeman best; the rhythm of it is amazing, and it really conveys the sense of being giddy and excited and in love.

Anyway, I was thinking of doing “Mar Português” by Fernando Pessoa next. It’s shorter but I’m expecting it to be harder in anotgher language. So I was really excited to see this video drop into my Youtube recommendations today. Mar Português is the fifth of the five poems she reads. I have been subscribed to the channel for a while but not really following it closely but I can see I am going to have to keep a closer eye on it from now on, because I like this a lot!

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I put up a “Buy Me a Coffee” link on the right-hand-side a few weeks back to cover costs of making this an ad-free blog and haven’t looked at it since but I went over there today and found that I’d been bought a coffee. Three weeks ago, actually, and I hadn’t seen the notification so I’m a bit embarrassed at how long it took me to thank the person for her generosity. I won’t embarrass her by naming her but thanks again!

This is a new milestone for me though and I have been smiling ever since! I will try and keep a better eye on it in future.

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More About Paula

If you’re in London and want to learn more about Paula Rego, I can’t really recommend the exhibition I went to for the reasons I mentioned in the post: it’s a pain to get into and not a great seeing. But there’s a big retrospective of her work at the Tate starting later this month so if you can make it to that it’ll be well worth your while. It’s really intense.

Click here to go to the Tate Gallery site.

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Neuter Kids on the Block

I mentioned a few weeks back that I had backed out of a seminar on suffragettes in Portugal. Well, the tutor, seminar leader, whatever, sent out an email with some course materials. I was interested in the opening lines (In the image up there, 👆) Can you spot it?

As you probably know, portuguese has two genders, masculine and feminine, and all nouns have one or the other, even though physical objects and abstract concepts have no biological sex, they are all sorted into two categories too. And if referring to a group of – say – two women and two men, or even a thousand women and one male cat, the fact that there’s a mix of genders means you use the masculine as default so it would be “eles” not “elas”. Obviously this seems a bit silly on its face. I’m not going to get on my soapbox here because it’s not my language, but it seems like it would be fairer if you went with the majority or something. Anyway, what you have in the screenshot is the use of “querides” with an – es ending instead of either – as or – os.

It’s easy to see why this makes sense from a feminist point of view since mixed groups shouldn’t default to the masculine ending. It’s not just a typo either. At the end she says “beijinhos para todes”, which I keep pronouncing as “toads” and imagining a princess/frog situation.

I’ve had someone explain to me that e can be used as an ending for people describing themselves as “non-binary”. I haven’t seen any examples of this in the wild. For example, if you read the Wikipedia entry for Sam Smith you’ll find it carefully written to avoid any pronouns or gender-specific endings that refer to him directly. Where they do exist they are made to refer to other nouns. For example in the first paragraph it says “é uma personalidade britânica” where the a on the end of britânica refers to “personalidade” not to Smith himself. I think it would be kind of silly to squeeze gender-specific endings out of words referring to people, since a language that has gender for everything except people would be even sillier than a language that has gender for everything including people. IMHO one of the best things about English is that you don’t have the faff of remembering random genders for every single object and every single idea that has ever existed. If they don’t have a sex then they are all just “it”, and that’s beautifully simple.

O Feminino é o Moderno

And one final thought on gender: I always find it odd that for example the idea of feminity itself is masculine. What do I mean? Well, there’s a book called “O Feminino e o Moderno” by Ana Luísa Vilela, Fábio Maria da Silva and Maria Lúcia Dal Farra. Why is The Feminine Masculine? Weird historical reasons, that’s why!

Equally surprising is the word “grávida” (pregnant) which, if you look it up, is defined as the feminine version of grávido, as if men could get pregnant and in fact pregnant men were the default. It’s all a bit Judith Butler if you ask me.

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Portuguese Language-Learning Resources

I’m moving some of my more useful blog post material into some fixed pages that I’ll update from time to time. I like the idea that it’s safe in one place and not spread around all over teh last 5 years of material.

If you’re reading this on a computer you should see a list over there on the right 👉

If you’re looking at it on the phone it’ll probably be a few page-lengths down there 👇

And if you’re reading it on an etch-a-sketch you probably aren’t seeing it anywhere so here are the ones I’ve done so far (but there will be more soon)