Posted in English

Portuguese Audiobooks – A New Chapter?

I’m really chuffed to see Livraria Bertrand now has an audiobook section and an app for ebooks and audiobooks. You can find the page here, and it’s a little underdeveloped at the moment, but so was Audible when I first joined so I’m not giving up on it. The link takes you to the front page of the portuguese audio section, but if you look in the menu on the left-hand side you’ll see there are subheadings for history, science, classics and so on, so you can rummage around and see if anything takes your fancy.

The most annoying aspect of it is that it doesn’t have a preview feature so you can’t find out if the reader is European or Brazilian. Some are obvious, but I picked out a couple that I knew seemed like a good bet – O Vendeador de Passados by José Eduardo Agualusa and Vidadupla by Sérgio Godinho and can confirm that they are both european portuguese. Yippee!!! There are a couple of others by Godinho but as for the rest, I dunno. If you sample any, I’d love it if you could tell me what you thought in the comments. Share the knowledge!

I’ll add these to my Portuguese Audiobooks Page in the few days. In the meantime, if anyone knows anything about any of the other books, I’d love it if you could tell me about it in the comments. Let’s share the knowledge! We learners have to stick together!

Posted in Portuguese

Paulina Chiziane

Parabéns à Paulina Chiziane, vencedora do Prémio Camões. Estas são notícias antigas porque a decisão do júri foi anunciada há quase três semanas mas não tinha ouvido até hoje quando a Livraria Bertrand enviou um email com a sua foto e uma promoção de livros dela.

(The link goes to Bertrand who gave 20% off her books. If you’re in the UK, Foyles have some of her books in bith English and Portuguese too)

Paulina Chiziane
Paulina Chiziane
Posted in English

My History Course Turns Out To Be Both More and Less Interesting Than I Thought

I’ve been thinking for a while about writing a post on the course I’m taking about the history of Portugal, but today’s Twitter news has made me finally stretch my thumbs to do it now because… Wow, I was not expecting this!

The course is bi-weekly, presented online by the Bertrand chain of bookshops. I missed the first one so I’ve only actually attended one class so far. It’s taught by a woman called Raquel Varela, who is Portuguese, and a Brazilian guy called Roberto Della Santa. I was a bit non-plussed by the session I attended. It was about the origins or liberalism and the unification of the national market in the 19th century but there weren’t many references to actual historical events; the bulk of the lesson was given over to explaining Marx’s theories about capitalist production. OK, well, Marx does set out to explain historical processes so yeah, fine, but it seemed likes strange digression for a course on Portuguese history, going into abstract realms of economics and historiography without much reference to the real sequence of events. It felt more like a come-to-Jesus, or rather, a come-to-Karl… appeal than a lesson. That’s OK though, I’ve studied Marx at uni, and I’m quite happy to listen to other people’s points of view. I’d have asked a question if my grasp of the language was more secure but no, not today!

I’m not complaining – I enjoyed it. I hope the remainder of the course will be less abstract though.

Anyway, fast forward to today. I open twitter and there’s a tweet right at the top of my feed with a link to an article and a picture that looks familiar. It takes a while to realise it’s one of the course teachers, Raquel Varela, and the article is about a petition signed by “more than a hundred intellectuals” in support of academic freedom in general and of her specifically. It turns out she is quite a well-known figure. This surprised me because the price of the course is so low I’d assumed the teachers were just keen amateurs they dragged in from the store’s popular history counter. I wasn’t expecting star power! Its like attending a year-long study group at your local Waterstones for a hundred and forty quid and finding it’s being run by Simon Schama. You’d go “bloody hell, i wasn’t expecting this!” She’s a kind of public intellectual, attached to the Universidade Nova de Lisboa, author of several books and occasional TV pundit. She’s taken a lot of fairly controversial positions, not least on covid, but that’s another story for another day.

Anyway the reason she was in my twitter feed was to do with a public hoo-ha that has been going on for a couple of weeks now. It started when rumours began appearing on social media that her academic CV had been inflated by repeating items multiple times to make it seem like she had more academic clout than she really has. I don’t know where these rumours came from originally but she refers to them in her blog in July, describing them as a “campaign of defamation”. The matter came to a head around the 20th of September when the newspaper Público reported that the Instituto de História Contemporânea had withdrawn its support for her candidacy in a scheme run by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia called the Concurso de Estímulo ao Emprego Científico Individual after checking the allegations and finding that she appeared only to have published about half as many articles as she claimed. Now, I know inflating your cv is not exactly uncommon, but integrity is a big deal in academic circles, especially when you are using your track record as a platform for competing against other academics as in this case.

Varela didn’t take this lying down, instead using her legal right of reply to demand (the verb is “exigir”) an apology from Público,

Varela Claps Back

But it didn’t come and they continue to report on the progress of the ongoing investigation.

This brings us back to the present day where Sapo’s i online site reports on the letter of support from a hundred or so writers and academics. Their petition refers to a “campaign of character assassination”, involving Público, which it accuses of “promiscuity” with anonymous sources spreading misinformation. It also mentions other, more unpleasant allegations in “ultra-Conservative” sources and throws in a reference to “o crescimento de fake news e da extrema-direita”. In one particularly weird flourish of denunciation they say “Este é um caso exemplar de como o nepotismo dentro de um sector da academia e a necrofilia de alguma imprensa procura silenciar uma intelectual”. Wait… What? Nepotism? Necrophilia? Calm down lads.

The effect seems to be to associate the (perfectly legitimate, it seems to me) story in Público with some more shadowy stuff online, implying they are somehow part of a co-ordinated smear campaign. This seems a little unfair, since whatever the online muckrakers are doing, Público are at least reporting on matters of public record: either her CV is padded or it isn’t, and that question is being adjudicated by the relevant scientific bodies. Whether they find in her favour or not is up to them but fairness and transparency seem to be essential in upholding trust in the scientific process. Mixing it up with conspiracy theories doesn’t help either side.

Anyway, I will certainly carry on attending the course and I’ll enjoy it a lot more knowing the backstory!

Posted in Portuguese

O Novo Normal Existe?

Description in Portuguese of the course I wrote about earlier in English. Thanks to redditor teafvigoli for helping root out the errors.

People photo created by -
Red and Green Dyed Lockdown Hair Goes Back To The Office

Participei num curso online. O título era “O Novo Normal Existe?” e faz parte dum conjunto de cursos chamado “O Café Filosófico”. Experimentei um curso online português anteriormente mas saí quando entrei em pânico porque percebi que teria de falar!

Ora bem, gostei muito deste. A professora começou por mandar-nos escrever as nossas próprias respostas (no meu caso “O nosso novo normal é igual ao velho normal da Coreia do Sul” (porque já costumam de usar máscaras lá)

De sequida, havia três vídeos com outros pontos de vista e depois, o grupo partiu-se e todos nós participámos em discussão em grupos pequenos. Confesso que não compreendi verdadeiramente o terceiro (uma comédia brasileira) mas fiquei influenciado pelas opiniões dos outros participantes.

Um afirmou que a normalidade em si nem sequer existe. Isso é verdade até certo ponto: cada um tem uma vida única e a situação muda constantemente. Mas cá para mim, o normal é o que não nos faz exclamar de surpresa. A estação de ano muda, o tempo muda, o governo muda, mas permanecemos dentro do espectro do normal. Mas de vez em quando algo realmente imprevisto (tal como uma pandemia) acontece que nos perturba. Está tudo estranho, e neste momento reconhecemos a normalidade perdida. Mas passado um ano e meio, será que o esquisito tornar-se-á normal? Achava que sim mas uma mulher no meu subgrupo foi céptica.

Acabei por crer que o novo normal pode existir se quisermos. Ou seja a maioria de coisas vão voltar um dia ao normal mas aprendemos muito em termos de modos de trabalhar e de viver e somos capazes de manter uns aspectos do normal temporário nos nossos próprios novos normais pessoais.

Posted in English

Are You Normal?

I really challenged myself yesterday by participating in a live discussion about whether or not covid has brought about a “New Normal”. Regular readers might remember I tried to join in a workshop about the suffragette movement in Portugal a few weeks back but I got cold feet when I realised I’d have to speak on camera and not just listen. Well, this time, I was better prepared!

People photo created by mego-studio -
Proposed new design for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel

The teacher started out with an introduction and asked us all to write down our personal answer at the outset. Then the format was based on a series of video and audio recordings. She’d show us a different point of view and then we broke into discussion groups to see whether the new angle had changed our minds at all. At the end we summed up by seeing how our opinion had changed over the course of all the stages.

My subgroup consisted of just three people. I started out by apologising to the other two for the fact that my mastery of Portuguese was perhaps a little less than ideal for the level of discussion, and I hoped they wouldn’t mind me tagging along. Amazingly one of them asked would I like them to conduct the discussion in English! I am used to waiters and shop assistants offering this courtesy of course, but the level of generosity in offering to do it in an hour-and-a-half long discussion speaks volumes for how welcoming the Portuguese are to visitors, tourists and immigrants. Imagine some English speakers in the UK making a similar offer to a french guest who dropped in unexpectedly, for example.

I thanked her for the offer but declined of course. Even if I wasn’t trying to gain familiarity with the language, the level of egotism I would need to expect them to go to such trouble would just be off the charts!

I actually managed to hold my own pretty well, I think. I mean, I struggled with some aspects. One of the videos was hard to follow due to the Brazilian accent, and I hadn’t really warmed my brain up beforehand so I wasn’t especially articulate, but that’s OK. I listened to the other participants, tried to give my own opinion (slightly stiltedly) asked a couple of questions, described how my point of view had changed . I didn’t amaze and astound the group with my laser-like insight, but I did OK. I didn’t disgrace myself. I’d class that as a victory of sorts!

If you’d like to be involved, the list of courses is here. Obviously only consider this if you are a confident listener and speaker. I’m at B2 level and I was struggling, so don’t even think about it if you’re a newbie.

Posted in English

Bottling Out

I joined in one of the Bertrand training courses I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It’s part of a series on feminism, looking at the subject of the portuguese suffragette movement. I thought I’d try and listen in on the lecture and learn something about history. However, the person running it asked people to put on their cameras and mics so they could participate and I thought well, I don’t really want to be the only foreigner and in all likelihood the only bloke if it’s going to be a round-table discussion, so I scarpered. Oh well, that’s fifteen euros down the drain!

Posted in English

Sneaking In At the Back Of The Classroom

My favourite bookshop Bertrand, runs online classes as a sideline, covering history, philosophy, creative writing and other topics of general interest. These are obviously aimed at native speakers, not learners, but I can understand Portuguese pretty well, so I thought I’d give it a go and hope not to embarrass myself by doing anything too stupid. I selected “Portuguese Para Todos” (Portuguese For All) which is given by Marco Neves, a blogger and author of books about the Portuguese Language such as “Doze Segredos Da Língua Portuguesa” which I read a couple of years ago and summarised in a series of posts at the time. He knows his stuff and expresses himself very clearly. The course tries to help people level up their language game so that they can be more persuasive, interesting writers. He points out that this is especially important in the age of the internet when a lot of us are communicating in written format without an editor as a matter of routine. The format is a series of videos, with a new section released each weekday for students to view on demand and there are a few short quizzes to check your understanding (I am embarrassed at how low my scores were, I’m afraid!)

I’m going to use this post as a summary of the course, partly as a memory aid for myself and also as a review for the benefit of anyone who might be intereted in doing the same kind of course. We’re all on this language-learning jounrney together so we might as well help each other out and learn from each other’s experiences. I’ll try and avoid giving too much detail here though of course, since I don’t want to give away any spoilers on a commercially available product. If you think you’d benefit from the course, it’s only about forty quid, so get on it next time it’s presented! (Just to reiterate though, this is emphatically NOT a course aimed at new learners. Although he speaks very clearly, the material is such that you won’t even know what he’s talking about unless you’re at intermediate level or above)

Part 1 – Grammar, Errors and Myths of Portuguese

  • What is grammar? Grammar is the collection of habits of native speakers. Everyone has one in their heads, and even if we encounter an unknown word, so long as the basic grammar is intact we can still recognise it as a valid sentence and usually make a reasonable stab at the meaning of the word as a result. If the grammar vreaks down, on the other hand, we might struggle to even recognise the text as an example of the language.
  • Common annoying errors. I won’t list them all. I did a review summary of a book called 101 Erros de Português que Acabam Com a Sua Credibilidade a while ago, which covered a lot of the same ground, and I listed the main topics of interest to non-native speakers, but it’s like “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, A lot of the mistakes are just errors of laziness or over-familiarity that are more likely to be made by a native speaker (think “they’re” and “their” in english, for example) than by someone who is coming to the language as a foreigner, learning the rules from a book. The most surprising example to an english reader is a false error: he says a lot of people will correct the phrase “Não há nada” (literally “there isn’t nothing”) because it’s a double negative. Now, in english this would definitely be an error and it would cause most educated british people to downgrade their estimation of the speaker’s intelligence by about 50% automatically but it is perfectly legitimate in portuguese. In fact, it’s correct. You can’t even say “Há nada” because you need both words to construct the negative statement. From what little Spanish I know, I think they are even more extreme and the rule seems to be that the more negatives you can squeeze into a sentence the more emphatically negative it becomes but Portuguese is a little less painful to english ears!

Part 1 (Extra)

In an extra session at the end, he lists some problems with autocorrect in MS Word. I don’t actually use MS Word in Portuguese, so I skimmed it, but I think we know Word isn’t perfect and has a lot of blind spots. Essentially, the problems with it in PT-PT are the same as the problems with it in EN-GB with the added complication that in addition to selecting the right dialect, you also have the option of configuring it to use or to ignore the Acordo Ortográfico, or some mixture of both forms. He gives quite a lot of detail here, and shows screen recordings of how to change settings to make Word more helpful.

If you use Word a lot for your Portuguese writing, this section alone might justify the price of the course!

Part 2 – How Does the Portuguese Language Work?

It's always the same story: It's Zeus who does all the bad stuff and Hades is the one who gets called "wrong"
Poor Hades
  • More examples of annoying errors. These ones are mainly related to verbs, and especially uses and misuses of the verb haver. I made a joke I was very proud of about “há-des” and posted it on Instagram like a big dufus. So far nobody has told me what a comic genius I am so either it is embarrassingly ungrammatical or else nobody shares my sense of humour.
  • Words as building-blocks of language. He breaks down words into fixed types (numbers, conjunctions etc that don’t change their endings) and variable types like verbs and nouns that do. He then shows how the “sentence construction mechanism” turns these words into whole sentences. He does this at a pretty high level that a native speaker would understand, and it’s interesting for a relatively advanced leaerner to see how he describes it in a way that is far removed from how we foreigners might learn it from books.
  • There are examples of long, complex sentences from the classic novel “Os Maias” by Eça de Queirós where the conjugation of the verb can trip up a writer, simply because there are many words between the subject and the verb, so when you get there you’ve lost track of what form it should have “Os Casas onde [long, rambling clause stretching over multiple lines]… mantém-se na minha memoria”. You occasionally see people make this kind of error in english too, when the noun and verb get separated. For example, I’ve just been listening to a podcast about the Jersey fishing kerfuffle and the presenter said There has to be some method of resolving these disputes that don’t involve gunboats. The verb refers to the singular “method” but because the word “disputes comes right before it he has used “don’t” instead of “doesn’t”. Tut tut, low standards at the Spectator!
  • There’s quite a good section on very complicated gradations in past tense. For example the difference between “O jogo tinha acabado de terminar” (the game had just finished) and “O jogo tinha acabado” (the game had finished). The first one can sometimes seem like an error since “acabar” and “terminar” both mean finish. So if you say “tinha acabado de terminar” it sounds like you’re saying “The game had finished finishing” but it’s perfectly correct. In contrast, my wife tells me that when she used to say “Vou ir ao cinema” (I am going to go to the cinema) her mother would cut her off by saying Se vais, não precisas de ir (If you are going you don’t need to go). In other words, you don’t need to use ir as an auxiliary verb if the main verb is also ir. You would just say “vou ao cinema”
  • When to use the infinitivo pessoal. It’s good to know portuguese people struggle with this since it baffles the hell out of us. Dudes, surely the whole point of an infinitive is that it isn’t personal an doesn’t change…? He says that sometimes it’s more of a stylistic chocie than a grammatical one. “O mais certo é tu seres o último a saber” (What is most likely is you will be the last to know) has a personal infinitive whereas “Toca a ler” doesn’t. It is definitely wrong if it’s the main verb, used with an auxiliary (Os meus pais acabaram de mudar a casa, not Os meus pais acabaram de mudarem a casa, for example) but the auxiliary verb itself *can* be a personal infinitive (Achei bem de terem mudado a casa, not Achei bem de ter mudado a casa)

Part 3 – Punctuation – Full Stops and Dashes

I think the fact that the AO is quite prescriptive about punctuation maybe means that it gets talked about more in Portugal than in the UK. It’s pretty unusual to see anyone pedantically mocking someone for adding full stops after each letter of U.S.A. for example. The rules are basically the same as in english with a few exceptions

  • Dot after the number when writing abbreviations of ordinal numbers (first, second etc) 1.o, 2.o, 3.a
  • Colons are known as “dois pontos”
  • The dash — or “travessão” is mosty used as in english. In other words, bung it in anywhere you suspect you might need a colon or a set of brackets or whatever, but you can’t really be bothered to think about it. Unlike in english, it can also be used at the start of a line of dialogue instead of putting the whole line in quotation marks — also known as “aspas”. If using a dash in this way, you would end the paragraph before with a full stop or colon, then put the dash followed by dialogue. If the dialogue ends and, narration is separated off with more dashes:
  • It works like this, you see — said Jeeves — but it takes some getting used to!

There are then some points about spacing of words in Word documents, how to use Word formats and so on.

  • Portuguese uses commas in place of decimal points 5,5 (cinco virgula cinco)
  • Sometimes but not always, the opposite happens: a dot in place of a comma in thousands: 1.000
  • You need a space between numbers and units
    • 5 km
    • 5 oC, and even…
    • 5 %
  • The word “numero” can be abbreviated to n.o
  • You abbreviate “antes de Cristo” (Portugugese equivalent to BC/Before Christ) as “a. C.” – small a, large C, dots after each and a space between

Part 4: Punctuation – Commas and Other Problems

I don’t think there’s anything here that will surprise an english speaker: the rules are all the same, and they’ll probably get broken at roughly the same rate as we break them in english due to our own prejudices and where we, personally, pause in our own speech, or just through force of habit. He even mentions “virgula de Oxford” and says that the use of commas before and in english is “muito polémica”. Not arf, mate.

In the extra section there are some interesting tidbits that are rules in portuguese but nobody cares about at all in english such as

  • If you have a phrase in brackets and you need another bracketed phrase inside it you use square brackets inside curved brackets (for example in this phrase [which I have put in brackets] there is another expression nested inside it where I have used square brackets)
  • Random additions like [sic] also belong in square brackets
  • Quotation marks (or “aspas”) come in two forms: “aspas altas” (high quotation marks) are what we would normally think of as quotation marks, but «aspas em linha» (in-line quotation marks) are also a thing. The basic uses are similar except that, as discussed above, you can use dashes to indicate speech, which you really, really can’t in english.
  • Apostrophes are blissfully rare in portuguese. he dispatches the whole subject in less than one minute. You’d be hard-pushed to do it in under an hour if this were a course in english! It would be illustrated with many examples of horrible misuse. People would boo and hiss and throw things at the screen. As in english, they are used for omitted letters, for example in quoted speech where someone has an accent: “meu qu’ido”. You don’t normally need it for merging prepositions into articles de+os=dos, for example, but you very occasionally need to, if the article is part of a book title, for example. If you’re a fan of Eça de Queirós you might want to say “I like Os Maias”, but “Os” is part of the title and you don’t want to cause confusion, so it would go “Gosto d’Os Maias” and that’s really about the only time you need to do that.
  • Note that in posrtuguese, apóstrofo is the name of the punctuation mark. The word apostrofe exists too but it’s a figure of speech. Specifically, it’s an emphatic invocation, for example “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Me Deus, meu Deus, por que me abandonaste?”)

Part 5: Abbreviations,

This just touches on some points raised in earlier days. In fact, it’s a wierdly short unit, this, and I can’t understand why he didn’t distribute the content more evenly between the sections. Anyway, as in english, an acronym (acrónimo) is like an abbreviation (sigla) but it can be pronounced like a word, such as “OTAN” (what we would call NATO), or “UNICEF”. This is really the entirety of the lessons I learned from section 5!

Part 6: Portuguese in the Office

Here we’re getting into the realms of style. He talks about how to avoid long convoluted sentences, and vagueness. For the most part, this is something, as a learner, that I am less able to control, since I don;t have the grammatical chops to write a long-convoluted sentence even if I wanted to and, on the other hand, don’t have a good ear for what constitutes clear, beautiful portuguese prose. This is probably one for the people at C2 level. I found the third point really interesting and helpful though

  • Read the sentence out loud to see if it sounds good and conveys the message clearly
  • Think about the division between setences and the internal structure because you’re not James Joyce, author of Ulysses, so that epic snot green 60-page sentence you wrote explaning the company’s internet usage policy could probably be broken up a bit to make its meaning clearer, say into two thirty-page sentences and all the readers thanking you, the sky opening, the music ringing, as I walk through Dublin out past the villages as the text gets easier and this seems like I good idea yes I said yes I will Yes
  • Avoid repetition. This seems obvious and we try to avoid it in english too of course but in the example he uses, it isn’t an obvious repetition. He shows a sentence taking place in the past, having “tinha” as an auxiliary verb twice and “que” three times. These kinds of things are quite hard to avoid, given the structure of the grammar, so this seems like a really useful thing to take away from the course. He suggests a way of breaking the sentence up. Unlike in the previous case, this isn’t to avoid lengthy sentences but to avoid overuse of little joining words like que. He also switches up the tenses a little to get rid of the double tinha. Obviously if the repetition is intentional, as in the abovementioned passage from Ulysses, that’s different, but unintentional repetition is often ugly and distracting.
  • Avoid repetition. This seems obvious and we try to avoid it in english too of course but in the example he uses, it isn’t an obvious repetition. He shows a sentence taking place in the past, having “tinha” as an auxiliary verb twice and “que” three times. These kinds of things are quite hard to avoid, given the structure of the grammar, so this seems like a really useful thing to take away from the course. He suggests a way of breaking the sentence up. Unlike in the previous case, this isn’t to avoid lengthy sentences but to avoid overuse of little joining words like que. He also switches up the tenses a little to get rid of the double tinha. Obviously if the repetition is intentional, as in the abovementioned passage from Ulysses, that’s different, but unintentional repetition is often ugly and distracting. Sorry, this is a silly joke isn’t it

Finally, there’s a shorter section on how to create a good piece of writing: drafting it, editing it and rewriting it. The bulk of the material here is in written format, with the writing serving as an example of good text as well as a piece of instruction.

Part 7: Questions and Traps in the Language #1

This was just a Q&A where people had submitted examples for the teacher to use as models and suggest optimal use of punctuation. I noticed a couple of the people asking the questions had very non-Portuguese names – “Jenny” and “Georgette” – so maybe I wasn’t the only estrangeiro lurking in the audience after all!

For the most part, the questions were to do with when it was OK to bend the rules relating to commas in order to make the meaning clearer, but it was all relating to parts 3, 4 and 5 of the series.

Part 8: Questions and Traps in the Language #2

Miscellaneous questions about orthography. I won’t list them all, but some of the ones I thought were most interesting were:

  • Use of articles with place names (“topónimos”). Coincidentally, I had been planning to do a post about this anyway, following on from a conversation I had with a former teacher but since I’m here, I’ll just embed it in this post instead
    • Countries generally take an article when they appear in a sentence – A Russia, O Reino Unido and so on. So it’s “Vivo na Rússia”. I live in the Russia, not I live in Russia
    • A few countries don’t need one though. He gives two examples but my teacher gives six, which I believe she regards as the complete list: Portugal, Marrocos, Angola, Moçambique, Cuba, Israel. Ele vive em Portugal
    • And there’s an even smaller list where the article is optional. You can use or omit the article in the following cases Espanha, Itália, França, Inglaterra “Elas vivem em/na França”. Both the course and my teacher give the same list, which is reassuring
    • Cities don’t take articles at all except in a few cases, usually where the city takes its name from some other geographical feature – so “O Porto” is “The Port”, O Rio de Janeiro is “The River of January”, and so on; so they take articles where they appear in a sentence but Londres, Paris, Lisboa, Preston etc don’t.
    • He gives one exception for the above, and it’s recognisable to an english speaker. We might say “I have fond memories of the Preston of my youth”, and likewise in portuguese that would be “O Preston da minha adolescencia”
  • Contractions of prepositions and articles, such as ao, pelo and do. I feel like these are something we pick up quite early as new learners so guess if you are reading this you either know them or know where to find them in your grammar book. He gives some examples of when not to use them – mainly in sentences where the article or pronoun pertains to an infinitive, either on its own or as part of a clause. Um. That’s not very clear is it? Um… let’s see if I can write some examples without copying the ones from the course because it’ll be more of a challenge. The italic phrases don’t get contracted because they refer to an infitive, or a phrase containing an infinitive (highlighted in red) which is sneakily doing the job of an object.
    • Enterrou o seu pai antes de ele (not “dele”) falecer = “he buried his father before his dying”, which isn’t the traditional way of doing things, I know, but maybe he’s just not very patient
    • Não gosto de um (not “dum”) livro de segunda mão ter uns cantos dobrados = “I don’t like a second hand book having dog-eared pages”. True dat.
  • Hm… that’s all he said about this subject. I had a feeling he might be missing some. (Not that I doubt his knowledge, obviously, but there might be some things that are too obvious to say to an audience of native speakers…?) I was sure there was a rule that said you leave the two separate if the number was important – for example in a sentence like “I managed to move all my stuff to the new house in one journey instead of two” seems like it should be “em um” to stress the fact of the number. I can’t find any evidence of such a rule online though so maybe I dreamed it. See this ciberduvidas answer for example
  • He talks about some less common contractions too, like
    • Comigo, contigo, convosco and all those contractions of “com” with a personal pronoun
    • lhas, mo, and other splicings of a direct and an indirect object. If you haven’t come across this sort of abomination yet, wait till you get to B2. Basically, when you say “I gave it to him” the “it” (o) and the “to him” (lhe) get splunged together into “lho”, and there are a few other combinations along the same lines. He thinks these are a bit ugly. He also warns of the danger of confusing things like “mostramos” (we show) with “mostra-mos” (show them to me). Well quite! *reaches for gin and tonic*
  • Difference between “à-vontade” with a hyphen and “à vontade” without. I’d never heard of the hyphenated version, and when I checked online the first result was someone saying it was invalidated by the Acordo Ortografico but it’s in priberam and that’s good enough for me. With the hyphen it is a noun which means something like “alacrity” or “eagerness”. Without the hyphen it works as an adjective and means something like “at ease” or “in one’s element”, as in the phrase “esteja a vontade” which is roughly equivalent to ” make yourself at home” or “feel free to…”
  • Cabo-Verdiana not Cabo-Verdeana: important in my house because Mrs L was born there.
  • Enquanto sometimes appears in the wild as “enquanto que” and it’s not wrong but it’s never obligatory so the takeaway for a non-native speaker is probably just “don’t bother”

Part 9: Questions and Traps in the Language #3

Again , dealing with questions native speakers often get wrong. Some of them won’t be much use but

  • Modes of address were discussed, and these are often quite confusing because on the whole we are much less formal in the UK and certainly don’t have mjultiple ways of saying “you” depending on who we’re talking to. He sets them out in decreasing order of formality from “Vossa Excelencia” (which is how the consulate usually addresses me!), down through “O senhor doutor”, “O Colin”, “Você” and finally “Tu” as the most informal. The last two pronouns are often omitted entirely and the listener just has to understand that when a person says “estás” they mean “you are” and when they say “está” they probably mean “you are” but could also mean “he is” or “she is” or “it is”, and you just have to get it from the context. What’s confusing about that? :^) In the plural, it’s similar except that tu doesn’t exist and vós appears instead as slightly more formal than vocês but is only used in certain regions of the coutry, not including Lisbon. See, it’s perfectly simple… ha ha ha *weeps*. Anyway, he talks about these at some length, highlighting the different usages in different social situations and regions. In Brazil, of course, all bets are off!
  • Use of the verb haver seems relevant. Again, I’ll make my own examples rather than copying because it’ll help me remember, but bear in mind I might introduce my own errors, so if you want it from the horse’s mouth, sign up for the course.
    • Generally, haver does the job of “there are” or “there were” or “there will be”. Há dois gatos na sala de estar” = there are two cats in the living room. In this sense it is roughly synonymous with “existir” except that existir behaves like a normal verb (Existem dois gatos) but haver is always and only third person singular. So: há, havia, podia haver, houve, haverá and so on but never havem, hei, hás, houverem.
    • Also works in situations where in english we would use “ago”. Há três anos = three years ago. Also in place of “for” when talking about time. Há muito tempo
    • Haver de (with no hyphen) means “to be obliged to”: Hei de ir a consulta = I have to go the the appointment
    • Haver-de (with hyphen) is a vaguer way of signaling an intention: “Hei-de visitar os meus pais” is like “I should really visit my parents (at some point)”
    • It can also be a substitute auxiliary verb instead of ter. “Eu havia gastado todo o meu dinheiro”. Some conjugation websites include this sort of construction, but most don’t.
  • Verb agreements. Mostly pretty standard stuff but
    • I did not know that the verb ser can agree with the object instead of the subject in some cases. “The problem is the people who votes for the other candidate” can be “O problema é as pessoas que votaram para o outro candidato” or “O problema são as pessoas que votaram para o outro candidato” . This is because those two things – the problem and the people – are identical to each other: the problem is the people, the people are the problem. Since this is (a) optional and (b) confusing as feck, I suggest you just be aware it exists but not try to use it
    • Sometimes it’s not always obvious that a singular subject is singular when you are talking about “the majority of people” or “all the people” (toda a gente), so watch out for situations where you refer to a group of people as a collective. This relates back to the point made in part 2.
  • Where does the pronoun go when it’s the object of the verb?
    • Usually after the verb, with a hyphen: “diga-me“, “dei-lhe o biscoito” and so on. This position is called ênclise and it is the default way of doing it in european portuguese.
    • If there is an auxiliary verb, the default method still applies but the pronoun can go after either part of the verb, according to choice: “eu ia-lhe oferecer um lapiz”, or “eu ia oferecer-lhe um lapiz”
    • In the future or conditional tense, you have to put it in the middle of the verb, directly after the main stem and before the ending, making what is sometimes called a pronoun sandwich. “cantar-lo-ei em voz alta” (I will sing it out loud), “nunca dar-lhe-ia a joia” ( I would never give her the jewel). This is called mesóclise and it is one of the top three most horrifying aspects of european portuguese, and that’s why most people prefer using compound future tenses like “vou-lhe dar um beijinho”
    • Finally, the pronoun goes in front of the verb in certain very specific contexts. This is called próclise. I can’t explain the uses as well as he can, obviously, so I’ll do it in a simplified way
      • After “que”: Ele disse que ele te deu um biscoito”
      • In negative contexts: “Eu não te prometeu nada”
      • In co-ordenated phrases like nem… nem… or quer… quer…. To be honest, I don’t even know what you would call this kind of grammatical structure in english but anyway it looks like this: Vou casar-me com Pedro quer me permitas quer nao
      • When the verb appears after certain adverbs such as “talvez”, “apenas” or “só”, for example: “apenas me deu dois biscoitos”
      • When it appears after prepositions like “para” or “até” or “de”, for example: “antes de o comer, lava os mãos”
      • When the subject of the verb is a quantifier like “ambos” or “poucos”, for example: “ambos me ignoraram
      • When the subject of the verb is “alguém” or “algo”, for example: “alguém me disse que há mais um biscoito no armário” (there’s a bit of a theme here isn’t there?)
  • The last section in Day 9’s lesson is a run-through of similar words with confusing meanings such as oficial and oficioso, trás and traz. The biggest headache-inducer out of these is the difference between porque and por que, which has come up a few times on this blog, including in the 101 Transgressions post I mentioned earlier

Part 10: How to Write Unforgettable Sentences

The final lesson in the series starts with some examples of “fake news about portuguese”, i.e. situations where wannabe pedants have insisted that certain portuguese phrases should in fact be written in some other way. My favourite was Bicho Carpinteiro (woodworm) which someone had insisted should be “bicho pelo corpo inteiro”, which is pretty good as a description of, say, lice but unless you were Pinnocchio, you couldn’t really get an infestation of bicho carpinteiro pelo corpo inteiro. I was a bit confused by his description since he seemed to be saying children could have woodworm, but it seems to relate to an idiomatic expression “ter bicho carpinteiro” or “estar com bicho carpinteiro” means to be fidgety or hyperctive (in Priberam, “Estar irrequieto; não parar quieto no mesmo lugar.”)

Then he dives into the video “How to Write Unforgettable Sentences” itself. All I can say is it must be easy to be a writer in portuguese because he manages to cover the entire subject in three minutes and thirty one seconds! He does this by examining a paragraph from Civilisation, a short story by Eça de Queirós, looking at the choice of adverbs, differing lengths of sentences, contrasting imagery and explaning how this demonstrates his total mastery of the language. This stuff is all pretty advanced. I’m not sure I could analyse a text in my own language at this level of detail, and obviously I am in no way close to being able to do it in portuguese. This is some proper C2-level content


The conclusion is used to wrap up any remaining participant questions about capitalisation, about the awkward spelling, and about a whole raft of things really. He explains them really well, giving reasons for the choice, getting people to think more about why they do it in a certain way, rather than simply giving the rule. Some of the items I found interesting were:

  • A question about how to write dialogue that spans multiple paragraphs. I hadn’t really thought about this. As I mentioned in Part 3, sometimes dialogue in portuguese is written using a hyphen at the beginning of the line instead of using speech marks at the beginning and end. So what do you do if the protagonist witters on for ages and his diaogue goes over into a new paragraph? How does the writer know that this is the same character talking and not a reply from someone else, say? The course’s solution for this is to start the speech with a hyphen and then start the next paragraph with a closing quotation mark
    • So you start with a dash like this
    • » And then when you start the new paragraph you continue with the closing part of one of these inline quotes. This looks very odd to my british eyes, I’m afraid, but that’s how it works so I’ll just have to get used to it!
  • A question about compound verbs – phrases made of a verb and a preposition like “dar para” or “passar por” – that completely change the meaning of the verb. In this video he touches on them briefly, discussing when it is ok to use them in written portuguese, but doesn’t, obviously, go into detail about the meanings of all possible versions because it would take ages. He does advise students (and remember, these are native speakers!) to check a dictionary of the meanings of these compound verbs (here’s a link to the one I use, if you’re interested), because they don’t usually appear in normal dictionaries, simply because they are made up of lmultiple words.
  • A summary (in text form, not video) of the Acordo Ortográfico. If you don’t know about this, it’s an agreement that came into effect recently to standardise the spelling of the language between its european and brazilian variants. There’s a description of it in english on wikipedia, and even an online translator here that you can use to rid your own texts of any heretical words. Weirdly, there is a disclaimer under the title that says that the explanation doesn’t actually follow the rules of the AO itself! And sure enough, right there in the first paragraph: “O Acordo Ortográfico é um acordo entre oito países de língua oficial portuguesa, com o objectivo de uniformizar a ortografia da língua portuguesa e simplificar algumas das suas regras.” there’s a word that should have lost its C under the new rules.

General thoughts (from me) about the whole course

All in all, I really enjoyed the course and found myself looking forward to each new video dropping. It’s very clear. I didn’t find myself needing to rewind and listen again as I sometimes have to on Youtube, for example. He obviously really likes the language and cares about it being used well, but he isn’t pedantic, he just likes clarity.

The distribution of videos was a bit strange and didn’t seem well thought-through. Firtly on duration: why are there only three minutes and twenty seconds on day 3 but about an hour on day 1? Could it not have been evened out a bit so that we get – say – twenty to thirty minutes a day? Then there’s the way topics were grouped together. Things that seemed to belong together were widely spaced in time. OK, I know in some cases that was because he was allowing student questions to dictate some of the lessons, but that’s not true in every case. For example, having discussed some misconceptions about the language in part 1, why save the last three examples for part 10? Why not just group all that material into one day’s lessons, probably in the “Questions and Traps” sections in days 7, 8 and 9? That would have freed up Section 10 to expand on how to write beautiful prose.

But these are minor annoyances. The general content of the course was very good, and well worth the price of admission. I would recommend it to anyone with a good level of portuguese who wants to appear more polished in their written language.