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The Sempei of Sempre

When I was about 11 or 12 and learning Latin at school, my mum told me a rhyme she had for remembering the meaning of the word “semper”, meaning “always”: She’d say “Semper, semper, always keep your temper”.

It still works, most of the time, for the latin-derived word “sempre”. It usually means “always”, but there are exceptions. The first one you learn is “Sempre em frente”, meaning “straight ahead”, and there are a few other little expressions like “até sempre” and “para sempre” where it works with another word to mean something related but slightly different.

But even in normal usage, not part of an expression, it seems like the word order matters and it can change what it means depending where it comes in the sentence. I have made a couple of mistakes around this lately so I’ve been pointed to some examples. Here are a couple, shamelessly stolen from Reddit

O João sempre passou nos testes

O João passou sempre nos testes

In the first one, sempre goes before the verb, so it means “João ended up passing the tests”. Maybe he wasn’t expecting to pass but he managed to pull it off. Or maybe you weren’t sure but then you found out that, yes, yes he did.

In the second, sempre goes after the verb so it means what you expect it to mean – João was a smarty pants and every time he took a test he always passed it.

This seems to be a quirk of European Portuguese. In Brazil, it just means what you expect it to mean, regardless of the order, but in Europe, where you put it makes all the difference!

So, for us anglos, we need to resist the urge to put sempre where we would put it in our own language. “He always passed always the test”

There’s a video about it here if you’d rather hear about this from the horse’s mouth.

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With my Tony Soper mask on, creeping through the bushes in search of rare and exotic creatures in the Portuguese language, I came across this sentence in the book I’m reading. It’s part of a description of the video footage of the big dramatic confrontation between the incompetent policeman and the unrealistic villain (I feel like I’m giving spoilers for the book review I’m planning…)

Do you like the picture, by the way? My daughter showed me how to unblur a single sentence like this the other day and I’m delighted to have learned a new skill!

Anyway, “vivalma” was a new one on me. According to Priberam it’s a relatively new word composed of the two smaller words: viva, alma. Alive and soul respectively. The grammar of the sentence is a little complicated because you have the mystery-meat pronoun “se” which I always find a little difficult to deal with but it’s just triggering the passive voice: “não vira” = had not seen, “não se vira” = had not been seen.

So the whole thing means “For fifteen seconds, not a living should had been seen in the river”.

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Parsing this paragraph which has two gerunds in it. Gerunds are rare beasts in european portuguese so I thought I’d try and unpick the grammar a bit for my own benefit.

“A long time ago” began Andreia, causing Marta to sigh with frustration, as she realised that the the revelation would be delayed, “wars between peoples were fought body-to-body, steel against steel, eye to eye. Technology kept evolving and automatic weapons arose, like rifles and wars began to be fought at a distance. “

Fazendo com que:

There are a lot of compound verbs in portuguese, where a standard verb (usually a common one like dar or fazer), gets used with a preposition and takes on a different meaning.. Fazer com que means to provoke or cause something (check this ciberdúvidas article for more background). In this case, it’s in the gerund form, meaning it’s just scene-setting: The dialogue is being described and the author is just letting you know what effect it’s having on the listeners

Foi evoluindo

Using Ir + gerund like this is a way of describing something that keeps/kept happening, continuouly over time. For some reason the main example of this I can think of is a clip of a brazilian dancer in a tik-tok video compilation…. OK, OK, it’s a guilty pleasure. Leve me alone! At about the 4:35 mark, she tells you “abre e cruza e vai acelerando” (Open and close and keep speeding it up)

So “Foi evoluindo” means it kept evolving.

Posted in Portuguese

A Incontornável Vírgula de Oxford


This text is in defence of the Oxford Comma, which is actually called Vírgula de Oxford or in Brazil, Vírgula de Oxónia. I’ve put notes at the bottom containing some of the more interesting corrections.

Geralmente prefiro evitar erros de pontuação se for possível. Não sou muito picuinhas mas se vir um erro, corrijo. Mas há excepções. Se uma regra resulta numa frase ambígua ou pouco clara, antes quebrar a regra que deixar o leitor com dúvidas. É por isto, na minha opinião, que devemos exigir of uso da temível Vírgula de Oxford.

Quando se usa? Normalmente escrevemos listas assim: o primeiro item, o segundo item e o último. Não precisamos de usar uma vírgula entre o segundo e o último porque há um “e” mas considere-se a seguinte conversa:

Que* tipos de sandes** tens?

Queijo e fiambre, queijo e cebola e doce de framboesa e manteiga de amendoim.

Há uma certa ambiguidade: provavelmente há três opções: “queijo e fiambre”, “queijo e cebola” e “doce de framboesa e manteiga de amendoim” mas também pode ser “queijo e fiambre”, “queijo e cebola e doce de framboesa e manteiga de amendoim” ou “queijo e fiambre”, “queijo” e “cebola e doce de framboesa e manteiga de amendoim” ou várias outras combinações.

É provável que a maioria de nós já saibamos mas não é cem por cento óbvio, portanto o escritor tem a oportunidade de colocar uma vírgula antes do último item na lista, e antes do “e”.

Igualmente, ao escrever listas que contenham*** títulos ou qualquer coisa mais complicada do que uma única palavra, vale a pena inserir uma vírgula. Ainda que não seja certinha, qualquer coisa que ajude o leitor ou que faça com que o texto se leia melhor o texto é útil e ser claro é mais importante do que ser certinho.

* I used qual. I generally think of qual as meaning whic (which one is it?), as opposed to que, meanining what (what is it?) so I guess I was thinking which kind of sandwiches but in reflection that doesn’t really sound right does it, and maybe I was influenced by the fact that I was taking about sandw(h)iches. More about Qual vs Que here, on Ciberdúvidas.

**Side-note about sandes and sanduíches: bother are fine but sandes is more normal. It is a reduction of sanduíche, the latter being obviously an “estrangeirismo” based on an English word and therefore not very Portuguese-sounding but of course its tempting for us to use the more familiar word. Just to complicate matters further, technically sandes should be plural and sande the singular form, but “uma sandes” seems to be the default. In case you need more incentive to avoid saying sanduíche, consider this: sanduíche has the incredibly irritating characteristic of changing its gender across the Atlantic. It’s feminine in European Portuguese and masculine in Brazilian Portuguese. Whaaaaaaat? Sandes, people, don’t forget.

***Here and in the rest of the paragraph I completely failed to get I to subjunctive mode and blew all the grammar. It’s a good example of expressing an idea that has a lot of reliance on subjunctive tenses.

Posted in English, Portuguese

Locuções Temporais

I’m struggling a bit with finding the right tenses for some of the sentence structures set out in the C1 course so decided to try and write a few for practice. Thanks to Dani Morgenstern for help with the corrections.

  • Quando acabei de ler ele já tinha escrito a sequela (when I finished reading he had already written the sequel)
  • Enquanto ele tocava bateria, eu preenchia os formulários de divórcio (while he was playing drums, I was filling in the divorce forms)
  • Quando chegares a casa, descasca as batatas (when you get home, peel the potatoes)
  • Ela disse-me que queria ser primeira ministra quando fosse grande (she told me she wanted to be prime minister when she was big)
  • Quando o vírus tivesse passado, ela voltava a treinar (when the vírus had passed she went back to training – I think the sense here is of something that happened repeatedly: she’d get ill every so often and go back to training after each occurrence, hence the imperfect tense)
  • Enquanto não leres o texto não estás capaz de responder às perguntas (since you won’t read the text you won’t be able to answer the questions)
  • Enquanto os negócios tivessem apoio financeiro não iriam à falência durante a pandemia. (as long as the businesses had financial support, they wouldn’t fail during the pandemic)
  • Enquanto o tio Rui não tivesse chegado a casa, a família não começava a jantar* (since Uncle Rui hadn’t arrived at the house the family weren’t starting their dinner)

*It’s probably worth pointing out here that this “a” is a preposition and “jantar” a verb. They hadn’t started to dine. But jantar can also be a noun so I could also have said “o jantar” instead of “a jantar” and the sentence would still work but it would mean “they hadn’t started the dinner”.

  • Logo que o comboio parta, telefona-me (as soon as the train leaves, call me)
  • Assim que receberes a carta do SNS, marca consulta. (as soon as you get a letter from the SNS, make an appointment)
  • No momento em que as cortinas se abrissem, a banda comecaria a tocar (as soon as the curtains opened the band would start to play)
  • Mal tivesse aberto a janela, o pisco entraria na sala (as soon as he had opened the window the robin would enter the room)
  • Logo que eu acordava tomava um café (as soon as he woke up, he used to have a cup of coffee)
  • Assim que enviou a carta, percebeu que se tinha esquecido do selo (Just as he posted the letter he realised he’d forgotten the stamp)
  • No momento em que o professor abriu a boca a campainha tocou (at the instant the teacher opened his mouth the bell rang)
  • Mal soube as noticias, começou a chorar (As soon as he heard the news he started to cry)
  • Antes que te esqueças, faz notas sobre a reunião (before you forget make some notes about the meeting)
  • Antes que ligasse ao meu pai, ele enviou-me uma mensagem (Before I called my dad, he sent me a message)
  • Antes de abrir a boca vou pensar duas vezes (before I open my mouth I’m going to think twice)
  • Depois de nos termos encontrado a minha vida era vazio e sem propósito (Before we met each other, my life was empty and without purpose)
Posted in English, Portuguese

To Tu or Not To Tu, That is the Desmond

I’m not sure whether making this pun in the week when the anti-apartheid hero died will be taken as offensive, but I needed to write about when to use “tu” in a sentence and the pun was just there waiting to be made and I’m not made of wood, people. I once almost walked into him in… Cambridge, I think, after a group of us made a pilgrimage from Norwich to attend his speech in about um… 1989? He was very good-natured about it.

Anyway, let’s get down to business. Here’s the question I asked yesterday.

Why (according to the C1 course I’m doing) is the word “tu” necessary in this sentence:

Tu vais ter mais experiência de vida. Nessa altura, vais compreender-me.

But absolutely wrong in this sentence, which is my attempt to rewrite the first using different tenses.

Quando tu tiveres mais experiência de vida, vais compreender-me

The gist of the answers I got was that the course’s model answer was wrong, or at least not unambiguously right. Although you don’t need it in the second sentence, you don’t need it in the first either, and since the exercise was to rewrite the sentence, it made sense to retain it if it was already there. The “tu” is superfluous because the conjugation of “vais” and of “tiveres” tells you you’re in the second person singular. If I had been changing “vai ter” into “tiver” then it would have been necessary to add a pronoun (ele or ela, probably) because “tiver” is ambiguous in a way that “vai ter” is not. Sometimes these things are just done on what sounds better so it might have been down to the personal sensibilities of the person setting the questions. It’s not very consistent though. Minor irritation.

Anyway, one of the respondents gave me some feedback that made me swell with pride:

So here is the question in the original Portuguese as a record of the most-praised Portuguese text I have ever written!

Uma das minhas dúvidas recorrentes é quando usar e quando não usar pronomes com verbos. Regra geral, não se usam tanto quanto em inglês mas por exemplo no meu curso, tenho de rescrever a seguinte frase começando com uma palavra específica e fazendo as alterações necessárias:

Q) Tu vais ter mais experiência de vida. Nessa altura, vais compreender-me.

R) Quando ____

Respondi assim:

Quando tu tiveres mais experiência de vida, vais compreender-me

Falhei. A resposta certa é exactamente igual mas tirando o "tu". OK tuga, mas... Porque? Porque é que o "tu" é necessário no modelo mas desnecessário - até errado - na resposta? Ambos exprimem a mesma ideia. Eu sei que a forma de "tiverES" assinala que estamos na segunda pessoa mas isso é igualmente verdade de "vaiS".

Desculpem o tom irritado. É ligeiramente frustrante fazer um curso que não explicam estas coisas. 🤷🏼‍♂️

Posted in English

Grammar Police

I spotted this on twitter and was pleased to find that I understood what he was annoyed about

The headline writer has got in a mix-up between two tenses. He could have gone with the imperative “habituemo-nos” (let’s get used to wearing masks) or made a pronoun sandwich with the future tense “habituar-nos-emos” (we will get used to wearing masks) but he’s instead tried to put the pronoun in the end of the future tense and people are riled up.

Regular readers and grammar nerds might remember the terms for these positions. When the pronoun goes on the end of the verb it’s caller “ênclise” and when it goes in the middle, its called “mesóclise”. The missing third term is próclise, where the pronoun goes before the noun. The rules are set out here if you want some good, solid grammar broccoli for the day.

Posted in Portuguese


Random witterings based on the subjunctive exercises in the C1 course. Notes below. Thanks to Cataphract for correcting the original

Ainda que tenha tentado muitas vezes entender os tempos verbais mais… Profissionais, digamos assim, deste* idioma, continuo confuso. Já fiz um exercício** hoje de manhã, chumbei (quarenta e dois por cento, que desgraça!) e fiz novamente. Apesar de ter revisto as respostas todas, não conseguiria passar, nem que*** a nota das escolhas múltiplas tivesse aumentado, porque as respostas escritas permaneceram cem por cento erradas (o site não mostra exemplos correctos deste tipo de questão, o que não é muito prestável!).

Decidi deixar o exercício para amanhã. Entretanto, se revir**** as informações sobre os significados, e os graus de probabilidade das várias estruturas (“mesmo que”, “caso” e os outros marcadores que introduzem o modo conjuntivo), talvez fique mais capaz de lidar com este curso do caraças!

*=idioma is one of those Greek derived words that ends in a but is still masculine.

**=for some reason my spellchecker got it into its head that this word was spelled with an s so it kept changing it. Luckily in Android there’s a way of holding down your thumb on a predicted word and telling it never to predict that again, so I’ve done that now.

***=This pair of words, “nem que” comes up a fair bit in this exercise and I hadn’t really been conscious of it before. It means “even if” and its one of those constructions that needs a subjunctive verb.

****=review. I wrote “rever” which os the infinitive but this is a future subjunctive and it looks like the infinitive of a totally different verb!

Posted in Portuguese

Organizar o Discurso

Neste texto, tento usar algumas expressões do curso C1 que ajudam o escritor organizar um discurso. A história (da apresentação) é verdade mas confesso que ainda não li o livro que foi apresentado, portanto é provável que o meu resumo dos conteúdos é errado.

_No que se refere à_ história dos nossos tempos transtornados, já há vários livros editados que descrevem os efeitos da crise, mesmo que estamos ainda em plena pandemia. É interessante ler os opiniões does escritores mas _é de salientar_ a dificuldade de entender, numa maneira nítida, um evento histórico quando estiver a acontecer.

_Pode-se citar a título do exemplo_, um livro chamado “O Diário da Bela Vista” de Clara Mecedo Cabral, que foi apresentado ontem no consulado português em Londres. _Eis um exemplo_ do género, _exemplificando_ alguns dos melhores aspectos dum diário da vida contemporânea _bem como_ a contraste entre a sua vida em Londres e em Lisboa.

O livro foi resumido por um responsável da Junta da Freguesia da Estrela que editou o livro. _Sintetizando_ os seus pensamentos, _conclui-se que_ a freguesia tinha muito orgulho de apresentar este livro que dá tanto luz na história e na geografia daquele território.

Depois, _deu a palavra_ à autora, que falou mais uns minutos. Em breve ela convidou-nos experimentar uma espécie de conhaque regional chamado “Old Nosey” por causa do Duque de Wellington que passou por lá durante a guerra peninsular mas alguém chamou “_se me permites interromper_, posso pedir uma leitura de um ou dois parágrafos?” Na verdade, a apresentação tinha sido tão breve, suponho que ela quisesse ouvir mais. O parágrafo falou de scones (um tipo de petisco inglês) com manteiga portuguesa. Uma conjugação muito adequada à harmonia entre os nossos países!

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Vontade, Desejo

This is a short text trying to fit in as many expressions of will, intention or desire as possible. The expressions are from the Camões Institute’s C1 course. Thanks to Dani for the corrections.

Está nos meus planos fazer uma corrida daqui a três semanas. Tenho ideias de melhorar o meu desempenho da última corrida. Morro de vontade de manter uma velocidade alta durante a corrida inteira. Não suporto (a idea de) que* os meus tempos possam voltar a ser de mais do que uma hora como nas corridas do verão passado. Fiquei eufórico quando corri dez quilómetros em 55 minutos em outubro. Claro que preferia correr ainda mais rápido! Tenho ganas de ganhar a corrida mas não é provável e no fim das contas, deliro com cada corrida na qual ultrapasso os meus limites. Um dia claro cairia muito bem, e viria mesmo a calhar** se houvesse um vento forte nas minhas costas. Queira Deus que o clima*** esteja bom porque morro de aborrecimento quando corro em condições cinzentas e ventosas.

*=”I can’t bear (the idea) that…” This construction needs a noun immediately after it and when the verb does come, it’s subjunctive.

**=”vir a calhar” is a weird one and I think I got it wrong in the original text. Calha is a gutter so I took “vir a calhar” as something negative but it’s more like “being channelled in the right direction” so, like “cair muito bem” it has a sense of things turning out well by good luck. There’s a ciberdúvidas article about the expression if you want to know more. Anyway, the long and the short of it is, I made such a mess of this sentence that the marker didn’t really get what I was driving at at all 😔

***=I wanted to write “o tempo” but since that means “time” as well as “weather” it seems like it would be super-confusing here! Clima is more like “climate” than weather of course, so it sounds a little bit off.