Posted in English, Portuguese

Key Learnings 8 – MiniWriMo Gleanings

Jotting down a few notes from the feedback I’ve had on my epic sci-fi story so far:

Thoughts and Memories

I keep getting mixed up about how to use lembrar vs lembrar-se.

Lembrar is more like “to be reminiscent of”:

Essa música de Panic at the Disco lembra uma música mesmo parecida dos B-52s

….or if you sling a pronoun and a “de” into the mix, “remind”:

Essa música de Panic at the Disco lembra-me duma música mesmo parecida dos B-52s

Lembrar-se is most commonly “remember” and usually takes de:

lembrei-me dalguma coisa

…although I’ve seen it with “que”:

“lembrei-me que precisava…”=”I remembered that I need to…”

…or with nothing at all:

“para eles que se lembram”=”for those who remember”

Lembrar-se can have to do with a consciousness or awareness of something as well as actual memory. There’s another verb – recordar-se which is more specific and ONLY means to remember.


This is something I sort of new but keep forgetting because it’s so different from my own way of thinking:

“It was me who did that” isn’t “Foi eu que fez isso” as it would be in english but a more logical “Fui eu que fiz isso” (“I was me that I did that”).

On the other hand, “Está na hora” (“It’s on the hour”) never becomes “Estamos na hora”, it always stays in first person singular.

Fazers on Stun

I’ve been using “Faz-me pensar de…” (“It makes me think of”) but it seems you can’t use the same trick with adjectives “Faz me cansado” (“It makes me tired”) but you have to have a verb in there: “Faz me ficar cansado” (“It makes me get tired”), although actually now I’ve written that, there are better ways of saying the same thing.


Posted in English

Fizeram Alguns Erros

Well, I said the other day I was going to do more grammar exercises and that’s just what I’ve been doing. I’m well into “Gramática Aplicada” and I have found two mistakes in an exercise on subjunctive verbs.

As you can see, I’ve use Infitivo Pessoal in both the first and second sentences. The answers given both use P de C though. It seems to be an error. Both would be right if you chucked a “que” into the original sentences. Worse, the second one is in third person plural instead of second person singular. I checked with two actual Portuguese people to confirm I was right before dashing to social media to brag shamelessly though.

Posted in Portuguese

Key Learnings 7 – Ir We Go

Jottings from lessons the past couple of days

Talking about travel

Ir a vs Ir para: Apparently Ir a is for a quick journey like to the kitchen or to school and ir para is for a longer one such as going to Canada to avoid Trump or going on holiday. It cana also be used to indicate a direction of travel.The same rules apply to vir and voltar.

Similarly, the difference between Ir de avião and ir no avião is whether you have a definite plane in mind (“no avião”) or whether you are just talking about “Going by plane” (de avião)

This is all easy stuff I should have known ages ago. I have just been using both interchangeably up to now.

Useful expressions

de vez em quando = from time to time

mais do que seria esperar = more than could have been hoped

de ano para ano = from year to year

se sim = if so

estudos de mercado = market research

Subtle differences caused by prepositions

lembro-me de teres (infinitivo pessoal)


lembro-me que tinhas (imperfeito do indicativo)





Posted in English, Portuguese

Key Learnings 6 – Maybe Not…

Yesterday I made a horrific discovery, namely that the phrase “pode ser” didn’t mean what I thought it meant. It really shook me to the core, because it was one of the stout workhorses of my vocabulary, ready to come out at a moment’s notice and bridge a gap in a sentence. As I said to my friend Márcio, who first questioned it:

Sobre “pode ser”: acreditei que significava “maybe” (talvez) mas perguntei a minha esposa e ela disse que quer dizer “It may be”, nem “maybe”.
Estou em choque. Foi uma das primeiras palavras/expressões que aprendi. Sinto-me como alguém informou-me que “obrigado” não significa “Thank you” ou “bom dia” não significa “good morning”. Devo deitar uns minutos…
Posted in English

AmErrorca’s Most Wanted

There are a few really stubborn mistakes I just can’t seem to get past. They crop up again and again, and I never get around to addressing them because they are boring and too obscure to be easily addressed by googling “How to do ____ in Portuguese”. I think if I could sort them out a lot of the baseline problems with my sentence-construction would be sorted and I’d be a much stronger speaker.

Little Fiddly Words In Front of Infinitives

Infinitives are the definitive forms of a verb, normally translated as “to be”, “to know”, “to do” and so on. Because of this, when I write one in portuguese I expect it to not need anything in front of it but sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. About the only rules here are to do with Gostar and Precisar, each of which takes a “de” after it

Ter can have a “que” or a “de”, depending what you’re doing and in other cases it might have an “a”, a “para” or just nothing. I need to get to the bottom of this and work out how it works once and for all.

Genders of Nouns

I think I’m right about 80% of the time but that’s not enough. Difficult to think how to do this without biting the bullet and learning them by rote. I considered making little stickers with lipstick on some and a moustache on others and sticking them on all the objects in my house, but that wouldn’t help me with abstract nouns. Have you ever tried sticking a moustache on despair?

Reflexive and Pseudo-Reflexive Verbs

First of all: there seem to be a hell of a lot of reflexive verbs – far more than in french – and I sometimes come across verbs that look like they have a reflexive pronoun but aren’t actually reflexive. They seem to be something to do with the passive voice – e.g. sabe-se que = “it is known that…” and yet my grammar book doesn’t show that as a way of constructing the passive voice. This sounds like one I will have to ask a teacher about.

Awkward Irregular Verbs

Things like Ser, Ir and Estar are easy because they get so much attention. The real killers are things like Dar, Pôr and of course the terrible twins, ver and vir, because they irregular and fairly common but not so common that you get a real familiarity with them day-to-day. I printed these buggers out ages ago, thinking I would just bruteforce it all into my head but somehow, whenever I think about it, there always seems to be something more pressing like picking fluff of the carpet with my bare hands, arranging my socks alphabetically or playing the national anthem on the teeth of a comb. Important stuff, you know.

So that’s what I’ll be working on this week in addition to my Hot Summer Reading. I’ll probably write blog posts about some of them as a way of motivating myself and getting them to stick.

Posted in English

Two Become One

CpR1xmZXgAE54XYSo the other day, my wife was reading the Observer to maintain our impeccable middle-class credentials, when she showed me a full-page graphic in which the headline “Why two languages are better than one” is written in several different languages, including Portuguese.

“Do you see a problem?” she asked, and I’m happy to say that, yes, it jumped out at me straight away. It turned out to be quite educational. Stay awhile and read the next few paragraphs and I will lift the lid on the whole sorry affair.

To further burnish those impeccable middle-class credentials I mentioned, I decided to take a picture of the page and tweet about it in a slightly smarmy way.  I also mentioned it to a couple of other people – a Portuguese friend on Hellotalk and an online tutor. To my surprise, both of them thought the sentence was absolutely fine and error-free. Well, what was I to do? How could I break the news to Mrs L that she had been outvoted? I asked a different tutor and she initially joined the “No, it’s fine” crowd, but then after thinking about it agreed that it was a mistake. Two all. Mrs Lusk then started pinging it out to people she was at school with – people in their forties who went to school before the Acordo Ortográfico when it all got a bit slack. At last the balance of opinion shifted decisively in favour of it being a mistake and her faith in humanity was restored.

So what was the problem? Well, my Portuguese is pretty feeble, but let me have a stab at describing what I think is going on and why it wasn’t obvious whether or not there was an error. Basically, the problem is the mismatch between

são + melhor

in the middle there. “São” is third person plural but “melhor” is singular. There are two languages so it looks like it ought to be “melhores”.

That’s as far as I had got when I was smarmily tweeting at the Observer, but I’m not even sure “sao melhores” is right either. What does the adjective describe? Not the languages themselves surely? That would be like hearing the sentence

Why two languages are better than one

and parsing it as

Why two languages are both better than this other language

That makes a sort of sense but what we’re really interested in is not the languages themselves but a person’s ability to speak the two languages. There’s a word missing:

Why speaking two languages is better than speaking one

Now it makes more sense because here “speaking” is a gerund – a present participle used as a noun. If you add the gerund back in it’s obvious what we’re actually talking about here. The adjective and the verb now refer to “speaking” so they can go back to being singular again and we can make another version of the sentence.

OK, here goes – I’m really putting my neck on the line here. If I muck this up after this much build-up I’m going to look a right tit:

Porque falar duas línguas é melhor do que falar uma

If this were Brazilian portuguese we would use a portuguese gerund (“falando”) but European Portuguese seems to prefer infinitivos (“falar”) in these kinds of situation. Apart from that… I think this is better, but if it’s not you can have a good laugh at me in the comments box below this post.

This kind of thing isn’t just a portuguese problem of course. We’ve all heard English-speakers mangling sentences because they haven’t really thought about what the words mean. Me, I always get muddled up with collective nouns. Do you say “a small group of bankers are destroying the economy” because there are multiple bankers, or “a small group of bankers is destroying the country” because there’s only one group. So it doesn’t really surprise me that there are sentences like this that can trip up perfectly intelligent portuguese people. I’ll just note it down as an interesting artefact I’ve come across on the road to fluency.

Posted in English

Key Learnings 5 – Gender Rannygazoo

I haven’t blug for a while. Blug is the past tense of blog, right? Anyway, while I have been in silent mode, I’ve been involved in a group discussion on Hellotalk run by a Portuguese friend. There are a few Portuguese-learners in there and it’s interesting to see how the conversation evolves.

Now, normally, I mention my own failings in conversation, but in this case, someone else made a mistake that I thought was really interesting and I definitely would have made it too if I’d been trying to say the same thing, so I’m writing about it to help cement the knowledge in my brain. What he said was

Eu tenho dupla nacionalidade, Americano e Português

The correction came back as

Eu tenho dupla nacionalidade, Americana e Portuguesa

Weird. He’s a bloke, so why is it “Americana” and not “Americano”? Well, the answer is that nacionalidade is a noun in its own right and the way the sentence is structured, it’s his nationality that is described as American, not him. Since nacionalidade is feminine, it becomes “Americana”. If he had said

Eu tenho dupla nacionalidade. Sou Americano e Português

that would have been OK, because in that sentence the adjective is applied to him directly. I was taken aback at first, because we anglophones are so used to not having to think about this stuff, but when you think about it, it makes sense, and opens up a little window into how the language works.

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A Standing Start

I’m pretty good at Portuguese. I mean, I’m not a great linguist like Nigel Farage with his wine list, but I’m OK on a good day. So why is it that I still can’t seem to just start a conversation from scratch? I met a Portuguese lady the other day near my house and decided to do what all the famous internet polyglots do and start talking to her, but I hadn’t warmed up by thinking in Portuguese beforehand so, translated into english, the exchange went like this:






There was some nervous laughter in between and she tried to look sympathetic to my attempts but it was basically just me broadcasting my own hopelessness. This is a pretty good example of how it’s always a good idea to do some practice to get your brain in gear before having a conversation. This is doubly true if you have an exam: never go in cold. It’ll be much harder.


*=It was 8.30PM


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Key Learnings 4 – Um Falso Amigo

Today’s lesson included the word “admirar” in an article about all the different types of coffee on offer in Portugal. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was something like

Não admira que as turistas preciso de um dicionário quando pedem um café!

The meaning seems to be “I’m not surprised the tourists need a dictionary when they order a coffee”. So “admirar”, which is obviously cognate with “admire” has obviously diverged in meaning somewhat from its English cousin.

In the same lesson, we also came across “vasculhar” which looks like it has something to do with “vascular” but if you’re expecting it to mean “to pump blood” or something then you’ve been had by another false friend. It actually means to search – not specifically searching for something but having a good old look round in general, in the way a thief might if he got into your house and was looking around to see what there might be to steal. A related word is “remexer” which means “rummage”.

Finally, “Rever” which is obviously cognate with “review” means “look again at”. It must be related to “revista” but “revista seems only to mean “magazine” now and has lost its connection tio what we think of as a review as in a book review – they use “comentário” instead.

Posted in Portuguese

Key Learnings 3 -A Pair of Ears and a Stray à

Today’s top two new things were:

Orelha and Ouvida: I have known for a while that there were two words for the ear but I had lazily assumed they were synonyms. But in fact, Ouvido is the bit you hear with and Orelha is just the flappy bit on the outside.

This sentence:

Em casa da família de acolhimento é melhor que o estudante tenha a idade aproximada à das crianças da família.

was baffling to me because the à [a+a], immediately followed by das [de+as] seems to mean “to the of the children” until I finally wrapped my head around what it was doing. The à is actually “to it” not “to the” because an a can be a pronoun as well as an article, so the sentence means

In the house of the host family it’s better that the student be of the same age as it (i.e “as the age”) of the children in the family.

As for the actual statement itself, OK, I know, I’m not sure why that would be true, but when I had the initial conversation about this I thought “família de acolhimento” meant a foster family, so it made a sort of sense. I think it’s more like a host family in some sort of school exchange program though.