Posted in English

Sir Isaac Neuter

I wrote this weeks ago but it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for ages

I had quite a response to the post a few days weeks ago about fringe issues of grammatical gender, It’s been helpful and interesting. It’s always interesting when I get corrections from Portuguese speakers of course, but these ones were even more interesting because it seemed like there were so many different takes on the subject so it was more like a debate and not just people telling me I’ve used the wrong tense or whatever. I must admit though that I wish I’d toned down my sense of humour. I think some of the tone came across as being a douchey anglophone who was criticising someone else’s grammar for being structurally sexist. Not my intention of course. I know english is weird in its own way (the spelling! Oh my god!) but this is a blog about learning portuguese so I’ll let someone else write about that.

Most languages have gender as a way of dividing nouns into different types of course. Portuguese inherited its system from Latin. We used to have it in english too but it faded hundreds of years ago. I pay a lot of attention to gender in portuguese, mostly because I find it so hard to remember the rules (see my post on gender & noun endings for example!). And, as a result of that attention, I often notice some of the more unusual aspects, and they grab my attention much more than the standard day-to-day words. That’s why I wrote the last article: It was as if I’d been looking for ladybirds and suddenly came across some weird, 24-legged purple creature with six wings hiding under a leaf. Suddenly, I’m emptying out my bug-jar to make room for it.

I’ve also had a lot of people replying specifically to the issue of gender as it relates to people (what the cool kids refer to as “gender identity”). I hadn’t really seen this as a key part of the post but again I didn’t really do myself with the choice of jokes. First of all, calling the piece “Neuter Kids on the Block” seemed like quite a good pun. Neuter is the name of a third gender in Latin that is neither masculine nor feminine so it seemed to fit with the story about the teacher. I’m not suggesting kids can be “neuter” of course. Mixing up grammatical gender and a person’s sex and/or the way they describe their gender is usually going to cause confusion. They’re not completely unrelated of course: some words will change the ending according to the person’s sex like médico/médica, professor/professora, but it’s best to keep them as two separate things in your head. Sorry. Wasn’t thinking.

I think the best way is to do this as a series of headings because the objections and corrections don’t really form a coherent whole.

What kinds of non-gender-specific pronouns are there?

Addressing mixed groups

In standard portuguese, if you are referring to any group of people using a pronoun then it needs to be “eles” (subject) or “os” (direct object) unless they are all women, in which case it’s “elas” and “as”. Indirect objects are the same for both: “-lhes”. When it comes to adjective endings, if they change at all, the rule is straightforward: if they are all female then you use “-as” but if there is one or more male it defaults to the masculine plural “-os”. That holds true even if the women outnumber the men by a million to one.

This is what I was referring to in the original post: it seems as though the tutor in my lesson was not satisfied with this situation and had changed it to an “e” ending in order to create a non-gender-specific (neuter) ending that isn’t part of standard portuguese because, I guess, she thinks masculine shouldn’t be the default. Nobody has suggested any alternative explanation so I am still pretty sure that’s what her intention was. A few people were quite skeptical of her approach though. For example, Reddit user Butt_Roidholds pointed out that in a lot of accents you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an -e ending and an -o ending anyway. You can see this on some meme accounts like bilbiamtengarsada on Instagram, where they’ll write dialect spelling that sometimes has an e on place of the o, but they aren’t being woke, just mimicking an accent.

Addressing mixed sets of individuals.

This one is slightly different because you’re addressing individual readers, not treating them as a group. For example, sending out an email to multiple people. Again, in theory you should be able to treat them all as masculine endings, as if the masculine gender in Portuguese was applicable to everyone. I don’t think most people think this way though and you’ll usually see something like “caro/a leitor(a)” to take account of the fact that the person reading it might be male or female. It’s a bit like in English when you write “Dear sir/madam”

On the Internet, you might see this written using an @ sign. Like today a few weeks ago on Instagram, someone (I think it was Literacidades) posted a poll about people’s covid vaccination status and one of the options was “vacinad@” because the individual user could be vacinado or vacinada. I like this. It’s neat. You obviously can’t pronounce it in speech, and that makes it a problem for people with impaired vision who are browsing the internet using text-to-speech software, and that’s a shame because it seems like a tidy way to do it.

Addressing People Who Self-Describe as Non-Binary

OK, we’re into the controversial bit now. Don’t panic, we’re going to get through this. Probably. The focus of the post is meant to be language and how some speakers of portuguese are trying to change the way it’s used. I’m not setting out to talk about the underlying question of how the idea of gender is changing in society generally. Although I very definitely do have an opinion on that, this is a language blog so I’m not here to evaluate the truth claims of the various competing versions of gender theory or the various arguments for or against. If you want that, go on twitter and you’ll find someone who’ll be happy to fight you to the death in a cage. Just don’t tell them I sent you.

That said, it is just possible that you haven’t heard the term non-binary before, so I’ll need to give a little bit of background.

There’s been a trend in the last few years for people to identify as “non-binary”. In other words, they do not think of themselves as relating to traditional notions of masculine or feminine and therefore they don’t want to be described as a man or a woman. This is part of a wider trend towards people believing that what makes you a man or a woman (or neither) is not the body but some internal sense of yourself. This is explained in a variety of different ways, and people who want it to be normalised are trying to effect change, mainly to pronouns, in their own languages around the world through social media campaigns, the school curriculum, changes to the law and so on.

Zir Isaac Newton

Of course that process is much, much more complicated in romance langauges than it is in english. In english, people who identify as not having a gender often prefer to be referred to either by a “neo-pronoun” like “zi” or “zer” (full list here) or using plural pronouns “they” and “them” instead of the usual he/she/him/her. People may differ about whether they regard this as politeness or attention-seeking and to what extent they are willing to comply with it, but at least for us english speakers that’s really the extent of the change and you don’t need to worry about adjective endings or any of that malarkey.

Assuming you are interested in finding out how this works in portuguese (and I guess if you weren’t you would have rolled your eyes and skipped ahead to the next section by now) here’s the state of play as of July September 2021, but obviously if you’re reading this in 2025 it will probably all seem laughably outdated and you will be cancelled if you repeat any of it.

Basically…

  • There are four completely different sets of candidate pronouns that can be applied to non-binary individuals in portuguese. The most popular is “the Elu system”. It uses Elu/Elus for its third person subject pronouns and so on through “delu” and “aquelus” and so on. But there are also systems based on Ile, Ilu and El. The last one seems like one to avoid if you’re a foreigner since the last thing you want is for someone to think you’re trying to talk to them in spanish!
  • The equivalent definite articles are either ê/ês or le/les, depending on the system. Adjective endings go to either e or u, so you get sentences like “ê carlos é muito esperte“. Possessives change too of course: Tue or Tu instead of Teu and Tua for example.
  • I think it’s correct to say these neo-pronouns are neuter pronouns, grammatically speaking, even though people are not neuter. Neuter exists in grammar, not in human biology.
  • It’s possible to avoid the issue entirely by means of circumlocations like “aquela pessoa é muito bonita” because pessoa is a feminine word you can use a feminine adjective while avoiding a social faux-pas no matter who you are referring to. Similarly, “trabalha numa biblioteca” instead of “é bibliotecário/a” and “molhaste-te por causa da chuva” instead of “estás todo molhado/a”.
  • Avoid the “-x” ending popular among americans or the @ ending that I mentioned above. They’re impossible to pronounce and don’t work with screen readers.
  • Non-binary and inclusive language applies only to humans, not animals or things. As I mentioned in the last post, this obviously strikes us as odd since we think of all inanimate objects and even some animals as basically having no gender because no biological sex, but portuguese has genders for all nouns and (if these changes becaome accepted by a majority of people) humans would be the only nouns that can be referred to without gender!

This is all set out with a lot more detail in a manual of inlusive language here which will presumably be updated from time to time. The guy says right in the intro that the language is “unfortunately still very binary and sexist” which I think is not something I’d agree with, but it’s not my language so I’ll leave it to others to comment. The manual is brazilian, I think, but as with america and britain, it tends to be the larger, more noisy transatlantic country that sets the agenda for the smaller, quieter one.

Summary

All of the above sections are pretty controversial of course and different people had different takes on it. AndreMartins5979 said that a better way of looking at this is to think of the masculine gender in portuguese as being neuter. It’s only called “masculine” because the feminine exists. So, he argues, Portuguese should stop using feminine and be more like english and just use one ending for all adjectives. I think this is the only time I have seen a portuguese speaker express this opinion. I can see the attraction obviously, because I speak english and it’s a lot easier, but it runs up against the same problem all the other suggested changes have: how do you implement a change this drastic across all printed materials, all websites, all schools, all conversations in all portuguese speaking countries in a way that everyone can agree with?

Taking the Acordo Ortográfico as an example, it would be pretty difficult, to say the least!

Other users described these sorts of changes, even when they are less extreme than the one Andre suggested, as “ugly” and “inelegant” and an imposition from the anglosphere onto the lusosphere.

Paxona, who is brazilian, mentioned that in her state, gender neutral language had been banned in schools. I don’t know quite how to feel about this: the current brazilian president is… well, let’s just say “a divisive figure”. I can think of shorter ways to describe him, but that’ll do. It’s a state ruling though, not a federal law. Anyway, I’m not really sure what the motivation is behind this law. Generally, I’m not a fan of banning language. Language changes when people start using it differently, not when some central authority decrees it, but she pointed out that education is the duty of the state – and hence, schools are a form of central authority in their own communities. So, in a world where there are several conflicting theories of how pronouns should be used, it’s all in flux and it’s all very controversial, it’s probably right that the legislature attempt to exert some sort of stabilising influence, at least for the time being. Otherwise you have a lot of well-meaning teachers, all trying to impose their own preferred systems and their own pet theories on a bunch of kids whose parents all speak standard portuguese.

Why is Masculinity not Masculine?

My daughter has just looked over my shoulder and seen this headline and now thinks I am writing something very, very woke.

Part of the original post was about a book called “O Feminino e o Moderno” by Ana Luísa Vilela, Fábio Maria da Silva and Maria Lúcia Dal Farra. And I said “O Feminino” meant “Femininity”. As Paxona pointed out, that isn’t quite right though. It’s more like “the feminine”. It’s a noun that tends only to be used in academic or abstract settings. According to Priberam:

Conjunto de qualidades ou atributos considerados como pertencentes às mulheres (ex.: representações do feminino na pintura)”
“feminino”, in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [em linha], 2008-2021, https://dicionario.priberam.org/feminino [consultado em 03-07-2021].

So “O Masculino” and “O Feminino” are both masculine, and “A Masculinidade” and “A Feminilidade” are both feminine. So that’s er… totally clear then!

Why are Feminine Things Masculine?

I still find it really confusing when I need to describe something as masculine but the noun is a feminine noun.

So here’s a page about “Roupas Masculinas“. “Roupa” is a feminine word, so even though these specific clothes are designed for men, the adjective ends up being masculina, not masculino. It’s a masculine feminine thing. Thinking about this gives me a headache.

Likewise, here are some Acessorios Femininos.

The plot really thickens when you get to word like “Grávido” which means pregnant. As I said in the last post, the default form of the adjective is masculine even though males can never get pregnant. Now, I still think if I were a portuguese woman this would enrage me more than words can express but I seem to be alone in that view.

Reddit user Xavieryes points out three possible situations where you could legitimately use grávido in its masculine form:

  • A male seahorse can get pregnant. Like all male animals, daddy seahorses (seastallions???) produce small gametes that fertilise the larger female ones, but unlike most species, female seahorses pass their eggs over to the male and he carries the fertilised eggs until they are seafoals ready for their first seadressage.
  • There are also trans-men, ie biologically female humans who identify as socially masculine and often prefer to be known by male pronouns. They can become pregnant and could then also be said to be “grávido”.
  • Finally, a guy whose wife/girlfreind is pregnant might be said to be grávido, in a jokey way, either because he is very uxorious – like when english-speaking couples say “we’re pregnant”, or it might just be because he has a big beer belly

So that’s three exceptions that justify the word grávido as being default in the dictionary over grávida. and again, I know its just the rules of how the language works but… I still think if I were a portuguese woman I would be burning the world down because of this.

Well, I think that’s the best I can do. It’s not the easiest of subjects to write about clearly and I expect there will be people who disagree so feel free to tell me about it in the comments 👇

I have asked on the portuguese subreddit if it’s OK to quote the people named, but if anyone would rather I deleted their username, drop me a line and I’ll do that.

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A Próclise, A Mesóclise e a Ênclise e o Rock ‘n’ Roll

Próclise, Mesóclise and Ênclise are words used in grammar lessons to describe the position of the adverb relative to the verb. In Brasil, Próclise is far more common than either of the other two, but in Portugal it’s the exception rather than the rule, These notes are taken from a Ciberdúvidas post.

Próclise

The pronoun goes before the verb

  1. After certain common adverbs such as bem, mal, ainda, já, talvez, apenas, também, não, sempre, só (according to Wikipedia, “Hoje” is a pronoun that fits this bill too, believe it or not!)
    • Sempre o vejo
    • Ainda me rio quando penso nisso.
    • Hoje me convidarão para a solenidade de posse da nova directoria
  2. After indefinite subjects such as “ambos” or “alguns”
    • Ambos o odeiam
  3. In subordinate clauses
    • Quando a ouvi, não acreditei
  4. In coordinate clauses – basically where you’ve referred to a thing in a sentence already, then you use a conjunction like “and”, “but” or “or” to join to another clause where you refer to it again
    • Ou tens o bolo ou o comes.
  5. Where the subject of the verb goes after the verb it wold be crowded to have the object pronoun there too
    • Isso te digo eu

Mesóclise

The pronoun goes inside the verb like an insane pronoun sandwich, which seems… peculiar…. until you realise that it was originally because the future and conditional tenses were made up of the infinitive and a form of “havere” the version of latin that eventually became the portuguese language. Actually, it’s still peculiar, but knowing the reason behind it is some consolation, I suppose.

  1. Future tense [where none of the próclise conditions apply]
    • Contar-lhe-ia uma história
    • Comê-lo-ei
    • BUT Quando sairmos do UE, não o arrependerá?
  2. Conditional tense
    • Dar-lhe-ia
    • BUT Se encontrasse Boris Johnson, nao lhe falaria

 

Ênclise

The pronoun goes after the verb

  1. Basically
  2. All
  3. Other
  4. Times
Posted in English

Grammar Smackdown

In a very occasional series entitled “disagreeing with my Portuguese teacher”, here’s a more complicated example of tortuous grammar from the book I’ve just finished that underscores the reason I have to keep struggling with the word “se”.

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It’s confusing AF so I’ll highlight the salient words in red in both the original and translations so you can see where they go.

Talvez que o marido da tia Emília se tivesse podido salvar se estivesse na cidade e tivesse dinheiro para o médico e para os tratamentos.

I was convinced one of these was a reflexive pronoun but my teacher said they were both condicionals, not pronouns, which would make it

Maybe Aunt Emília’s husband if he had been able to save and if he was in the city and had enough money for the doctor and the treatments.

I scratched my head over this for a while because there doesn’t seem to be a main verb. I’ve just asked m’wife and she translated it the same way I would have, which makes me feel vindicated

Maybe Aunt Emília’s husband would have been able to save himself, if he was in the city and had enough money for the doctor and the treatments.

It’s confusing because the three verbs underlined in the original quote are in imperfect subjunctive tense, which can be triggered by “se” when it’s used as a conditional, so it’s hard to see if that “tivesse” is triggered by se (meaning if) just before it or by the “talvez” at the beginning of the sentence.

I reckon the first “se” is a reflexive pronoun and I’ve got my wife’s entirely unbiased opinion backing me up. In a less complicated sentence you could write it as “Se tem podido salvar” or “he has been able to save himself”. Or even less complicatesd, “Salvou-se”.

So there you go, if even two portuguese people can’t agree the meaning of a sentence, there’s no need to feel embarrassed if you don’t get it right straight away either.

Posted in English

Oh Se Can You See (Version 4)

This is an updated version of my brainstorm about the four intractable problems (“4 evil exes”) I identified before my first B2 exam, trying to wrestle with the subject by putting it into a post, because explaining something to someone else is usually a pretty good way of learning it yourself. Since I wrote the first version, and then my second my understanding as developed a bit so I thought I’d update this to solidify that knowledge. Just ignore version 3 – it was just like 2 but with some new mistakes. In fact, in general, remember I’m writing this mainly as a way of helping my own understanding and you’d be crazy to believe anything I say. If you’re confused, go and ask a proper teacher.


 

Quite often in Portuguese, the word “Se” crops up in unexpected places, hanging around verbs, and it isn’t always clear what it’s doing there. Here is a breakdown of its possible uses,

As a word meaning “If”

This is the odd one out, really, and the easiest one to spot. In this case, the word happens to be hanging around the sentence and maybe the verb will have to change as a result but in this case it’s not really strongly interacting with the verb, so you can just translate it in your had as “if” and move on. If you’re at B2 level and don’t already know about the subjunctive imperfect, go and have a read. Otherwise, forget it.

Não sei se na vossa casa sobrou muito chocolate dos ovos de Páscoa?

Or

Se tivesse dinheiro o suficiente, eu encheria a casa de livros

As a reflexive pronoun

Se is one of the pronouns used in the construction of reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs are just verbs in which the subject and the object can be the same thing. For example, “I can dress myself”. I am the one who is doing the dressing, and I am the one being dressed, so it’s a reflexive verb. In Portuguese and other romance languages, reflexive verbs seem a bit counter-intuitive.Sometimes they are used in situations you wouldn’t expect and sometimes they mean “each other” instead of “oneself”.

Of course, it’s not always “se”. The complete set of pronouns looks like this:

  • me
  • te
  • se
  • nos
  • vos
  • se

Here are some examples of reflexive verbs:

 Standard Meaning Reflexive Meaning
 lembrar to remind lembrar-se to remember
amar to love amar-se to love one another
 apaixonar to fall in love apaixonar-se to fall in love with each other
 deitar to lay (something) down deitar-se to lie down
 levantar to lift levantar-se to get up
 beijar to kiss beijar-se to snog each other
 banhar to bathe (someone) banhar-se to have a bath
 chamar to call (someone) chamar-se to be called/named
 lavar to wash something lavar-se to have a wash
 sentar* to put someone in a sitting position? sentar-se to sit down
 sentir  to sense something  sentir-se to be conscious of something
 voltar  to turn, return, re-do  voltar-se to turn around
 servir to serve servir-se to help oneself to
 vestir to dress someone vestir-se to get dressed
 ** suicidar-se to kill oneself
 cortar cut cortar-se to cut oneself
 achar to find achar-se to find oneself

*sentar apparently exists but it’s not used often

**When I first wrote this article I confidently said that “suicidar” couldn’t exist in a non-reflexive form since you can’t suicide someone else. However, you’ll occasionally come acorss this sort of thing:

https://twitter.com/OhFazFavor/status/774212893189496832?s=09

which my teacher tells me is just crap grammar.

And here are a few that need pronouns with them (to call back to this post)

Infinitive Meaning
aproveitar-se de to take advantage of
convencer-se de to convince oneself about
lembrar-se de to remember about
esquecer-se de to forget about
queixar-se de to complain about
rir-se* de to laugh about
decidir-se a to decide
dedicar-se a to dedicate oneself to
acostumar-se com to get familiar with
parecer-se com to resemble
surpreender-se com to be surprised by

*surprisingly, rir is supposed to be reflexive most of the time. You’re not laughing something, you’re just laughing. There’s nothing on the receiving end of the verb. People often use it non-reflexively but that’s an informal use.

Reflexive pronouns usually go after the verb in european portuguese (but there are exceptions such as negatives, questions and after words like “que”. In Brasil they just whack it in front of the verb, the dirty beasts.

If it’s a compound verb, you have options. With ir+infinitive, the pronoun can attach either to the stem or to the auxiliary

Ele vai-se encontrar com ela.

Ele vai encontrar-se com ela.

but with ter+participle it has to go after the auxiliary

Ele tinha-se separado de sua namorada.

Ele tinha separado-se de sua namorada.

Note that we usually think of reflexive verbs as “bouncing back” to the subject, so the subject and the object are the same person, like when we say in english “I’ve wet myself” instead of “I’ve wet the baby’s head”. This isn’t always true as we can see from the list above, and we can also think of it as having some sort of mutuality

Pedro e Maria deram-se as mãos.

They held each other’s hands, not their own hands.

As an impersonal pronoun

When discussing a generalised situation – like the english “one”, described in this Portuguese grammar article as “sujeito indeterminado” (unknown subject)

One shouldn’t drink too much

It’s not used very often these days because it’s usually felt to sound a bit pretentious, so people will usually use “you”

You shouldn’t drink too much

which of course sounds as if the speaker is admonishing their listener directly to lay off the booze. This is a bit of a loss to the english language, because being able to speak in general terms is useful and avoids a lot of misunderstandings.

The Portuguese haven’t made this mistake and use “se” as an impersonal pronoun, which makes more sense, I think.

Here’s an example that really threw me because it was used with the verb “ser”

Há uma frase inglesa que está sempre presente: “I had to smile“. Significa que se foi obrigado a sorrir

Se foi means “one was”. Some person was obliged to smile.

Similarly

Sabia que é preciso pagar para se ser santo?

I was confused because it looks like “Saint” is a noun and it’s the object of the verb so it shouldn’t need the se, but santo is more like a condition – an adjective. “Did you know that you need to pay to be [holy]” not “Did you know that you need to pay to be [a saint]” Now this seems to be a bit subtle but it seems to be a way of amphasising the verb as a verb. It’s optional, in other words, but it sounds better. Bloody hell…

Ou lá o que se faz no Facebook

Or whatever happens on facebook.

Here’s a nice example that’s a lot harder to translate but pretty.

O êxito do celebre poema de Florbela Espanca deve-se a maneira como trata o verbo amar como intransitivo. Ama-se como chove. Perguntar: “Mas amar quem?” é como perguntar: “Chove quem?”

autorid01231OK, I said it would be hard to translate but I’ll have a go. Amar is normally a transitive verb (X loves Y.) but here Miguel Esteves Cardoso praises  Florbela Espanca for the way she uses it intransitively (X loves.) and he uses “se” to talk about how people in general love.

The success of the well-known poem of Florbela Espanca is owed to the way in which she treats the verb “to love” as an intransitive. One loves like it rains. To ask “but love who” is like asking “rain who?”

Um… well, I hope I’m not too far off the mark there. Incidentally, I think this is the poem he means.

Notice that he also uses “deve-se”, and that brings me onto the next type of se:

As part of a sentence in the passive voice

Passive voice is when you use a phrase like “it was done”, “mistakes were made”, “a murder was committed” instead of the more direct “He did it”, “We made a mistake” or “Someone committed murder”. I quite like this form of words and use it in writing but some people find it vague and evasive, and for that very reason it’s popular in political speech and PR briefings.

O êxito do […] poema […] deve-se… means “The poem’s success is owed…” [or “is due to”]

“O livro publicou-se” means “the book was published”

Em Portugal bebe-se muito café (A lot of coffee is drunk in Portugal)

or

Fala-se Inglês (English is spoken here)

and in the negative…

Não se fala Espanhol no Brasil

One context that will be familiar to a lot of portuguese learners is this from the introduction to some of the Diálogos in the Practice Portuguese Podcast:

As conversas que se seguem são baseadas em factos verídicos

“The conversations that follow are based on true facts.”

But which one is it?

Now, it’s not always clear whether a phrase like

Em Portugal bebe-se muito café

should be translated as “a lot of coffee is drunk” (passive voice) or “one drinks a lot of coffee” (imperonal pronoun) but, really, is there a lot difference?

Apparently the key is whether you can replace it with Ir+participle. Passive verbs described in the presvious section are known as “passiva sintética” to distinguish it from “passive analítica” which is where you say something like “Muito café é bebido em Portugal” and that works, so this is a passive voice construction. The only difference it seems to make is that in passive voice, the verb changes with the subject

“Muitos pasteis são comidos em Portugal” => “Comem-se muitos bolos no Brasil”

…which means it’s reflexive, so if many cakes are eaten, it needs to be comem-se, not come-se.

But in the example given on the web page….

“Trabalha-se muito por aqui” can’t easily be transformed in the same way without changing the meaning “É trabalhado muito por aqui.” It doesn’t really work. So it won’t ever need to become “Trabalham-se muito por aqui” or “Trabalhas-te muito por aqui”. We don’t know who the subject is so we won’t ever make the verb agree with the subject.

I think in the more ambiguous cases, it’s best not to worry about translating and just read it as it is, and not think of it as directly equivalent to either english form. The upshot of both sentences is that an awful lot of coffee drinking goes on in Portugal. This is a good way of training yourself not to automatically translate everything into english but instead just try and absorb the meaning from the portuguese words.

For Emphasis?

I’t’s not quite clear how phrases like “Vou-me embora” fit into this. The subject is known and it’s not really passive. My teacher said it’s to do with emphasis, and the fact that it’s intransitive (ie, it’s a verb that just happens without needing to happen to something) probably helps too.

 

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The Corrections

OK, let’s have a look at that homework from the other day about reflexive and non-reflexive uses of verbs and see how badly wrong it all was. Underlinings and crossings out are correctios, red text is just highlighting the bit I was trying to get right

1a) Sabe que é preciso pagar para se ser português? [just missing a preposition]
1b) Quer tenha cidadania quer não, não é possível ser um português verdadeiro se não foi criado lá.
2a) O Cristianismo* incentiva os seus seguidores a se serem mais honestos. [missing a preposition but doesn’t need the “se”]
2b) O Cristianismo* ajuda os seus aderentes a serem pessoas melhores.
*=I wrote “cristandade” but although that exists I think it’s more like “Chistendom” than “Christianity”
3a) A frase que se segue é mais um exemplo [this is right but the “se” is passive voice rather than reflexive]
3b) Esta frase segue a frase passada.
4a) Se ganhar o Euromillions, ficar-me-ei feliz? [I seem to have had some sort of senior moment here and chosen completely the wrong verb, but the reflexive aspect is legit (but optional) to give emphasis to the verb]
4b) Se mudar o meu modo de vida serei uma pessoa mais feliz?
5a) Fiquei desiludido com o iTalki e por isso tornei-me membro do Lingq
5b) Fiquei desiludido com o chuveiro e por isso abri o torneira para tomar banho. [another bad verb but more understandable. Portuguese people open (abrir) and close (fechar) their taps, they don’t turn them. I should also confess that when I originally wrote it, I almost put “tornozelo” instead of “torneira”. Confusing: “I was disappointed with the shower so I turned the ankle”]
6a) Ri-me muitas vezes enquanto li este livro
6b) Riu-se quando pensou na sua primeira tentativa a falar português.

So, not very good, really. I think the explanation I gave and wrote into the last version of “Oh Se Can You See” wasn’t quite right.

Rir is basically an intransitive, pronomial verb according to Priberam, so although it’s often seen in the wild without its pronoun, formally (and in the exam) it’s best to use it with the pronoun, much like “lembrar”

The se in “se ser” in 1a and 4a or in expressions like “ir-se embora” is used when you want to stress the verb but isn’t strictly necessary in either case.

Clearly still some work on prepositions needed. I’m going to do some more work on that later. Obviously the thing I need to stop doing is translating english phrases literally, using the same prepositions I’d use in english.

Posted in English

Oh Se Can You See (Version 3)

This is an updated version of my brainstorm about the four intractable problems (“4 evil exes”) I identified before my first B2 exam, trying to wrestle with the subject by putting it into a post, because explaining something to someone else is usually a pretty good way of learning it yourself. Since I wrote the first version, and then my second my understanding as developed a bit so I thought I’d update this to solidify that knowledge.

Quite often in Portuguese, the word “Se” crops up in unexpected places, hanging around verbs, and it isn’t always clear what it’s doing there. Here is a breakdown of its possible uses,

As a word meaning “If”

This is the odd one out, really, and the easiest one to spot. In this case, the word happens to be hanging around the sentence and maybe the verb will have to change as a result but in this case it’s not really strongly interacting with the verb, so you can just translate it in your had as “if” and move on. If you’re at B2 level and don’t already know about the subjunctive imperfect, go and have a read. Otherwise, forget it.

Não sei se na vossa casa sobrou muito chocolate dos ovos de Páscoa?

As a reflexive pronoun

Se is one of the pronouns used in the construction of reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs are just verbs in which the subject and the object can be the same thing. For example, “I can dress myself”. I am the one who is doing the dressing, and I am the one being dressed, so it’s a reflexive verb. In Portuguese and other romance languages, reflexive verbs seem a bit counter-intuitive.Sometimes they are used in situations you wouldn’t expect and sometimes they mean “each other” instead of “oneself”.

Of course, it’s not always “se”. The complete set of pronouns looks like this:

  • me
  • te
  • se
  • nos
  • vos
  • se

Here are some examples of reflexive verbs:

 Standard Meaning Reflexive Meaning
 lembrar to remind lembrar-se to remember
amar to love amar-se to love one another
 apaixonar to fall in love apaixonar-se to fall in love with each other
 deitar to lay (something) down deitar-se to lie down
 levantar to lift levantar-se to get up
 beijar to kiss beijar-se to snog each other
 banhar to bathe (someone) banhar-se to have a bath
 chamar to call (someone) chamar-se to be called/named
 lavar to wash something lavar-se to have a wash
 sentar* to put someone in a sitting position? sentar-se to sit down
 sentir  to sense something  sentir-se to be conscious of something
 voltar  to turn, return, re-do  voltar-se to turn around
 servir to serve servir-se to help oneself to
 vestir to dress someone vestir-se to get dressed
 ** suicidar-se to kill oneself
 cortar cut cortar-se to cut oneself
 achar to find achar-se to find oneself

*sentar apparently exists but it’s not used often

**When I first wrote this article I confidently said that “suicidar” couldn’t exist in a non-reflexive form since you can’t suicide someone else. However, you’ll occasionally come acorss this sort of thing:

https://twitter.com/OhFazFavor/status/774212893189496832?s=09

which my teacher tells me is just crap grammar.

And here are a few that need pronouns with them (to call back to this post)

Infinitive Meaning
aproveitar-se de to take advantage of
convencer-se de to convince oneself about
lembrar-se de to remember about
esquecer-se de to forget about
queixar-se de to complain about
rir-se* de to laugh about
decidir-se a to decide
dedicar-se a to dedicate oneself to
acostumar-se com to get familiar with
parecer-se com to resemble
surpreender-se com to be surprised by

*surprisingly, rir is supposed to be reflexive most of the time. You’re not laughing something, you’re just laughing. There’s nothing on the receiving end of the verb. People often use it non-reflexively but that’s an informal use.

As an impersonal pronoun

When discussing a generalised situation – like the english “one”

One shouldn’t drink too much

It’s not used very often these days because it’s usually felt to sound a bit pretentious, so people will usually use “you”

You shouldn’t drink too much

which of course sounds as if the speaker is admonishing their listener directly to lay off the booze. This is a bit of a loss to the english language, because being able to speak in general terms is useful and avoids a lot of misunderstandings.

The Portuguese haven’t made this mistake and use “se” as an impersonal pronoun, which makes more sense, I think.

Here’s an example that really threw me because it was used with the verb “ser”

Há uma frase inglesa que está sempre presente: “I had to smile“. Significa que se foi obrigado a sorrir

Se foi means “one was”. Some person was obliged to smile.

Similarly

Sabia que é preciso pagar se ser santo?

I was confused because it looks lihe “Saint” is a noun and it’s the object of the verb so it shouldn’t need the se, but santo is more like a condition – an adjective. “Did you know that you need to pay to be [holy]” not “Did you know that you need to pay to be [a saint]” There isn’t really a thing or an object on the receiving end of the verb.

Ou lá o que se faz no Facebook

Or whatever happens on facebook.

Here’s a nice example that’s a lot harder to translate but pretty.

O êxito do celebre poema de Florbela Espanca deve-se a maneira como trata o verbo amar como intransitivo. Ama-se como chove. Perguntar: “Mas amar quem?” é como perguntar: “Chove quem?”

autorid01231OK, I said it would be hard to translate but I’ll have a go. Amar is normally a transitive verb (X loves Y.) but here Miguel Esteves Cardoso praises  Florbela Espanca for the way she uses it intransitively (X loves.) and he uses “se” to talk about how people in general love.

The success of the well-known poem of Florbela Espanca is owed to the way in which she treats the verb “to love” as an intransitive. One loves like it rains. To ask “but love who” is like asking “rain who?”

Um… well, I hope I’m not too far off the mark there. Incidentally, I think this is the poem he means.

Notice that he also uses “deve-se”, and that brings me onto the next type of se:

As part of a sentence in the passive voice

Passive voice is when you use a phrase like “it was done”, “mistakes were made”, “a murder was committed” instead of the more direct “He did it”, “We made a mistake” or “Someone committed murder”. I quite like this form of words and use it in writing but some people find it vague and evasive, and for that very reason it’s popular in political speech and PR briefings.

O êxito do […] poema […] deve-se… means “The poem’s success is owed…” [or “is due to”]

“O livro publicou-se” means “the book was published”

Em Portugal bebe-se muito café (A lot of coffee is drunk in Portugal)

or

Fala-se Inglês (English is spoken here)

and in the negative…

Não se fala Espanhol no Brasil

But which one is it?

Now, it’s not always clear whether a phrase like

Em Portugal bebe-se muito café

should be translated as “a lot of coffee is drunk” (passive voice) or “one drinks a lot of coffee” (imperonal pronoun) but, really, is there a lot difference? I think in the more ambiguous cases, it’s best not to worry about translating and just read it as it is, and not think of it as directly equivalent to either english form. The upshot of both sentences is that an awful lot of coffee drinking goes on in Portugal. This is a good way of training yourself not to automatically translate everything into english but instead just try and absorb the meaning from the portuguese words.

Posted in English

Oh Se Can You See (Version 2)

This is an updated version of my brainstorm about the four intractable problems (“4 evil exes”) I identified before my first B2 exam, trying to wrestle with the subject by putting it into a post, because explaining something to someone else is usually a pretty good way of learning it yourself. Since I wrote the first version, my understanding as developed a bit so I thought I’d update this to solidify that knowledge.

Quite often in Portuguese, the word “Se” crops up in unexpected places, hanging around verbs, and it isn’t always clear what it’s doing there. Here is a breakdown of its possible uses,

As a word meaning “If”

This is the odd one out, really, and the easiest one to spot. In this case, the word happens to be hanging around the sentence and maybe the verb will have to change as a result but in this case it’s not really strongly interacting with the verb, so you can just translate it in your had as “if” and move on. If you’re at B2 level and don’t already know about the subjunctive imperfect, go and have a read. Otherwise, forget it.

Não sei se na vossa casa sobrou muito chocolate dos ovos de Páscoa?

As a reflexive pronoun

Se is one of the pronouns used in the construction of reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs. Reflexive verbs are just verbs in which the subject and the object can be the same thing. For example, “I can dress myself”. I am the one who is doing the dressing, and I am the one being dressed, so it’s a reflexive verb. In Portuguese and other romance languages, reflexive verbs seem a bit counter-intuitive.Sometimes they are used in situations you wouldn’t expect and sometimes they mean “each other” instead of “oneself”.

Of course, it’s not always “se”. The complete set of pronouns looks like this:

  • me
  • te
  • se
  • nos
  • vos
  • se

Here are some examples of reflexive verbs:

 Standard Meaning Reflexive Meaning
 lembrar to remind lembrar-se to remember
amar to love amar-se to love one another
 apaixonar to fall in love apaixonar-se to fall in love with each other
 deitar to lay (something) down deitar-se to lie down
 levantar to lift levantar-se to get up
 beijar to kiss beijar-se to snog each other
 banhar to bathe (someone) banhar-se to have a bath
 chamar to call (someone) chamar-se to be called/named
 lavar to wash something lavar-se to have a wash
 sentar* to put someone in a sitting position? sentar-se to sit down
 sentir  to sense something  sentir-se to be conscious of something
 voltar  to turn, return, re-do  voltar-se to turn around
 servir to serve servir-se to help oneself to
 vestir to dress someone vestir-se to get dressed
 ** suicidar-se to kill oneself
 cortar cut cortar-se to cut oneself
 achar to find achar-se to find oneself

*sentar apparently exists but it’s not used often

**When I first wrote this article I confidently said that “suicidar” couldn’t exist in a non-reflexive form since you can’t suicide someone else. However, you’ll occasionally come acorss this sort of thing:

which my teacher tells me is just crap grammar.

And here are a few that need pronouns with them (to call back to this post)

Infinitive Meaning
aproveitar-se de to take advantage of
convencer-se de to convince oneself about
lembrar-se de to remember about
esquecer-se de to forget about
queixar-se de to complain about
rir-se de to laugh about
decidir-se a to decide
dedicar-se a to dedicate oneself to
acostumar-se com to get familiar with
parecer-se com to resemble
surpreender-se com to be surprised by

As an impersonal pronoun

When discussing a generalised situation – like the english “one”

One shouldn’t drink too much

It’s not used very often these days because it’s usually felt to sound a bit pretentious, so people will usually use “you”

You shouldn’t drink too much

which of course sounds as if the speaker is admonishing their listener directly to lay off the booze. This is a bit of a loss to the english language, because being able to speak in general terms is useful and avoids a lot of misunderstandings.

The Portuguese haven’t made this mistake and use “se” as an impersonal pronoun, which makes more sense, I think.

Here’s an example that really threw me because it was used with the verb “ser”

Há uma frase inglesa que está sempre presente: “I had to smile“. Significa que se foi obrigado a sorrir

Se foi means “one was”. Some person was obliged to smile.

Here’s a nice example that’s a lot harder to translate but pretty.

O êxito do celebre poema de Florbela Espanca deve-se a maneira como trata o verbo amar como intransitivo. Ama-se como chove. Perguntar: “Mas amar quem?” é como perguntar: “Chove quem?”

autorid01231OK, I said it would be hard to translate but I’ll have a go. Amar is normally a transitive verb (X loves Y.) but here Miguel Esteves Cardoso praises  Florbela Espanca for the way she uses it intransitively (X loves.) and he uses “se” to talk about how people in general love.

The success of the well-known poem of Florbela Espanca is owed to the way in which she treats the verb “to love” as an intransitive. One loves like it rains. To ask “but love who” is like asking “rain who?”

Um… well, I hope I’m not too far off the mark there. Incidentally, I think this is the poem he means.

Notice that he also uses “deve-se”, and that brings me onto the next type of se:

As part of a sentence in the passive voice

Passive voice is when you use a phrase like “it was done”, “mistakes were made”, “a murder was committed” instead of the more direct “He did it”, “We made a mistake” or “Someone committed murder”. I quite like this form of words and use it in writing but some people find it vague and evasive, and for that very reason it’s popular in political speech and PR briefings.

O êxito do […] poema […] deve-se… means “The poem’s success is owed…” [or “is due to”]

“O livro publicou-se” means “the book was published”

Em Portugal bebe-se muito café (A lot of coffee is drunk in Portugal)

or

Fala-se Inglês (English is spoken here)

and in the negative…

Não se fala Espanhol no Brasil

But which one is it?

Now, it’s not always clear whether a phrase like

Em Portugal bebe-se muito café

should be translated as “a lot of coffee is drunk” (passive voice) or “one drinks a lot of coffee” (imperonal pronoun) but, really, is there a lot difference? I think in the more ambiguous cases, it’s best not to worry about translating and just read it as it is, and not think of it as directly equivalent to either english form. The upshot of both sentences is that an awful lot of coffee drinking goes on in Portugal. This is a good way of training yourself not to automatically translate everything into english but instead just try and absorb the meaning from the portuguese words.