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Master Portuguese Word Order & Sentence Structure for Good

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Whether you loved playing with building blocks as a kid or not, constructing sentences in Portuguese will be just like child’s play! With this handy guide, you’ll be ready to form your sentences seamlessly, and impress any locals with how natural you sound. 

If you already know the most popular verbs in Portuguese, have learned the best adjectives to use, and are ready to make your own sentences, there’s just one thing you need to do…put all the parts together! This is where you need to make a decision: In which order do you put the words? Luckily, the Portuguese sentence structure is pretty straightforward. 

Even though we’re dealing with a language filled with exceptions and complicated rules, when it comes to Portuguese word order, things are much simpler! French and English have lots of inversions and scary things like that, but Portuguese doesn’t have those problems. In this article, we take a step-by-step approach that will make learning proper word order in Brazilian Portuguese as easy as possible. 

So get your verbs ready, brush up on the adverbs and adjectives, and come along for the ride. You’ll master the Brazilian Portuguese word order in no time!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Portuguese Table of Contents
  1. The Building Blocks
  2. Making the Basics Crystal-Clear
  3. Make it Juicy: Adding Information
  4. No Way: Negative Sentences
  5. Ask and You Shall Get: Asking Questions
  6. The Final Brick: Prepositional Phrases
  7. Exercise It
  8. Next Stop: Learn More Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

1. The Building Blocks

Improve Pronunciation

1 – The Foundation

Let’s start with more good news, shall we? As in many other languages, including English, word order in Portuguese follows the SVO structure

What does that mean? Simply put, the basic Portuguese sentence structure is:

1. Subject

2. Verb

3. Object

Take the following examples:

  • Elas comem batatas. (“They eat potatoes.”)
  • Eu saí do parque. (“I left the park.”)
A Group of People Eating French Fries from a Basket

Try not to get hungry with all the potato examples!

2 – Getting Ahead of the Competition

Step aside, complicated languages (at least this once)! Portuguese word order has some advantages over English. After all, in Portuguese, you won’t need to make complex inversions or add particles to ask questions.

Another difference is that, in Portuguese, subjects can be implicit. Many sentences might not include the subject, but people know who the subject is. If you need to brush up on this, hop up to the Portuguese Verbs article. 

Lastly, while in English the adjective comes before the noun, the opposite happens in Portuguese. But don’t worry, we’ll talk more about adjectives and other modifiers later on.

2. Making the Basics Crystal-Clear

We already saw that the basic Portuguese word order is SVO. But if that didn’t make things very clear for you, it’s recap time! The three basic elements in a sentence are:

  • Subject: indicates who or what performs the action in the sentence
  • Verb: describes an action, state, or natural phenomena
  • Object: noun or noun phrase acted upon by the subject

Let’s go back to the basic sentences we used before:

  • Elas comem batatas. (“They eat potatoes.”)
  • Eu saí do parque. (“I left the park.”)

To phrase a question, the same order applies. Isn’t that great? Basically, you’ll say the same thing, only changing the intonation to indicate that it’s a question:

  • Elas comem batatas? (“Do they eat potatoes?”)
  • Eu saí do parque? (“Did I leave the park?”)

What about sentences with compound tenses, or in other words, more than one verb? You’ll still use the exact same order!

  • Eu estou saindo do parque. (“I am leaving the park.”)

Lastly, remember that the subject can be implicit sometimes. Since the verb indicates the person already, you can drop the subject in most cases.
Saí do parque. (“I left the park.”)

Sometimes, we don’t use the implicit subject because it wouldn’t be clear who the verb is referring to. For example, if you said: 
  • Comem batatas? (“Eat potatoes?”)
It wouldn’t be clear if you were talking about eles (“they,” masculine), elas (“they,” feminine), or vocês (plural “you”).

3. Make it Juicy: Adding Information

Time to add a little more detail to those sentences. Modifiers are elements like adjectives, adverbs, and numerals. They’re essential “building blocks” in the Portuguese sentence structure, adding context and important information. Let’s get to it!

A Group of Girls Talking and Laughing

The best stories need details.

1 – Adjectives

Adjectives are attributes of nouns. In Portuguese, the adjective usually follows the noun it refers to:

  • Vinho tinto (“Red wine”)
  • Bola pesada (“Heavy ball”)
  • Parque grande (“Big park”)
  • Computador velho (“Old computer”)

Going back to our example:

  • Elas comem batatas cozidas. (“They eat boiled potatoes.”)

In some cases, the adjective can also come before the noun. There isn’t a very defined rule for this, but the placement of the adjective might subtly impact the connotation of what’s being said. You can think of it this way:

  • When the adjective is adding an objective, direct attribute to the noun, place it afterwards:

Escrevi um texto grande. (“I wrote a big [long] text.”) 

  • When the adjective is adding a more subjective, connotative, or even poetic attribute to the noun, place it beforehand:

Escrevi um grande texto. (“I wrote a great text.”)

Here’s another set of examples where the position of the adjective impacts the meaning:

  • Meus vizinhos velhos. (“My old neighbors.”) — my neighbors who are of old age
  • Meus velhos vizinhos. (“My old neighbors.”) — people who have been my neighbors for a long time

Of course, sometimes you can place an adjective before or after the noun and retain the same meaning. With practice and lots of listening, this will become more natural to you!

  • Eu ganhei lindas flores. (“I got beautiful flowers.”)
  • Eu ganhei flores lindas. (“I got beautiful flowers.”)

2 – Adverbs

Adverbs are words or phrases that modify or add information to other elements in the sentence. They can go at the beginning or end of a sentence.

  • Hoje, elas comem batatas. (“Today, they eat potatoes.”)
  • Elas comem batatas hoje. (“They eat potatoes today.”)
  • Elas comem batatas cuidadosamente. (“They eat potatoes carefully.”)
  • Cuidadosamente, elas comem batatas. (“Carefully, they eat potatoes.”)
  • Lentamente, eu saí do parque. (“Slowly, I left the park.”)
  • Eu saí do parque lentamente. (“I left the park slowly.”)

3 – Numerals, articles, quantifiers, and pronouns

In Brazilian Portuguese word order, all of these elements go before the noun they refer to, but after the verb. 

  • Elas comem duas batatas. (“They eat two potatoes.”)
  • Elas comem as batatas. (“They eat the potatoes.”)
  • Elas comem muitas batatas. (“They eat lots of potatoes.”)
  • Elas comem aquelas batatas. (“They eat those potatoes.”)
  • Elas comem as minhas batatas. (“They eat my potatoes.”)

Notice that, if you want to specify how many people are performing the action, the numeral will appear after the subject but before the verb. For example:
Elas três comem seis batatas. (“The three of them eat six potatoes.”)

A Man Deciding between an Apple or Cake for Dessert

Ele quer as duas sobremesas. (“He wants both desserts.”)

4 – Multiple modifiers

Want to spice things up and add a lot of information to your Portuguese sentences? When using more than one modifier, just follow the same rules we discussed above. 

  • Hoje, elas comem aquelas duas batatas grandes. (“Today, they eat those two big potatoes.”)

Why does aquelas go before duas? Well, the other way around wouldn’t make sense in Portuguese, just like it wouldn’t make sense to say “They eat two those big potatoes.” As a rule of thumb, keep the numeral closer to the noun.

Let’s take a look at another example:

  • Eu saí daquele parque cedo. (“I left that park early.”)

→ Practice your listening skills with this Portuguese lesson available on PortuguesePod101.com. It has great examples of sentences with multiple modifiers! 

4. No Way: Negative Sentences

Improve Listening

When it comes to constructing a negative sentence in Portuguese, the easiest way to do it is by adding the word não (“no”). You can also use words like nunca (“never”) or nem (“nor”). 

The sentence structure won’t change much. Add those negative words before the verb:

  • Elas não comem batatas. (“They don’t eat potatoes.”)
  • Eu nunca vou ao parque. (“I never go to the park.”)

You can also double down to add emphasis, and add another não at the end of the sentence:

  • Elas não comem batatas, não. (“They don’t eat potatoes.”)

Eu nunca vou ao parque, não. (“I never go to the park.”)

/!


When using the verb ir to express “going somewhere,” the grammatically correct preposition to use is a. For example: 
  • Você foi à escola? (“Did you go to school?”)
    • In this case, the preposition a is followed by the definite article a, resulting in à
  • .
  • Eu nunca vou ao parque. (“I never go to the park.”)
    • In this case, the preposition a is followed by the definite article o, resulting in ao.
However, chances are you’ll hear it differently in colloquial conversations. 
  • Você foi na escola? (“Did you go to school?”)
    • In this case, the preposition em is followed by the definite article a, resulting in na.
  • Eu nunca vou no parque. (“I never go to the park.”)
    • In this case, the preposition em is followed by the definite article o, resulting in no.
Grammatically speaking, using the preposition em in these cases is incorrect, but is widely done in Brazil.
A Girl Sticking Her Tongue Out in Disgust while Eating Peas

Eu nunca vou gostar de ervilha! (“I’ll never like peas!”)

5. Ask and You Shall Get: Asking Questions

We already saw that the Portuguese word order stays the same when asking questions. Using the same word order, all you have to do is change the intonation. 

But what if you want to be more specific when asking questions? No problem! The Portuguese sentence structure continues to be very straightforward even if you need to add words like “when,” “where,” “how,” and “why.” Simply place those words at the beginning of the sentence. 

  • Como elas comem batatas? (“How do they eat potatoes?”)
  • Quando elas comem batatas? (“When do they eat potatoes?”)
  • Por que elas comem batatas? (“Why do they eat potatoes?”)
  • Onde elas comem batatas? (“Where do they eat potatoes?”)

Colloquially, it’s also common to use—and even more so, to hear—those words being put at the end of the sentence:

  • Elas comem batatas onde? (“Where do they eat potatoes?”)

Elas comem batatas, por quê? (“Why do they eat potatoes?”)

/!


Notice that, when placed at the end of the sentence, por quê (“why”) has to be accentuated. This is true only when por que is used to ask a question. 

When it comes to porque, written as a single word, the rule is a bit different. When porque means “because,” it’s not accentuated. Porquê is only accentuated when it becomes a noun, in which case it means “the reason why.”

To recap, these are the four forms you might encounter:
  • Por que
    • Por que ele não veio? (“Why didn’t he come?”)
  • Por quê
    • Mas por quê? (“But why?”)
  • Porque
    • Porque ele não gosta de festas. (“Because he doesn’t like parties.”)
  • Porquê 
    • O porquê eu não sei. (“The reason why, I don’t know.”)

6. The Final Brick: Prepositional Phrases

Let’s say you don’t want to wait for questions using “where,” “when,” and “how.” Rather, you want to create a sentence that already includes the answer to those questions, with all the details you want. Well, in these cases, we need prepositional phrases. 

Prepositional phrases are phrases that modify a verb or a noun, adding context and information. Most importantly, they show how the words in a sentence relate to each other. 

  • Elas comem batatas no restaurante. (“They eat potatoes at the restaurant.”)
  • Elas comem batatas antes da academia. (“They eat potatoes before the gym.”) 
  • Elas comem batatas com casca. (“They eat potatoes with skin.”)

Most of the time, prepositional phrases go after the main SVO part of the sentence, as in the examples above. In some cases, it also makes sense and is considered correct to invert the order.

  • Antes da academia, elas comem batatas. (“Before the gym, they eat potatoes.”)

Again, there isn’t a hard rule about when you can place the prepositional phrase before the main sentence, as it has a lot to do with the meaning (or lack of) in each case. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to say:

  • Com casca, elas comem batatas. (“With skin, they eat potatoes.”)

Working with more than one prepositional phrase? The same logic applies: you can always place the prepositional phrase at the end. Some prepositional phrases, especially the ones relating to time, can go at the beginning of the sentence. For example:

  • Antes de treinar, elas comem batatas no carro. (“Before training, they eat potatoes in the car.”)
  • Na sexta, vou ao parque longe de casa com minha irmã. (“On Friday, I go to the park that’s far from my home with my sister.”)
  • Você comprou o prato na loja cara com seu pai. (“You bought the plate in the expensive store with your father.”)

7. Exercise It

After learning where all the individual parts go, it’s time for you to put the complete picture together! Put your knowledge of the Portuguese word order to the test. Let’s take it slow and build a complex sentence together, adding each part separately.

Write each of the sentences below in Portuguese. Once you’re done, scroll down to see the answers. No peeking before finishing! If you need to double-check something, feel free to go back to the explanations given before. Ready?

  • Maria cooked. ______________________________________________________________________
  • Maria cooked dinner. _________________________________________________________________
  • Maria cooked a big dinner. ____________________________________________________________
  • Maria cooked a big dinner quickly. ______________________________________________________
  • Maria cooked a big dinner quickly with her dad. ____________________________________________
  • Maria cooked a big dinner quickly with her dad today. _______________________________________
  • __________________________________________________________________________________
  • Maria cooked a big dinner quickly with her dad today, at his house. ____________________________ __________________________________________________________________________________
  • Maria didn’t cook with her dad today. ____________________________________________________
  • Who cooked dinner today? ____________________________________________________________
Someone Whisking Eggs in a Bowl

Maria fez uma omelete deliciosa! (“Maria made a delicious omelette!”)

Got it? Take a look at the answers below.

  • Maria cozinhou. (“Maria cooked.”)
  • Maria cozinhou o jantar. (“Maria cooked dinner.”)
  • Maria cozinhou um grande jantar. (“Maria cooked a big dinner.”)
  • Maria cozinhou um grande jantar rapidamente. (“Maria cooked a big dinner quickly.”) 
  • Maria cozinhou um grande jantar rapidamente com seu pai. (“Maria cooked a big dinner quickly with her dad.”)
  • Maria cozinhou um grande jantar com seu pai hoje. OR Hoje, Maria cozinhou um grande jantar com seu pai. (“Maria cooked a big dinner quickly with her dad today.”)
  • Hoje, Maria cozinhou rapidamente um grande jantar com seu pai na casa dele. (“Maria cooked a big dinner quickly with her dad today, at his house.”)
  • Maria não cozinhou com seu pai hoje. (“Maria didn’t cook with her dad today.”)
  • Quem cozinhou o jantar hoje? (“Who cooked dinner today?”)

Next Stop: Learn More Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

Feeling comfortable with the Portuguese sentence structure, and ready to put each word where it belongs? We hope this guide was the resource you needed to continue on your language-learning journey! Come back to this article whenever you need to refresh your memory.

Are you ready to build your own sentences with our explanation of Portuguese word order? Do you think we forgot an important aspect? Tell us in the comments!

The best way to really grasp the concepts we saw today is to practice them in real-life situations. Write a note to yourself or a friend, all in Portuguese. Or try more translation exercises.

To take your skills to the next level, continue exploring PortuguesePod101! We have lots of free Portuguese resources and vocabulary lists for all situations. Go ahead and choose your favorite tools to expand your learning opportunities.
If you want to take your learning experience further, members of PortuguesePod101.com get access to the largest language lesson library in the world, with thousands of real lessons by real teachers. Perfect for anyone who wants to learn from anywhere, feel motivated, and be ready to speak Portuguese with confidence.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Portuguese