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Past, Present, Future: Learn About Portuguese Verb Tenses

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Grammar is generally not a favorite topic amongst Portuguese language learners. The sheer volume of topics, rules, and exceptions is enough to make anybody a bit overwhelmed. Verbs, in particular, make up an aspect of grammar that’s both super-important and quite complex. But don’t worry! We’re here to make it all a bit more digestible for you. In this article, we’ll break down Portuguese verb tenses into simpler terms to make the learning process a little smoother.

We’ll begin with an overview of Portuguese verbs, conjugation, moods, and tenses. Then, we’ll look closer at each of the tenses, using examples to make the concepts more understandable.

By learning the ropes of verb tenses, you’ll be taking a big step toward mastering Portuguese. It will give you the power to talk about the past, present, and future. You’ll be all set to tell stories, make plans, and enjoy each moment! 

Ready to conquer this hairy topic and become a master storyteller? Let’s go!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Portuguese Table of Contents
  1. The Basics of Portuguese Conjugation
  2. Here and Now: Present Tenses
  3. What Once Was: Past Tenses
  4. Planning for Tomorrow: Future Tenses
  5. Continue Learning Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

1. The Basics of Portuguese Conjugation

At first glance, this whole mess of verbs, tenses, moods, and conjugations can seem confusing. But try thinking of it this way: Grammatical tenses express the time at which a verb takes place. In other words, we’re talking about the past, present, and future.

But that’s not all. Tenses don’t exist in a vacuum—and there’s not much you can do with tenses by themselves. Verb conjugation in Portuguese requires moods (or modes) to actually work. 

So, what are grammatical moods? They’re inflections of verbs that allow them to express an attitude. The “attitude” can be an order or command, a statement of fact, a wish, or a plan.

When we combine tenses and moods with verbs, we can do a whole lot with the Portuguese language. 

1 – Moods

The moods we’ll look at in this article are:

  • Indicativo / “Indicative”
    Indicates a fact.
    Example: Ela dorme. / “She sleeps.”
  • Subjuntivo / “Subjunctive”
    Indicates a possibility, a wish, or something that we’re simply not sure about.
    Example: Talvez ela durma. / “Maybe she will sleep.”
  • Imperativo / “Imperative”
    Indicates a command or advice.
    Example: Durma agora. / “[You] sleep now.”
  • Condicional / “Conditional”
    Indicates what one could, would, or should do.
    Example: Eu dormiria agora. / “I would sleep now.”

2 – Tenses 

Remember: Each of the Portuguese verb tenses depends on the mood and vice-versa. So when we talk about tenses, we need to define the mood in which we’re conjugating the verbs.

Here’s a table with the basic tenses and moods:

Indicativo
“Indicative”
Presente / “Simple Present”
Préterito Perfeito / “Simple Past”
Pretérito Imperfeito / “Past Imperfect”
Pretérito Mais-que-perfeito / “Past Pluperfect”
Futuro do Presente / “Simple Future”
Condicional 
“Conditional”
Subjuntivo
“Subjunctive”
Presente / “Present Subjunctive”
Pretérito Imperfeito / “Imperfect Subjunctive”
Futuro / “Future Subjunctive”
Imperativo 
“Imperative”

Besides those tenses, there are other verb forms—called formas nominais (“nominal forms”)—you’ll encounter in Portuguese. These are:

  • The Infinitive

    The infinitive is the basic form of the verb, before any conjugation. You might see it coupled with auxiliary verbs in compound tenses.

    Example: Eu vou dormir muito. / “I will sleep a lot.”

  • The Past Participle

    A form of the verb that can be used with auxiliary verbs to form compound past tenses.

    Example: dormir → dormido / “to sleep” → “slept”

    Quando cheguei, ela tinha dormido. (“When I arrived, she had slept.”)

  • The Gerund

    Widely used in Brazil, it’s the equivalent of the “-ing” ending in English.

    Example: dormir → dormindo (“to sleep” → “sleeping”)

    Elas estão dormindo. (“They are sleeping.”)

3 – Auxiliary verbs

Did you notice that in the last examples above, there are two verbs? 

Elas estão dormindo. / “They are sleeping.”

These are compound tenses, which use an auxiliary verb alongside the main verb. These tenses are very commonly used in spoken Brazilian Portuguese. In the end, that’s good news: It means you can choose to use simple tenses or compound tenses—whichever you find easier!

Some of the most common auxiliary verbs in Portuguese are:

  • Ter / “To have”

    This auxiliary is used in several Portuguese compound tenses, including the preterite subjunctive compound, the pluperfect indicative compound, and the future indicative compound.

    The verb ter is conjugated in the correct tense and the main verb is in the participle form.

    Example: Eu tenho bebido chá verde em vez de café. / “I have been drinking green tea instead of coffee.”

  • Ir / “To go”

    We use this auxiliary to form the compound future, which is more commonly used than the simple future in Brazil.

    The verb ir is conjugated in the future indicative tense and the main verb is in the infinitive.

    Example: Eu vou beber muito suco de fruta. / “I will drink a lot of fruit juice.”

  • Estar / “To be” (temporary)

    This one is used to form the continuous tenses, such as the present continuous and past continuous (both of which are very widely used in Brazilian Portuguese).

    The verb estar is conjugated in the corresponding tense and the main verb is in the gerund form.

    Example: Eu estava bebendo água quando ela contou uma piada. / “I was drinking water when she told a joke.”

There’s much more to learn about verbs and their conjugation according to mood, tense, and person. To study the topic further, check out our guide on Portuguese verb conjugation!

Two Girls Talking about Something

Espero que você siga meu conselho. / “I hope you follow my advice.”

2. Here and Now: Present Tenses

If you need to talk about things happening now, the Portuguese present tense is exactly what you need. 

1 – Presente do indicativo / “Present indicative”

The present indicative is used to talk about things that you usually do. The indicative mood indicates a fact or certainty; coupled with the present tense, it’s perfect for talking about things you know or believe.  

Let’s see some examples:

Eu durmo cedo.“I sleep early.”

Ela sempre dorme muito.“She always sleeps a lot.”

Nós bebemos muita água.“We drink a lot of water.”

2 – Presente contínuo / “Present continuous”

If you want to talk about actions that are happening right now, you can use the present indicative of the verb estar (“to be,” temporary) with the action verb in the gerund form.

The present continuous is very commonly used in Brazil, so it’s an important one to learn!

Ela está dormindo.“She is sleeping.”

Você está bebendo suco?“Are you drinking juice?”

3 – Presente do subjuntivo / “Present subjunctive”

This tense is used to indicate a degree of uncertainty, express a possibility, or talk about a hypothetical situation. If you’re considering whether or not to do something now, or are talking about a request that’s not guaranteed to happen, use this tense.

Talvez eu durma agora.“Maybe I’ll sleep now.”

Sua mãe quer que vocês durmam cedo.“Your mom wants you to sleep early.”

4 – Imperativo / “Imperative”

The imperative is used to give commands, instructions, orders, or advice. In Portuguese, the imperative is undetermined in time, but it’s commonly associated with the present tense as it deals with the present or very near future. 

Durma agora.“Sleep now.”

Bebam água.“Drink water.”

A Mother Sleeping with Her Toddler

Elas dormem cedo. / “They sleep early.”

3. What Once Was: Past Tenses

The Portuguese past tenses can be a bit more complex, as there are different “types” of past one can talk about. Let’s dive into them. 

1 – Pretérito do indicativo / “Preterite indicative”

This tense is used to talk about past events that have already happened and are completed. The equivalent in English is the simple past.

Eu dormi muito bem.“I slept very well.”

Eles já beberam café hoje.“They already drank coffee today.”

2 – Imperfeito do indicativo / “Imperfect indicative”

This tense is used to talk about things that used to happen or to set a scene in some unidentified point in the past. You can use the imperfect to indicate what was happening when something else took place. 

Ela dormia tranquilamente quando alguém bateu na porta.“She was sleeping tranquilly when someone banged on the door.”
The imperfect can be translated to English in the form “was” + “verb” with the -ing ending.

Eu bebia muito quando era nova.“I used to drink a lot when I was young.”
Another way in which the imperfect can be translated to English is: “used to” + verb.

We can also talk about past events that were happening or set a scene by using the progressive imperfect. 

To use this form, conjugate the verb estar (“to be,” temporary) in the imperfect form and couple it with the gerund form of the main verb. This form might be a bit easier for English speakers to grasp, due to the similarities!

Ela estava dormindo tranquilamente quando alguém bateu na porta. “She was sleeping tranquilly when someone banged on the door.”

Eu estava dormindo no sofá.“I was sleeping on the couch.”

Você estava bebendo rápido demais.“You were drinking too fast.”

3 – Pretérito mais-que-perfeito do subjuntivo / “Pluperfect subjunctive”

You can use this tense to talk about possibilities in the past that didn’t happen or how one could have avoided something that did happen

This tense needs the verb ter (“to have”) and the main verb in the past participle.

Se eu tivesse dormido mais, teria acordado mais cedo.“If I had slept more, I’d have woken up earlier.”

Se você tivesse bebido menos, não teria dor de cabeça hoje.“If you had drunk less, you wouldn’t have a headache today.”

4 – Imperfeito subjuntivo / “Imperfect subjunctive”

If you want to talk about hypothetical or uncertain situations that could have happened in the past (but that, in reality, didn’t take place), you can use this tense.

Se eu dormisse cedo, conseguiria trabalhar de manhã.“If I were to sleep early, I would be able to work in the morning.”
Notice that the verb dormir (“to sleep”) is conjugated in the imperfect subjunctive, but the second verb conseguir (“to be able”) is conjugated in the conditional. Also, the sentence normally begins with se (“if”).

A Man Asleep on a Futon with Beer and Pizza Boxes Around Him

Eu comi, bebi e dormi. / “I ate, drank, and slept.”

4. Planning for Tomorrow: Future Tenses

Making plans or dreaming about what tomorrow could be like? Then the Portuguese future tense is indispensable! 

1 – Futuro do indicativo / “Future indicative”

This is equivalent to the simple future form in English, used to talk about something that will happen

Dormirei tarde hoje.“I will sleep late today.”

Beberei um chá antes de deitar.“I will drink tea before going to bed.”

However, in Brazilian Portuguese, it’s more common to talk about the future using the conjugated verb ir (“to go”) in the future indicative tense + the infinitive of the main verb.

Vou dormir tarde hoje.“I will sleep late today.”

Vou beber um chá antes de deitar.“I will drink tea before going to bed.”


2 – Futuro do subjuntivo / “Future subjunctive”

Use this tense to set possible scenes in the future or to talk about future events with some level of uncertainty.

Se eu dormir cedo, vou tomar café da manhã com você.“If I sleep early, I’ll have breakfast with you.”
Notice that the first verb—dormir (“to sleep”)—is conjugated in the future subjunctive, but the second verb is in the future indicative tense—vou tomar (“[I] will have”).

Enquanto você beber café, eu prepararei para você.“As long as you drink coffee, I’ll prepare it for you.”

3 – Futuro do Pretérito or Condicional / “Conditional”

The conditional tense is used to express surprise or uncertainty regarding the future, but in cases in which “would” or “could” are used in English. 

Eu dormiria cedo, mas tenho que trabalhar.“I would sleep early, but I have to work.”

Eu beberia tudo!“I could drink it all!”

A Grandmother Snuggling Her Granddaughter

Amanhã vou dormir na casa da vovó. / “Tomorrow, I’ll sleep at grandma’s house.”

5. Continue Learning Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

Hopefully this guide has provided you with useful information about the Portuguese tenses and when to use them, helping you progress even more in your Portuguese-learning journey. Don’t forget to come back to this article anytime you need a refresher lesson!

What did you think of this article? Did the examples help you grasp the different tenses in Portuguese? If we missed any aspect of Portuguese verb tenses, let us know in the comments. 

Now, don’t stop learning! There are more free Portuguese resources and a variety of vocabulary lists available on PortuguesePod101.com. Go ahead and choose your favorite tools to expand your learning opportunities.

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