Verbs are not that difficult, contrary to popular belief

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Mention to a Brazilian that you're learning Portuguese, and they'll say that "the verbs are the worst." Brazilian children pick up pronunciation and vocabulary in an organic way; they don't need to study it. But they do study verb conjugations in school, so Brazilians naturally assume that verb conjugations must be the main difficulty for foreigners learning Portuguese. Far from it! An English speaker has bigger problems than verb conjugations.

Far worse problems for persons learning Portuguese are these:

  • Correct pronunciation — get a vowel a tiny bit off and you won't be understood
  • Sufficient vocabulary — not knowing a single word in a sentence can make the entire sentence incomprehensible
  • Rapid speech — knowing grammar and having good vocabulary don't imply that you can follow fast conversation or watch TV

Portuguese grammar is actually quite regular, and learning the common verb forms is not a big challenge. An impression given by books that teach Portuguese is that the language is chock full of irregular verbs. The situation is not nearly as bad as it seems since there are only about a dozen highly irregular verbs in common use, and even those highly irregular verbs follow a regular pattern in many of their conjugations. Most normal verbs follow one of 3 regular styles with slight tweaks here and there.

I've made a chart that summarizes almost everything about Portuguese verbs. It's also available as a PDF for printing.

You should learn the basics of the verb conjugation from a book or in a classroom. Once you understand the basics, the chart will serve as distilled knowledge. With the chart above you should be able to figure out every tense and conjugation used in everyday speech and in intermediate-level books. Not covered are a couple advanced tenses like the personal infinitive that rarely occur in speech, and little tweaks that occur in many otherwise regular verbs.

Be sure to read the usage notes at the bottom of the chart, but I'll repeat a couple points here:

  • The rules for formation of verb endings in this chart give the correct result in all cases, but be aware that the rules are usually taught in a more complicated way in books and language classes.
  • The tu and vós cases are not shown since they are almost never used in Brazil.
  • An empty box means that the verb is regular in that tense. This is not an oversight. They are deliberately empty because it is not something that you need to memorize. If you learn the template case, you can deduce what should be in the box.

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