Preterite Tense

The two past tenses in Portuguese convey ideas of actions and states in the past before the time of utterance, or before what is conceived as the present. They relate not only to actions but also to conditions and situations in the past. The preterite tense is used when speakers try to convey ideas that relate to punctual actions in the past, usually within or in a clearly defined point in time. So, if you say Eu visitei o Brasil no ano passado (I visited Brazil last year) you have identified an action that happened in the past, within a certain time frame. Here are the regular endings for verbs in the past, in the three major conjugations:

TRACK 70

The Preterite Tense: Regular Verbs

Subject

— ar

— er

— ir

eu

falei

comi

dormi

você

falou

comeu

dormiu

ele/ela

falou

comeu

dormiu

nós

falamos

comemos

dormimos

vocês

falaram

comeram

dormiram

eles/elas

falaram

comeram

dormiram

Like the present tense, the preterite tense, aside from its seemingly diverse list of endings, has its own internal consistency. The first person has the same ending for the — er and — ir conjugations, and the second and third persons share the exact same endings. The nós form is the same as the present, but should be understood as relating to past actions according to the context of the sentence or situation. Finally, both the second and third person plural are the same.

Be careful! The — eu ending for the você/ele, ela forms (ele comeu [he ate]) is often used by students for the first person, eu. It would be so very nice if it could be done in this way! But unfortunately, the past tense forms for the first person end in either — ei or — i (eu falei [I spoke]; eu comi [I ate]) as you may have noticed in the table.

There are several verbs, very common ones in fact, that do not follow this regular system. They are listed below and should each be learned individually.

TRACK 71

The Preterite Tense: Irregular Verbs

Changes in the First Person Only

Verb

Conjugation

chegar (to arrive)

cheguei, chegou, chegamos, chegaram (arrived)

explicar (to explain)

expliquei, explicou, explicamos, explicaram (explained)

dançar (to dance)

dancei, dançou, dançamos, dançaram (danced)

Changes in All Persons poder (to be able to)

pude, pôde, pudemos, puderam (was/were able to)

querer (to want)

quis, quis, quisemos, quiseram (wanted)

saber (to know)

soube, soube, soubemos, souberam (knew)

trazer (to bring)

trouxe, trouxe, trouxemos, trouxeram (brought)

ver (to see)

vi, viu, vimos, viram (saw)

vir (to come, arrive)

vim, veio, viemos, vieram (came)

The first three verbs above have only one change in the first person singular, eu (I). Even so, the change is only there to make sure that the pronunciation does not change in the conjugated forms. If the — u — was not inserted in cheguei, the — g — next to the — ei would have sounded like the — g — in the English word “gel” and not like the English word “gal.” The same principle was followed in the phonetic change to — qu — in the expliquei form. The other verbs listed have overall changes in all grammatical persons. The last two verbs, ver (to see) and vir (to come), are very similar in the past tense and must be learned together, especially the first person singular vim (I came) versus vi (I saw) is the difference of only a nasal and an oral vowel.

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