Your Masterclass on European Portuguese Sentence Structure

Portuguese and English sentence structure is quite similar. In theory, they both follow the Subject (S), Verb (V), Object (O) SVO order. In certain instances, Portuguese can be easier than English. Yeah, I know, shocking, right? But Portuguese has more flexibility in its sentence construction which can sometimes confuse learners. To communicate in Portuguese, it’s crucial to understand how to build a sentence and word order. 

When you first start learning any language, your first step is to learn words individually. You create a long vocabulary list with verbs, adjectives, and nouns. This is great! But it is not very useful unless you know how to put it all together.

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    This blog post will break down the basics of European Portuguese sentence structure in a casual and approachable tone.


    1. The Basics

    1. Subject

    The subject is the star of the sentence, representing the person or thing performing the action. In European Portuguese, the subject usually comes before the verb.

    The subject is most of the time formed by three parts in this order:


      • Article

      • Noun

      • Adjective

    The main thing to point here is that unlike in English, Portuguese adjectives come after the noun. There are some exceptions that you can learn over time but at an intermediate level, remember:


      • Numbers (ordinal or cardinal) come before the noun

      • Other adjectives come after

    This means we say:

    O primeiro andar deste prédio está vazio.
    This building’s first floor is empty.

    But we also say:

    O andar vazio neste prédio é o primeiro. 
    The empty floor in this building is the first one. 

    (Note that this second sentence sounds a bit unnatural, I’m using it to show how it works)

    o : article

    andar: noun

    vazio: adjective

    Accords: how the subject changes in European Portuguese.

    I always tell my students this: in Portuguese, the noun is king. That is because it dictates how the other parts of the subject change. Although a bit scary for English natives, or for anyone whose first language doesn’t have accords (many Asian languages for example), it’s actually quite logical and straightforward.

    When learning a new noun or adjective, you most likely learn its masculine singular version. 

    Amarelo (yellow)

    To make it feminine, simply replace the o by an a.


    To make it plural, add an s.



    Now, amarelo is an adjective, and remember, the noun is king. So what determines which one you will use is the noun. 

    A casa (the house) for example is a feminine noun. So the yellow house will be

    A casa amarela

    If we have a plural noun, we add an s everywhere (in most cases!)

    As casas amarelas.

    Teacher tip: This is a simplified explanation to European Portuguese agreements. You can find out more about agreements here

    Some examples of adjective variations (including some that don’t follow the previously mentioned pattern). 

    Masculine Singular Feminine Singular Masculine Plural Singular Plural
    pequena pequenos pequenas
    grande grandes grandes
    portuguesa portugueses portuguesas
    bonita bonitos bonitas
    comprida compridos compridas

    How do I know which noun is masculine and which one is feminine? 

    Well, you don’t. Grammatical gender is quite arbitrary, and there really isn’t a way other than to memorise. The general rule is that if a noun finishes with an o, it is masculine, and if it finishes with an a, it is feminine. But really, there are many exceptions.

    A mão (feminine)

    O pijama (masculine) 

    O mapa (masculine)


    The only way is to learn nouns with their article. Sorry! Something that can help is to see the noun in a sentence. 

    A minha casa é amarela. 

    My house is yellow.

    If you remember this sentence, you will remember that we use “a minha” which means that the noun casa is feminine. If you just remember casa by itself, you will struggle to memorise its gender and put it in a sentence correctly. 

    2. Verb (V)

    The verb is the action or state of being in the sentence. It expresses what the subject does or is. In European Portuguese, the verb generally follows the subject. And again, the noun is king and directs how the verb will look like. 

    Unlike English, European Portuguese has difficult and complex conjugations and verb variations which you need to learn to speak correctly. 

    Useful links: 
    Present Tense in European Portuguese
    The 50 most useful verbs in Portuguese

    When you learn a verb in Portuguese, you most likely learn its infinitive form, which means it is not yet conjugated. For example: correr (to run), comer (to eat), falar (to speak).

    When forming a sentence, you need to be aware of the subject and change the verb accordingly. 

    For example, to say I speak Portuguese, you won’t say Eu falar português, but:

    Eu falo português.
    I speak Portuguese.

    Nós falamos português.
    We speak Portuguese.

    By understanding the role of the verb, we can construct meaningful and grammatically accurate sentences that effectively communicate our thoughts and ideas. So, let’s dive into the fascinating world of verbs in European Portuguese and unlock the keys to expressive and engaging communication.

    A big part of that is the tense. The tense and mood of the verb is an essential part and changes the meaning of a sentence completely. 

    Eu corro todos os dias.
    I run every day. 

    Correr is conjugated in the present tense, presente simples do indicativo

    Eu corria todos os dias.
    I used to run every day (but I don’t anymore)

    Here, correr is conjugated in the past tense, imperfeito do indicativo

    Eu vou correr todos os dias.
    I’m going to run everyday. 

    And finally here, correr is conjugated in the close future, futuro próximo

    This is why tenses play a fundamental role in the Portuguese sentence and as tedious and long they might be to learn, it’s fundamental in order to progress in your language learning journey!

    3. Object

    The object receives the action of the verb or provides additional information about the subject or verb. In European Portuguese, the object can appear after the verb or be placed at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis.

    Eu não vi a tua carteira.
    I haven’t seen your wallet.

    A tua carteira eu não vi.
    Your wallet? I haven't seen it.


    Something that pretty much every Portuguese learner has struggled with is prepositions. There are preposition and article combinations that are difficult for non-Portuguese speakers.

    Vou ao cinema. 
    I’m going to the cinema.

    The preposition a and the article o combine into ao

    Podes passar pelo supermercado?
    Can you stop by the supermarket?

    The preposition por and the article o combine into pelo


    1. Negative sentences in European Portuguese

    Negative sentences in Portuguese are the easiest to form. No don’t, shouldn’t, won’t, etc. To form a negative sentence in Portuguese, you simply add não (no) IN FRONT of the verb.

    Eu não sei cantar.
    Lit: I no know sing. 
    I can’t swim.

    That’s it! Really, that’s it. 

    Questions are the same.

    Moras em Lisboa?
    Do you live in Lisbon?

    Não moras em Lisboa?
    Don’t you live in Lisbon?

    Easy, huh?


    1. Asking questions in European Portuguese

    Asking questions in European Portuguese deserves its own blog post. However, to sum it up here, we have to divide it between open and close questions. 

    Closed questions

    Asking closed questions in Portuguese is quite an easy task. You basically don’t need to do anything, just change the tone.

    Ela mora em Lisboa.
    She lives in Lisbon.

    Ela mora em Lisboa?
    Does she live in Lisbon?

    No, I’m not kidding, it’s that easy. You have no excuses now! 

    If you are almost certain that the answer to your closed question is yes, you can add “não” + the verb, similar to “isn’t it?” or “right?”.

    Ela mora em Lisboa, não mora?
    She lives in Lisbon, doesn’t she?

    And in more casual settings, and specially in Brazilian Portuguese, it’s very common to add “neh” instead. “Neh” is similar to “innit” in British English. 

    Ela mora em Lisboa, neh?
    She lives in Lisbon, right?

    Open questions

    Open questions are a bit more difficult, but still quite straight forward.
    First, let’s look at the most common question words. 

    Question words in Portuguese.

    quem O quê/o que quê/que qual/quais quanto/quanta/quantos/quantas quando como onde porquê/porque
    who what What (followed by a noun) which How much/many when how where why

    Now, take the question word, and add your sentence. Just like in any Portuguese sentence, if the subject is clear, you don’t need to add a pronoun. 

    Onde (tu) moras?
    Where do you live?

    Porque gostas tanto de futebol?
    Why do you like futebol so much?

    Adding “é que” in questions in European Portuguese.

    In spoken European Portuguese, we often add “é que” between the question word and the verb. This does not change the meaning of the question, it just makes it more casual and informal. 

    Onde moras?
    Where do you live? 

    Onde é que moras?
    Lit: where is it that you live?
    Where do you live?

    Porque gostas tanto de futebol?
    Why do you like football so much?

    Porque é que gostas tanto de futebol?
    Why do you like football so much?


    1. Exceptions: Order Freedom and Written European Portuguese

    In European Portuguese, you have the freedom to rearrange the sentence components for emphasis or stylistic purposes. A lot of adjectives, adverbs, and other sentence elements can be placed before or after the verb, providing further variation in sentence structure.



      1. “Ontem, fui ao mercado.” (Yesterday, I went to the market.)


          • Adverb: “Ontem” (Yesterday)

          • (subject: eu (I))

          • Verb: “fui” (went)

          • Object: “ao mercado” (to the market)

      1. “A casa é grande e bonita.” (The house is big and beautiful.)


          • Adjectives: “grande” (big), “bonita” (beautiful)

          • Verb: “é” (is)

          • Subject: “A casa” (The house)

    In written Portuguese, especially classic literature,  it is also common for the verb to go before the subject for emphasis. If you are an advanced learner, you might have encountered this while reading Portuguese classics and it might have confused you. 

    “Em sonhos aquela alma me aparece” Luís Camões, Quando de minhas mágoas a comprida

    Lit: In dreams, that soul appears to me. 

    Em sonhos is a complement placed at the beginning of the sentence for emphasis. 

    Unless you are very advanced in your language learning journey, you don’t really need to worry about this, as it is pretty complex and you will rarely have to speak about Luís Camões in your daily conversations with Portuguese people. 


    You now have all the tools to master the basics of European Portuguese sentence structure. A lot is covered in this blog post so to make sure you understood, here are some sentences for you to translate. Leave your answers in the comment section:

    Translation Exercise: 

    She doesn’t speak Portuguese.

    Have you seen my wallet? 

    Where is your car? 

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