Brazilian Portuguese Grammar

by Bruno Oliveira Maroneze

The morphology and syntax of both varieties of Portuguese differ in many aspects. This small text describes some of the most important differences between them. First, however, an important remark must be done: most of EP characteristics are found in BP written texts, because the BP normative grammar is built from EP spoken language.

1. Nominal inflection

BP inflection system is identical to EP, but there is a syntactic peculiarity: in informal situations, only the determiner of the noun phrase is pluralized. In EP, this is a dialectal phenomenon.
EP: os livros usados the used books (lit. "the (masc. pl.) books used (pl.)")
BP (inf.): os livro usado the used books (lit. "the (masc. pl.) book used (sg.)")
Sometimes, the plural is marked on the possessive, even if an article precedes it. This phenomenon is not very understood yet:
EP: os meus livros my books ("the (masc. pl.) my (masc. pl.) books")
BP (inf.): o meus livro my books ("the (masc. sg.) my (masc. pl.) books")
2. Verbal inflection

EP opposes /a/ and // in first person plural of first conjugation verbs:

BP does not make this distinction, pronouncing both with []. In some popular varieties, there is a (socially disregarded) distinction between present and perfect preterite tense somewhat similar to this one above: In Portuguese (both EP and BP), there are two forms for the future tense: Both forms are used in EP, but the first one is highly formal in BP.

The conditional forms also have this double possibility:

but in this case, both forms are used in BP, although some quantitative studies point to a preference of the second one. In both varieties, the “imperfect preterite” form sometimes substitutes the conditional: The continuous tenses are formed with the gerund in BP, but with the preposition a + infinitive, in EP: The existential construction is formed with the verb haver in EP, but in BP, this verb is used only in formal situations; instead, BP uses the verb ter ‘to have’:

3. Pronouns

There are very important differences between BP and EP in the usage of pronouns.

The relative pronoun cujo ‘whose’ (from Latin cujus) is used only in EP (and sometimes in written BP). Instead, BP uses a different form of relativization:
EP: O autor cujo livro eu liThe author whose book I read. ("The author whose book I read.") 
BP: O autor que eu li o  livro dele. ("The author that I read the book of-him.")
This different form is also used in other relative constructions:
EP: O menino com quem eu falei. The boy with whom I talked. ("The boy whom I talked with.")
BP: O menino que eu falei com ele. ("The boy that I talked with  him.")
This was the subject of a very important study by Fernando Tarallo (1983).

3.1. Personal pronouns and the verbal paradigm

BP doesn’t know the second person plural pronoun vós ‘you’ pl., and the second person singular pronoun tu ‘you’ sg. is used only in some regions. Instead, BP uses the pronouns você (sg.) and vocês (pl.), which come from the old treatment form Vossa Mercê ‘your mercy’, originally a formal treatment (in EP, this form has yet the original sense). Compare with Spanish usted(es) and Catalan Vostè(des), which have the same etymology. BP verbal paradigm, then, is reduced to four (or three, depending on the tense) person forms:
European Portuguese Brazilian Portuguese  
Eu canto
Tu cantas
Ele(a) canta
Nós cantamos
Vós cantais
Eles(as) cantam
Eu canto
Você canta
Ele(a) canta
Nós cantamos
Vocês cantam
Eles(as) cantam
I sing
You sing
The first person plural pronoun is being substituted by the expression a gente ‘the people’, in a way similar to the French pronoun “on”; so, the first person plural form becomes identical to the third person singular. My study, “A Realização do Sujeito no Português Brasileiro”, deals with some implications of this new BP paradigm.

3.2. Possessive and demonstrative adjectives/pronouns

The use of the form você(s) made important changes on the use of possessives. First, the form vosso(s) / vossa(s) (which corresponds to vós) is not used; second, there is a confusion between the forms teu(s) / tua(s) (corresponding to the old pronoun tu) and the forms seu(s) / sua(s) (third person forms, and also corresponding to the pronoun você(s)):
BP: teu livro your book
  seu livro your book or his / her book

This confusion forces the use of the forms dele(s) / dela(s) ‘of him’, ‘of her’, ‘of them’ to distinguish:
BP: teu livro
seu livro
o livro dele
o livro dela
o livro deles
o livro delas
your book
your book or his / her book
his book (lit. ‘the book of him’)
her book
their (masc.) book
their (fem.) book
The demonstrative system also became reduced, but probably not because of the use of você(s); maybe for phonological reasons:
este / esta / isto 
esse / essa / isso
aquele / aquela / aquilo(2)
that (near you) 
that (near him / her / them)
esse / essa / isso 
aquele / aquela / aquilo
(or este / esta / isto, indistinctively)

As one can see, in BP there is no distinction between este and esse, except in written texts.

3.3. Position of clitics

These are some of the most important differences between BP and EP, and have been very seriously studied.

The position of object clitics in EP is largely conservative, corresponding to an early stage of Romance languages; BP, on the other hand, has innovated accompanying the changes in the other Romance languages.

While in EP the clitics are mainly enclitic, in BP (and in other Romance languages) proclisis is preferred:

In EP, sentences cannot begin with an object clitic (Tobler-Mussafia Law): BP allows proclisis even in imperative sentences, unlike other Romance languages: The pronoun você(s) has no object clitic form; because of that, the non-clitic form of the clitic te (corresponding to the old pronoun tu) are used:
BP: Eu te amo. I love you. (with the clitic te)
Eu amo você. (with the non-clitic form)
The third person (non-reflexive) clitics are not commonly used in BP; instead, the nominative pronouns are used: Câmara Jr. (1957) proposes the following stages for the evolution of this phenomenon: There are many other differences between both varieties, like the loss of third person forms in imperatives and the reduced usage of inflected infinitives in BP, which deserve a larger and more detailed study. But I hope this small paper is sufficient to show the main aspects of the Portuguese spoken on both sides of the Atlantic.

Bibliographical References


© 2001  Written for Orbis Latinus by Bruno Oliveira Maroneze.

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