August 15, 2012 | Portuguese

Many Ways “to Be” in Portuguese

I think I have already encountered five ways to render "to be" in Portuguese...

Rainy day in New York today! Days like this are so romantic.

I taught an all-day grammar course for one of my corporate clients today. I always love teaching grammar, but this was one of my favorite such classes in a long time: intimate, lively, and advanced.

Rainy Day with Empire State Building

Rainy Day with Empire State Building

I am racking up ways to say “to be” in Portuguese. More even than I can think of in Spanish.

Like Spanish, Portuguese has the verbs ser and estar to express two different types of being. 

You would use ser for something more permanent, as in Eu sou americana. (I am American.)

You would use estar for something more mutable or temporary, as in Eu estou doente. (I am sick.)

You can at least sometimes use estar for location, too, as in Spanish, but so far I am hearing a lot of ficar (also meaning “to stay”) in such situations. For example, A farmácia fica longe daqui. (The pharmacy is far from here.)

You seem to use a verb that reminds me of the Spanish verb haber in generic “there is”/”there are” kinds of situation, as in tempo. (At least I think this is how you would say “There is time” in Portuguese.)

Pimsleur has also told me I should use a different verb in similar cases when something more specific is being alluded to, as in Tem uma farmácia aqui. (There is a pharmacy here.)

I think tem in this sentence comes from “to have” (ter), but I don’t know yet since I have only heard it so far and not seen a written explanation. If it does come from ter, it is not actually a verb of being but would maybe be somewhat like English when you say, “They have a pharmacy here,” where “they” doesn’t actually refer to anyone. 

I am flying blind here though.

By the way, I am not even including the “to be” concept from sentences like “It is hot” (Faz calor) or “I am thirty-five” (Eu tenho trinta e cinco anos), because just as in other Romance languages, what you are really saying in Portuguese is “It makes heat” and “I have thirty-five years,” respectively. So you do not have actual verbs of being in those two sentences.

“Being” is less strenuous in Italian and French!

Comments (2)

Ken • Posted on Wed, August 22, 2012 - 5:41 pm EST

‘tem’ definitely comes from ‘ter’.  I think your explanation of its use is correct.  ‘There’s time’ is actually ‘dá tempo’.  I always found it funny that a common answer for that question is, “Dá.” Sounds like you’re speaking Russian.  ‘Dá’ comes from ‘dar’, but I’m not sure why it’s used there.  I think for all of these forms of what we think of as “to be” is just context-based and knowing when to use what.  Believe it or not, it all becomes instinct.  I don’t even think about which to use where, and I get them right.

Veerle Slegers • Posted on Thu, September 06, 2012 - 12:49 pm EST

‘Dá’ comes from ‘dar’ which means ‘to give’. So literally ‘Dá tempo’ means ‘it gives time’. This reminds me of the German phrase ‘es gibt’ which also means ‘it gives’. Example: ‘Es gibt millionen von Sternen’: “There are millions of stars”.

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