How to Construct Sentences

I consider myself a beginner. I may always remain a beginner to some extent, we will see as time goes along. One of the hardest things for a beginner to understand about Portuguese is PRONUNCIATION. If a beginner cannot understand the spoken language, he has a very difficult problem. He cannot WRITE down what he does not comprehend. It does not help that the speaker is a “native,” if anything that just makes it worse! The “native speaker” is going to be deliberately obtuse, slur words and be difficult to understand! Reading Portuguese is not as hard, as the words REMAIN in front of the student. With the spoken word, if not understood, it is immediately LOST!

What I would like to do here is to learn HOW TO CONSTRUCT SIMPLE SENTENCES in Portuguese. It is unhelpful to learn that “Setembro e outubro e messes do ano.” Where am I going to use that? On the other hand if I want to go shopping for “um cinto” (a belt) it might be very helpful to learn how to deal with a store clerk. Sometimes they will insist on speaking English, which is not helpful, either! So it could be useful to politely ask them to speak Portuguese to you because you are learning. I can use sign language, use a few phrases to be understood, but is not very polished or correct. If the store clerk shows you a belt made of plastic, it might be helpful to be able to say you want it in leather. I can, of course, make sounds like a cow to get the point across, but I would rather have some useful lines to use! Any takers?! A discussion on how to go about constructing such sentences would be very useful and helpful.

Greetings. I was/am still a beginner as well even after completing 6 months of the A1.1 course at Porto University. Although I will say that I have learned enough now to be dangerous and misunderstood ! But seriously it has helped. However if a structured course is not for you or feasible, I would suggest that you learn the very basic and very important verbs and phrases - such as I want, I need, I am, I speak, I need help, thank you, please. The course lessons on PracticePortuguese are excellent so start with the basics. If you have a particular concern, such as you do, with everyday living I have found the most useful approach for me was to plan ahead. So, for example, if I know I am going shopping for shoes I will use my translator ( I use Google and although it can give you Brazilian translation it is typically just fine for vocabulary and simple sentences). Vocabulary is easy to look up but it is the sentences as you say that are important and I do not know any way around this than to take lessons somewhere to get you going…either online or at a school. The interaction with others who are trained to teach is important since they will start out slow with you. The good news is clerks often can and do lapse into English because they are very kind that way in Portugal but yes they may not want to take the time to work through the translation with you. Do not be discouraged. But do take a structured approach to your learning and use the on the spot translator applications to help you in specific circumstances.

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Welcome to the discussion! And thank you for your input. I am very curious how you were able to do a course at Porto University. Was that ALL in Portuguese, or was it in English as well?

I agree that I will need to learn to use those basic phrases, and I am working slowly in that direction. There is little help available, really. So one ends up just stumbling along. I do not like that, but it is reality.

I remember learning English as an immigrant. I was not even a teenager. Being exposed to “I am” and “You are” was confusing enough! I kept using the wrong word structure! I do the same in Portuguese.

Anyway, Obrigado.

As a mostly self-guided student, I’ve had to structure a program of study for myself, and have run into pretty much all the issues you mention. I finally set upon realizing that there are two sides to the same coin - reading/writing and listening/speaking. And both are wrapped by vocabulary & grammar. And that I had to work the R&W/L&S for the level of vocab and grammar I was able to handle at a given time; and then ramp it up as my V&G improved.

To that end, I make a point of reading every day - simple stuff - example, Charlie e a Fàbrica do Chocolate. Did I understand every word - nope - not by a long shot, but enough to start to see structure & patterns in the written word. This is where I got the idea to write something myself (those Escura e Tempestuosa stories). It helps push me on the grammar. My wife, takes another approach. She’ll try to translate a kids book into Portuguese.

As to hearing it - well, that is my weak spot. I listen and listen and hear words and even sometimes I even get whole phrases. The first time in @joelrendall and @ruicoimbra Caminho series that I heard and understood an entire conversation (the 83yo woman with the ‘galloshers’ and wheelbarrow) I was elated. But it took a good bit of studying/practice to get there - It comes but slowly for me.

One thing I did that has helped immensely was to learn how to pronounce the dipthongs & other letter combos; ães, ões, nh, rr, gh, etc. (I remained amazed that the rr, or beginning r, sounds like a Dutch ‘g’. Go figgur.) Anyway. I did a lot of listening to the easier PP podcasts with the written scrolling by to help train the ear, plus other youtubers with transcripts. Making sure that the offerings are geared towards learners so that the slurring & such is minimized. Alas, in portuguese, the vowel eating is something you can’t avoid and just have to go with it.

I still do this; on the cusp of matriculating from the Easy to Medium. And for the medium; I still have the transcripts scrolling by, and for easy - I only mostly get it. I also listen to the RTP broadcasts where, again, I hear words/phrases. I’m getting pretty good at the weather report :slight_smile:

Also since my time in Porto tends to be limited to a week here/there, I will take courses at inLingua, and I continue to do a 1/week skype session with an instructor from inLingua were we just talk for an hour. I also have a friend of a friend (um Brazileiro) help as well, another 1:1 weekly face-to-face just talk in Portuguese.

Long story short - there are no magic bullets to this that I’ve found. It’s just plain hard work. A little bit every day. And if I have any magic formula, it’s just that - every day. Maybe only 30min - but every day, 7d/week.

I know I’ve come a long ways, but have an even longer way to go. I harbor no illusions of ever being fluent (I’ll use @joelrendall 's estrangheiro embarrassed shrug when stuck). But to be able to converse with people in their language opened up a world I’d never seen before. And that has made it worth it.


A few things you could try that have helped me:

  1. Have you used the verb practice section of the site? You could use the conjugations as a starting point to create your own sentences. For example, the first one is “ser”, present tense. It shows you the full conjugation before the quiz. You could use those to write (or speak): Eu sou uma mulher. Tu és um homem. Ele é um homem. Nós somos mulheres. Eles são homens. Etc… Maybe focus on a new verb each day and try to write or say different types of sentences using whatever vocab you’ve come across in the units. Then take the quiz to test yourself.

  2. As you’re listening to the shorties or videos or going through the lessons, write down any particular phrases or words that you think you might use in real life. Even if it’s at a more advanced level, there are always at least few things I can pick out. Then you can practice writing the phrases over and over, speaking them out loud without looking, and replaying the audio to listen for the pronunciation. It helps me to have a set of go-to phrases like this. Plus, the process of picking out the parts that are most relevant helps it stick in my memory. For example, I just listened to the “O Fato Faz o Homem” shorty and I wrote down the translations for “I need a…”, “I like those better”, “Maybe”, “This one”, and “I will take one of them”. Then I try to think about other things I might want to say in a store, and see if I can write my own phrases. One of the lines from the text was “Quer experimentar a roupa primeiro?” (The salesperson asking “Do you want to try out the clothes first?”), but it would be more helpful for me to know how to ask this myself (rather than waiting for the salesperson to ask me). I know how to conjugate querer and poder from the verb practice, so I write down “Quero experimentar a roupa, por favor.” (I want to try on the clothes, please) and “Posso experimentar a roupa?” (Can I try on the clothes?).

  3. You might be in a store wanting to say something like “I really like this belt, but would you happen to have any made of leather?”, but translating that to Portuguese would be difficult. So as a beginner, I try to think of a simplified way to ask and add that to my “go-to” phrases. For example, you could hold up the belt and say “Do you have leather?” - “Tem pele?” This is probably enough that someone would understand what you’re trying to ask. And it can be applied to other situations (“Tem camisas?” “Tem sapatos?”) As time goes on and you learn more verb conjugations and grammar or pick up more vocabulary, you can add more complexity, but I think it’s a good starting point.

  4. With a phrase like “Setembro e outubro são meses do ano”, while it might not be something you would say often, you can often still pull useful things from the structure of the sentence. In the case of shopping for clothes, you could say “A camisa e o cinto são caros.” (The shirt and the belt are expensive.)

It’s definitely a difficult process, but I think anything you can do to play around with the pieces of information you’re learning and make it more relevant to you will be helpful. “Stumbling along” feels awful sometimes, but I think it’s the only way. We’re all stumbling along with you and if we weren’t stumbling, we wouldn’t be learning anything.


Molly, muito obrigada pela tua sugestoes!

What you have written is exactly what I was hoping someone would say and do. We are ALL stumbling along, as you correctly point out. I have long since stopped worrying about whether I sound stupid or not. I recognize I need to TRY anyway. But you have given me some thoughts that can work. And there is NO reason not to try them out.
I suggested to the founders some time back that PP start a lesson in/on how to write sentences in Portuguese. I was told it could be “tricky.” I agree that is correct! But it is precisely this sort of interaction that brings out progress. With this forum, it may be an excellent way to get started. I just now re-read ALL the notes and comments on why we are learning Portuguese. While I prefer those comments be in both English and Portuguese, I did note that I understood an awful lot of what was written. The difficulty came when I ran into a sentence that would NOT translate for me. Also LONG sentences are a hazard. It is so easy to get lost when they are long. Those who KNOW some Portuguese easily forget that everything has to be translated by beginners before anything can be understood…and processed.
Joseph is very knowledgeable. He grew up with street Portuguese (according to his own comments), so he is a natural for what SOUNDS good. It is great to have that kind of correction help. I also noted your corrections to my incorrectly written sentences. “e” and “sao” are troublemakers for me! There are many times when “e” does not mean the same and it is hard to know “when is what!”