Translating Song Lyrics

For the sake of improving my Portuguese I tend to try and have a go at translating random song lyrics or quotes etc.

The line I was trying to translate was: “It’s not what we did do, it’s what we didn’t do”.

I would have translated this as: “Não é que fizemos, é que não fizemos.”

I have been told this would be wrong and that the true translation is: “Nao é o que fizemos, é o que nao fizemos.”

I was told that the action being done is described by “o”… but this doesn’t make sense to me. Can anyone explain why “o” is needed?

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Hey, Adam! Yes, whoever told you that is correct. Because here, the word o isn’t being used as a simple definite article (as the English word the). It’s actually a demonstrative pronoun and, for this reason, it can’t be left out of the sentence. You can confirm this by replacing it with aquilo (another demonstrative pronoun) - the sentence will continue making perfect sense and the function of o will be made more obvious:

  • Não é o que fizemos, é o que não fizemos. = Não é aquilo que fizemos, é aquilo que não fizemos. (It’s not the things we did do, it’s the things we didn’t do.)

Your initial translation would mean something a bit different:

  • Não é que fizemos, é que não fizemos. --> It’s not that we did it, it’s that we didn’t do it.