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LEARNING STUDIO - LEVEL B1

learning Portuguese - SUBJUNCTIVE

SUBJUNCTIVE IN PORTUGUESE

Learning Portuguese is challenging. Learning the subjunctive in Portuguese is even more challenging! The vast majority of Portuguese people don’t know what the indicative mode or the subjunctive mode is. Portuguese speakers naturally and instinctively speak Portuguese. In every sentence, they use words and grammatical structures that “sound” better. But it’s also true that Portuguese speakers often use the subjunctive mode incorrectly. It’s not easy to use the subjunctive mode correctly, even for a Portuguese citizen born and raised in Portugal. If it’s not easy for natives, imagine for someone learning Portuguese…

INDICATIVE MODE vs SUBJUNCTIVE MODE

The indicative mode is the one we use in the vast majority of our everyday sentences. The indicative mode is essentially used to describe facts, real things, and concrete situations. Here are some examples:

A. Amanhã vou trabalhar na praia! =Tomorrow, I am going to work at the beach! (sentence in the future describing a fact)

B. Bebo três cafés todos os dias = I drink three coffees every day. (sentence in the present describing a real routine)

C. Ontem fui ao cinema = Yesterday, I went to the cinema. (sentence in the simple past describing a concrete and completed action in the past)

We use the subjunctive mode to talk about hypothetical events, express wishes, doubts, hopes, fears, and feelings. Here are some sentences in the subjunctive mode!

A. Eu quero que tu SEJAS feliz = I want you to BE happy. (sentence expressing a wish in the present subjunctive)

B. Se tu FORES à praia, liga-me! = If you GO to the beach, call me! (sentence describing a hypothetical event in the future subjunctive)

C. Ontem o João não foi às aulas. Talvez ESTIVESSE doente. = Yesterday, João didn’t go to classes. Maybe he WAS sick. (sentence expressing doubt in the past imperfect subjunctive)

Learning the subjunctive in Portuguese is challenging, but teaching the subjunctive is not easy either! The first students I tried to explain the subjunctive to didn’t have an easy task! As a Portuguese teacher, I lacked experience and even sufficient knowledge to choose the best approach for those students. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in the teaching and learning processes. Certainly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in teaching the subjunctive in Portuguese either. It is important to know each student well in order to choose their learning path. The subjunctive should be taught throughout levels B1 and B2.

WHERE TO START TO LEARN AND CONSOLIDATE THE SUBJUNCTIVE IN PORTUGUESE?

The subjunctive has simple structures and compound structures (compound subjunctive tenses). Simple structures are taught at levels B1 and B2. Compound subjunctive tenses are learned and consolidated at levels C1 and C2.

PRESENT SUNJUNCTIVE

It is important to start with the PRESENT SUBJUNCTIVE. This verb tense has many connectors, but in my opinion, not all of them are essential. I believe that Portuguese learners should focus on the fundamental aspects of the Portuguese language. Asking a student to memorize long lists of connectors may contribute to their failure.

My experience as a Portuguese teacher tells me that, in the initial phase of teaching the subjunctive, we should introduce Portuguese learners to connectors that we use continuously and routinely in daily communication. We are talking about the following connectors:

1. TALVEZ ele CHEGUE amanhã = Perhaps/maybe he WILL ARRIVE tomorrow (expression of doubt).

b. É BOM QUE, É DIFICIL QUE, É IMPORTANTE QUE, É CONVENIENTE QUE,… = IT IS GOOD THAT, IT IS UNLIKELY THAT, IT IS IMPORTANT THAT, IT IS CONVENIENT THAT,… (Impersonal expressions + que). Example: É bom que chegues cedo amanhã = It is good that YOU ARRIVE EARLY TOMORROW.

c. NÃO ACHO QUE, NÃO PENSO QUE, NÃO CREIO QUE. = I DON’T THINK THAT, I DON’T BELIEVE THAT, I DON’T SUPPOSE THAT. (Negative opinions). Example: Nao acho que ele SEJA gordo = I don’t think that HE IS fat!

d. QUERER QUE, DESEJAR QUE, DUVIDAR QUE, RECEAR QUE, ESPERAR QUE,… = TO WANT THAT, TO WISH THAT, TO DOUBT THAT, TO FEAR THAT, TO HOPE THAT,… (Subjunctive verbs). Example: Eu quero que tu SEJAS rico = I want you TO BE rich.

Before we move forward and introduce other connectors to the students, it is essential that Portuguese learners feel comfortable with the conjugation of the present subjunctive and the use of the four connectors described earlier.

FUTURE SUBJUNCTIVE

The FUTURE SUBJUNCTIVE is the next tense. Before the Portuguese learner moves on to this new verb tense, it is crucial to feel comfortable with the present subjunctive. The words ‘SE=IF’ and ‘QUANDO=WHEN’ are the most commonly used connectors for this verb tense.

Examples:

a. SEFORES” ao cinema, vou contigo! = IF YOU GO to the movies, I’ll go with you!

b. QUANDO to FORES ao cinema, vou contigo! = b. WHEN YOU GO to the movies, I’ll go with you!

IMPERFECT SUBJUNCTIVE

It is the verb tense that poses the greatest challenges for Portuguese learners. We are dealing with a structure where it is often difficult to pinpoint the temporal moment it refers to. The Imperfect Subjunctive often refers to the past, at other times it has a present value, but it can also have a future value.

Examples:

a. Antigamente eu queria que tu FOSSES astronauta = In the past, I wanted you TO BE an astronaut. – Past value.

b. Na próxima década eu queria que tu FOSSES astronauta= In the next decade, I wanted you TO BE an astronaut. – Desire for the future.

 

The above examples reveal the complexity that these structures present to Portuguese learners. It is clear that it is possible to learn to speak Portuguese fluently, but it is no less clear and true that the path is not free of effort and dedication.

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