Short Portuguese Lessons

Contents of lesson 5:

Making questions

Some vocabulary about places and things



Making questions

So far we've only seen affirmative sentences, used to express the knowledge of something, like "Today it is raining". Also very important is to ask questions, and if you are following these lessons because you intend to visit a portuguese-speaking country on holiday, it is extremely important to be able to ask the basic questions, like "Where is the bathroom?", or "What time is it?".

Yes/no questions

Yes/no questions are very easy in Portuguese. Unlike English, there is no need to rearrange the words in the sentence, or to use an auxiliary verb. A yes/no question is different from affirmative sentences only because there is a question mark ("?") at the end of the written sentence, and an entonation difference when spoken.
Just see the following example:

English Portuguese
The bear is brown. O urso é castanho.
Is the bear brown? O urso é castanho?
The woman eats the apple. A mulher come a maçã.
Does the woman eat the apple? A mulher come a maçã?

I think you should really enjoy this feature. It's one of the few things where Portuguese is simpler than English...
Like I've said before, word order is much more flexible in Portuguese than in English. That means that one can express finer shades of meaning by changing the order of words in a sentence. On the other hand, people that are learning the language might have some trouble interpreting some sentences. This is just a warning, because eventhough the sentences above are grammatically correct, they are the only alternative. So don't be surprised if you encounter strange looking sentences. (In examples like these, even in English could the sentence be reshaped)

Questions with an interrogative word

Making just yes/no questions is not very useful. They usually imply that one already has some knowledge of something, which is not always the case. We'll see now how to make general questions, but first, here is the correspondence between some very useful words in English and Portuguese:

English Portuguese
What O que, O quê
Who Quem
Why Porquê
When Quando
Where Onde
How Como, Quão
How much Quanto
Which Qual

Usually, De onde (from where) is contracted to Donde, and A onde (to where) is contracted to Aonde. There is also the form Adonde equivalent to Onde, very common in the spoken language, but rare in written form. Unlike yes/no questions, in these the subject-verb order is usually reversed. This is not very apparent in Portuguese, because one rarely includes the subject in a sentence. Here are some examples:

Onde estás? - Where are you? (singular and informal)
Quem sois vós? - Who are you? (plural and informal)
Quem são vocês? - Who are you? (plural and formal)
O que é isto? - What is this?

Don't forget what was said on the first lesson about forms of treatment. For Brasilians and many Portuguese, vocês is the only treatment used in the plural, being vós very rare and considered archaic.

Some vocabulary about places and things

Here is a list of some common vocabulary about places and things. This is especially useful for turists. You'll also need it for the examples and exercises. (some of this vocabulary was already part of previous lessons)

Na cidade - In the City

rua - street
estrada - road
auto-estrada - highway
avenida - avenue
esquina - corner
edifício, Prédio - building
casa - house
(o) parque - park
(a) estação - station
paragem - stop
carro - car
(o) táxi - taxi
comboio (also trem in Brazil) - train
autocarro (also ónibus in Brazil) - bus

No campo - In the Country

rio - river
ribeiro - stream
lago - lake
colina - hill
(o) monte - big hill (or small mountain...)
montanha - mountain
(a) árvore - tree
floresta - forest
(o) animal - animal
pássaro - bird
(o) peixe - fish

This is just a small list to give us something to start with. If you think there is some other thing that should be included, please tell me so.
In some words there is an (o) (masculine) or (a) (feminine), indicating the gender of the word. All the others follow the rules seen in a previous lesson.


Here are examples of afirmative/interrogative sentences that use some of the vocabulary we've seen in this lesson. If you have difficulties with anything, take a look at the previous lessons. There's also some extra vocabulary you'll need:

nadar - to swim
chegar - to arrive (also "to reach" or "to be enough")
voar - to fly
peixe - fish
e - and
ou - or
mas - but

O pequeno animal corre na montanha? - Does the small animal run in the mountain?
Sim, ele corre na montanha. - Yes, it (he) runs in the mountain.
O pássaro azul nada no lago? - Does the blue bird swim in the lake?
Não, ele voa. - No, it (he) flies.
Onde nadam os peixes? - Where do the fish swim?
Os peixes nadam no mar. - The fish swim in the sea.
Quem canta no teatro? - Who sings in the theatre?
Donde vêm eles? - Where do they come from?
Quando chegais à cidade? - When do you arrive in (to) the city?

Very often, especially in the spoken language, portuguese speakers add a few words to a question to give it more strengh. One would rarely hear a sentence like "Quando chegais à cidade?". One usually adds "é que" ("is it that") after the interrogative particle. So, the sentence above would be: "Quando é que chegais à cidade?", which roughly means "When is it that you arrive in the city?". These somewhat redundant words are common in most questions, but aren't usually translated literally to English.


And here are the exercises. They include everything we've seen so far, including how to make questions. Now, translate from Portuguese to English, and vice-versa. (The answers are here.)

Quem são eles?
Onde é que nadam os peixes?
Eles nadam nos lagos, nos rios, e no mar.
O urso come peixes?
Where is she from?
Does the big cat fly in the mountains?
No, but it (he) runs in the streets
When does the train arrive?

And that's all for lesson 5. You are welcome to continue and go on for lesson 6. There we'll take a look at the possessive and demonstrative pronouns.

Please send me your comments, sugestions, or whatever! If there's anything you would like to see included in these Short Portuguese lessons, please tell me so!

Lesson 4 Go on to Lesson 6

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Last updated: 97/04/04

Dario Oliveira Teixeira