11.2 The pretérito perfeito composto

The complexity of the pretérito perfeito composto is inversely proportional to its relevance in practice. That means the context where it is used is a little bit hard to understand, but in real life there are only few occasions who match this context. The dominant tenses of the past in Portuguese are the imperfeito and the pretérito perfeito simples. In sharp contrast to Spanish, where we have more or less a distribution of 50 / 50 between the use of the imperfeito and the pretérito perfeito simples, in Portuguese it is something like 90 percent pretérito perfeito simples and ten percent pretérito perfeito composto. (The situation in Italian and French is different. Basically the role of the pretérito perfeito composto is the same as in Spanish, but given that the pretérito perfeito simples is very irregular, it is more and more substituted by the pretérito perfeito composto.)

We already talked about the perfeito composto in chapter 9. However in chapter nine we were more interested in the context in which it is used than how it is formed. From a formal point of view it resembles to any composed tense in most languages. The pretérito perfeito composto is formed with the verbo ter (to have) as an auxiliary verb and the past participle. That suggests that it is used as well as in any other language, that it is used if the action described has an impact on the present of the speaker. However that is not the case. The pretériot perfeito simples corresponds to the present perfect continuous in English, I have been telling you that since two years, and not to the present perfect, ~I told you that since two years. In other words it is used if an action is constantly repeated until the present of the speaker. Whether this action has an impact on the present of the speaker is irrelevant. That seems to be only a subtle difference, however it is a big one. English native speakers see that immediately if they compare how often the present perfect is used and how often the present perfect continuous is used. There are much more contexts where the present perfect is used than contexts where the present perfect continuous is used. To put it very clear: In sharp contrast to other roman languages and English, Portuguese has no tense to describe an action that already has an impact on the present. Whether an action has an impact on the present or not is irrelevant in Portuguese.

This said, the formation is very simple and works the same way as in any other indogermanic language. The pretérito perfeito composto is formed with the present tens of the verb ter and the past participle.

personal pronoun auxiliary verb past participle
English We have sold.
SpanishNosotros hemosvendido
PortugueseNós temos*vendido


* Actually as an auxiliary verb haver is possible as well, but there is a very strong preference for ter. Simplifying we can say that haver as an auxiliary verb is not used any more.

The fact that the portguguese pretérito perfeito composto is formed the same way as the Spanish pasado perfecto leads to problems on both side. Portuguese native speakers struggle with this problem when they learn Spanish and Spanish native speakers have a problem when they learn Portuguese and obviously the same is true for people who already speak Spanish. Portuguese native speakers tend to use the Spanish indefinido where actually the pasado perfecto has to be used and Spanish native speakers tend to use the pretérito perfeito composto where the pretérito perfeito simples is to be used.

The present of the verb ter we know already. Concerning the past participle we have to distinguish, as always, between the verbs ending in -ar, -er or -ir. The past participle is formed by deleting the ending -ar, -er, -ir and adding -ado, -ido, -ido. The verbs ending in -er and -ir have the same endings.

infinitive steem ending past participlet translation
verbs ending on -ar
lavar lav ado lavado washed
amar am ado amado loved
pagar pag ado pagado paid
verbs ending on -er
agradecer agradec ido agradecido thanked
proteger proteg ido protegido protected
saber sab idosabido known
verbs ending on -ir
impedir imped ido impedido prevented
sentir sent idosentido felt
exigir exig idoexigido demanded

In opposite to many other languages, between them Italian and French, there is no difference between transitive and intransitive verbs. Both are conjugated with ter.

eutenho
past perfectt infinitive meaning
Verben auf -ar
entradoentrar come
ganhadoganhar earned
dedicardedicado dedicated
Verben auf -er
esquecidoesquecer forgotten
defendidodefender defended
enchidoencher filled
Verben auf -ir
dormidodormir slept
digeridodigerir filled
erigidoerigir built
tu tens
ele ela
você
o senhor a senhora
tem
nós temos
eles elas
vocês
o senhores as senhoras
têm


examples
Eu tenho ganhado.
I have won.
Tu tens esquecido.
I have forgotten.
Ele tem dormido.
I have slept.

The amount of irregular past participles is restricted. The most important ones are listed in the table below.


(From time to time the pretérito perfeito composto can be translated with a present tense. The present tense includes the near past. The present perfect continuous is very similar to the present tense. That's what I have benn telling you <=> That's what I tell you. It can actually be questionned whether the pretérito perfeito composto is a tense of the present or a tense of the past.)

verb past participlet example
fazerfeito Eu tenho feito mais coisas certas do que erradas.
There are more things I have been doing well than things I have been doing wrong.
escreverescrito Muito se tem escrito sobre isso.
A lot has been written about this.
dizerdito Temos dito repetidamente que o texto só precisava de algumas alterações pontuais.
We have been saying again and again that only some paragraphs of the text only need to be modified.
virvindo Estas tecnologias têm vindo a ser continuamente desenvolvidas.
These technologies are improved constantly.
ver visto Não tenho visto progressos reais, mas considero que são possíveis.
I have not been seeing any progress, althoug I believe it is possible.
pôrposto Não tem posto em prática as resoluções.
He doesn't put the decisions into practice.
abriraberto Israel tem aberto as portas ao povo judeu disperso por todo o mundo.
Israels opens the door for the all the jewish people dispersed all over the world.
cubrircuberto Ela tem coberto uma percentagem das perdas.
She assumes a part of the loses.


The use of the pretérito perfeito composto in Portuguese is actually strange. The author doesen't know any language where it is used in this context. In English as well as in any other language, the pretérito perfeito composto is used if an action has an impact on the present of the speaker.

correct: I haven't read the book, therefore I can't say anything about it.
wrong: I didn't read the book, therefore I can't say anything about it.

Whether it is an ongoing action or not, whether the action has been repeated in the past or not, is irrelevant. If that is an important issue, we use the present perfect continuous in English, I have been doing that for years now, or a verbal phrase in spanisch, Llevo haciendo esto desde hace años.

Concerning the present the pretérito perfeito composto corresponds to the present perfect continuous and not to the present perfect. However the thing is still more strange.

In English the past perfect, I had written, is the same thing as the present perfect, but refers to a moment in the past. With the past perfect we describe an action that is relevant for a moment in the past.

1) correct: I had not read the book, therefore I was unable to say something about it.
2) wrong: I didn't read the book, thererfore I was unable to say something about it.

2) means something, although not the same as 1). 2) means that he didn't read the book while other peopler where talking about it. In this case people read a book and meet from time to time to talk about their impressions, but one of them doesn't do it. 1) Means that he had not read the book at all and couldn't say therefore anything about it. An action of a period before the past has an impact on the past. The present perfect and the past perfect have therefore the same function. In opposite to the preterito perfeito composto the pretérito mais-que-perfeito composto has the same function as in any other language. It describes the impact of an action of a period of time before the past on the past. Only the use of the pretérito perfeito composto is different. Concerning the use of the pretérito mais-que-perfeito composto there is no difference.

The aspect expressed by the pretérito perfeito composto Portuguese can be expressed in some other languages, although not in all languages. In French, Italian, german this aspect can only be expressed through adverbials like again and again, constantly, several times etc.. In Spanish and English it can be expressed by a verbform.


Spanish: He estado trabajando en esto todo el día y todavía no lo tengo listo.
English: I have been working on it the whole day and it is not finished yet.
Portuguese: Tenho trabalhado nisso todo o día e ainda não está acabado.
german: Ich arbeite schon den ganzen Tag daran und es ist immer noch nicht fertig.


It is not always the case, but in sentences where the pretérito perfeito composto is required there is often an adverbial or an adverb, that indicates that the action is repeated or lasts until the present of the speaker.

Já tenho esperado meia hora.
I have been waiting for you half an hour.

"Esperei meia hora" is possible, but the meaning is different. One would say that, if one would talk about something that happened in the past. waiting anymore. If the person he waited for comes after half an hour, he would say to this persons "Esperei meia hora".

Eu tenho feito mais coisas certas do que erradas.
There are more things that I have done well, then things I have done wrong.

If someone wants to say that he can't open the door of his appartment because he has lost the key he would say in Portuguese something completely wrong in Spanish or English.

the pretérito perfeito simples can be used to describe an action that has an impact on the present
English: I have lost my key.
Spanish: He perdido mi llave.
Perdi a minha chave.

However the pretérito perfeito simples is used in a completely different context as well. It is used if there is no relationship to the present of the speaker. In other words, whether an action has an impact on the present or not is completely irrelevant in Portuguese.


Ontem vendeu a sua casa.
Yesterday he sold his house.


If someone has lost his key and doesn't have therefore access to his appartement we have an action of the past which has an impact no the present. We use the present perfect, in other words the construction to have in the present + past participle, in all languages, but not in portueguese. In Portuguese we use a not compound tense, which is used in all other languages, roman languages included, to describe an action which has no impact on the present. That is really a big difference. Once again: The pretérito perfeito composto is used for actions that are repeated constantly until the present of the speaker or beyond this present. Whether the action has an impact on the present of the speaker is completely irrelevant. In English and in Spanish it is the other way round. Whether an action is repeated until the present of the speaker is irrelevant, but the present perfect must be used if the action has an impact on the present.

If the present perfect continuous is in passive voice we get something like "The car has been being maintained carefully". In order to avoid this somehow wired construction we translate with the present tense in the following sentences. To a certain degree the present tense embraces the near past and therefore the present tense can as well describe an action that is repeated continuously until the present of the speaker.

Muito se tem escrito sobre isso.
(A lot has been being written aobut that. <=> A lot is written about that.)
A lot means that several times something has been written about the issue.
Temos dito repetidamente que o texto só precisava de algumas alterações pontuais.
(We have been saying that only some paragraphs of the text need to be modified.)
Repentinamente, immer wieder, verweist darauf, dass es mehrere Male gesagt wurde.Repentinamente, again and again, indicates that it has been said several times.
Não tenho visto progressos reais, mas considero que são possíveis.
(I don' t see any real progress, but I thing they are possible.)
The plural, progressos reais, indicates that several times any attempt to make a progress failed.
Não tem posto em prática as resoluções.
(He dosen't put the decisions into practice.)
Several descisions were not put into practice, again and again.
Estas tecnologias têm vindo a ser continuamente desenvolvidas.
(Diese Technologien wurden kontinuierlich weiterentwickelt.)
Continuamente, continuously, indicates that the action were repeated.
Tem feito muito calor.
(It is hot.)
In this case a trigger word is missing. However it the sentence refers to the weather it is clear that we don't speak about a punctual event.


It can be questioned whether the pretérito perfeito composto is really a tense of the past. Sometimes we can traduce as well with a simple present instead of a present perfect continuous. If a date or a period of time is given during which the action is performed we can translate with the present tense or with the present perfect continuous.

São coisas que eu tenho pensado desde que voltei de viagem.
1 a) I have been thinking about this issue since I returned from the trip.
1 b)I think about that since I returned from the trip.


Tenho pensado muito em ti ultimamente.
2 a) I have been thinking of you very often lately.
2 b) I think of you very often lately.


Eu tenho trabalhado desde que eu era muito jovem.
3 a) I have been working since my childhood.
3 b) I work since my childhood.


The present perfect continuous as well as the present tense are sufficiently vaguely defined concerning the period of time they refer to that to some extent the past is embraced to some degree. In the case 2b) and still more obvious in case 3b) the past is embraced as well by the present tense. Together with an adverb or an adverbial very often both can be used. However if there is no adverbial or an adverb, the present perfect refers clearly to the past, the present tense clearly to the present.

obviously refering to the past: He has earned a lot of money. (Whether or not this is still true, is unclear..)
obviously refering to the present: He earns a lot of money. (It is clear that he still does that in the present.)


Adverbs cannot only extend the past to the present, they can as well assign an action to the past.

correct: I have been sleeping when someone knocked at the door..
wrong: I sleep when someone knocked at the door.

Other examples.

Hoje perdi a minha carteira e por isso não pude pagar a conta.
I have lost my wallet today and therefore I couldn't pay the bill.


This is a very obvious example for the present perfect. An action of the past has an impact on the present. However Portuguese doesn't see it like that. They use the pretérito perfeito simples.

An adverb indicates that the action has been repeated
I have been talking with his sister almost every day.
Tenho falado com a sua irmã quase todo dia.

In this case we have to use the pretérito perfeito simples. Almost every day indicates that the action has been repeated until the present of the speaker.


There is nothing that indicates that the action has been repeated..
I talked to him yesterday.
Falei com ele ontem.

In this case we use pretérito perfeito simples in Portuguese and the, from a formal point of view since it is a not compound tense, corresponding simple past. But that doesn't mean in no way that the pretérito perfeito simples is always to be translated with a past tense, because we use the pretérito perfeito simples as well in case that there is a relationship to the present.


A: Are you hungry?
B: No I have already eaten something.
not: No, I ate already something..
A: Tens fome?
B: Não, já comi.

not: Não, já tenho comido.


In this case we have a very clear impact of an action of the past on the present. Since he has already eaten something, he is not hungry and therefore we use the present perfect in English. However in Portuguese we use the pretérito perfeito simples that corresponds to the pretérito indefinido in Spanish. What would be completely wrong in Spanish, is perfectly correct in Portuguese, because the impact of an action on the present is irrelevant in Portuguese.

The only relevant aspect in Portuguese is the question whether an action is repeated until or beyond the present of the speaker.



Presente / perfeito composto if the action lasts until the present of the speaker
Eu tenho comido cereal no café da manhã por toda a minha vida.
My whole live I have been eating crunchy-granola for breakfast.





present in portuguese if it is clear that the action is still happening in the present
Eu como cereal no café da manhã desde que nasci.
I take cereals for breakfast since I was born.

We can read in many textbooks examples like the ones below by which the authors wanted to prove that the pretérito perfeito Portuguese corresponds to the Spanish pretérito perfecto.

Spanish: Este año ha llovido mucho en Brasil.
Portuguese: Este ano tem chovido muito no Brasil.
English: This year it has been raining a lot in Brasil.

In this case the Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto is indeed translated with a pretérito perfecto in Spanish, but that doesn't mean that they have the same function. If it has been raining a lot, it has rained a lot of days and several times. The fact that it has been raining on a lot of days justifies the portuguese pretérito perfeito composto. The spanish pretérito perfecto however is justified by the tricker word este año. The speaker is in the same period in which the event ocurred, that's why he feels an impact on the present. In this case we use the formally corresponding spanish tense, but for a very different reason.


Let's have a look at another example.

Spanisch: Este año he visitado mi hermano en Paris.
Portugiesisch: Este ano visitei o meu irmão em Paris.
Deutsch: This year I have visited my brother in Paris.

In this case the spanish pretérito perfeito is translated with a pretérito perfeito simples in Portuguese. We have the same trigger word in Spanish, este año, and therefore we use the same tense we use in the example before, the pasado perfecto. However in this example we assume that he visited his brother only one time and therefore we use the pretérito perfeito simples en Portuguese. In Spanish and in English we use the same tense in both cases, because the tense depend, in this case, from the trigger word. In Portuguese however we use different tenses.


The fact that we find a lot of strange theories on the internet concerning this issues is irrelevant. The Spanish pretérito perfecto is used if the speaker "feels" that there is an impact on his present, this is for instance the case when he is in the same period of time and we have trigger words like this year, today, right now etc. or if there objectively an impact, "He has broken his arm, he can't drive". Some people who are not really familiar with the Spanish standard / normative grammar believe that the Portuguese do things right and Spanish does it wrong. Beside the fact that wrong or right doesn't mean anything in the context of grammar, it is a matter of fact that Portuguese is the exception. Other languages, not only roman languages but germanic languages as English or german, works the other way round.

This comment is completely wrong.

Em Espanha dizemos, por exemplo, "hoy he comido arroz" mas o certo seria dizer "hoy comí arroz" porque faz oito horas que "eu comi" (oração acabada, perfectiva). Acho que os galegos quando falam espanhol usam estes tempos verbais de maneira certa.

www.wordreference.com
In Spain we say for instance "hoy he comido arroz", I have eaten rice today, but more correct would be "hoy comí arroz", Today I ate rice. I guess the galicians use this tense correctly if they speak Spanish.


The author of this lines is absolutely convinced that all galicians, the region of north-western Spain, say "Hoy he comido arroz", because all galicians are fluent in Spanish and don't make this kind of fundamental error. (In opposite to French and Italian this is a fatal error in most parts of the Spanish speaking world.) "Hoy comí arroz" is not a little bit wrong, but very wrong, completely wrong in Spanish. Portuguese stems from Galician and it is very well possible that in Galician the pretérito perfeito simples is used even in the case that the speaker is in the same period of time in which the action described ocurred, but Spanish native speakers use the pasado perfecto, the compound tense, in this context. (We put aside the problem that in some areas of South America there is a confusion between the pasado indefinido and the pasado perfecto.)

As it has already been said very often the author of these lines doesn't really care whether the rules of the standard grammar are respected or not. However the assertion above is wrong because the human brain, in general, Portuguese is the exception, wants to represent the reality verbally in a certain way. That is something genetically determined. It is not the result of a democratic decision making progress. In English the present perfect is used as it is used not because all English native speakers decided by majority that it has to be used the way it is used. It is used the way it is used because it is "natural" to use it like that. It is kind of a genetic predisposition. The standard grammar is not really relevant, but the forces behind the standard grammar have to be accepted. The assertion above doesn't give furthermore any reason why it is wrong, it is just a misinterpretaion of the standard grammar.

Summary: The use of the pretérito perfeito composto is difficult. The aspect it expresses is irrelevant in most languages or not expressed with a verbal tense but with a verbal phrase or an adverb / adverbial. For English native speakers however it is very simple. The pretérito perfeito composto corresponds to the present perfect continuous. In Spanish we could construct either with the continuous form of the pasado perfecto, "He estado leyendo", or with a verbal phrase, "Llevo leyendo".

present perfect continuous: I have been working on it the whole day.
gerundio pretérito perfecto: He estado trabajando en esto todo el día.
pretérito perfeito composto: Tenho trabalhado nisso todo o dia.

Actually there is a verbal phrase with the same function in Portuguese as well.

Spanish: Llevo trabajando en esto una semana.
Portuguese: Venho trabalhando nisto uma semana.
English: I have been working on it the whole week.





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