18. infinitive verbform


In this chapter we will see a lot of theory. Essentially it is about the question how subordinate clauses can be shortened by the infinitive forms, the infinitivo (pessoal), the gerundio and the participio perfeito. In the chapter about conjunctions we will discuss once again about this issues, because conjunctions introduce subordinate clauses, see conjunctions.

The basic problem we are going to discuss about in this chapter is the fact that a lot of subordinate clauses, conditionel clauses, causal clauses, concessive clauses etc. can be substituted with all four infinite verbform, but not in any context. However: Although the theoretical analysis is difficult, in praxis it is no problem at all. That is actually a little bit strange and has to do with the fact that the verbalisation of the world by the human brain is very similar all over the world. However in order to get sensitized for these phenomen it can be helpfull to have a closer look on these structures.

We have already seen one infinitive verb form, the infinitivo. However it is not really clear why it is called infinitivo. The term steems from latin infinitivo and from latin it was introduced to all other languages. Infinitive steems from infinitivus and that means undefined, unlimited, immeasurable, etc.. This author would say that the infinitive is just the basic form of the verb. In most contexts where the infinitive is used the idea of undefined, unlimited etc. doesn't make any sense.

If for instance the infinitive is the subject of the sentence, it is as undefined as any noun, in other words it is not undefined at all.

To walk in the rain is not fun.
The party is not fun.

To walk is as undefined as the party, in other words not undefined at all.

The same is true when the infinitive is used as an object.

I want to sleep.
I want a cake.

To sleep is as undefined, unlimited or whatsoever as the cake. In other words not at all. The pure fact that after a modal verb, (actually in English to want is not a modal verb, it is conjugated), we use an infinitive doesn't mean that it is undefined.

Concerning the other two infinite verbforms it is equally unclear why they are called infinite. The past participle used as an adjective has to agree in roman languages in number and gender with the noun it refers to.

o prédio vendido
os prédios vendidos
a carta lida
as cartas lidas
the sold building
the sold buildings
the letter read
the letters read


Hard to immagine something more defined than the participio perfeito. If the participio perfeito is undefined, then any adjective is undefined as well.

The Portuguese gerundio shouldn't be confused with the English gerund. The English gerund is a verbal noun and has the syntactical function of a noun. The Portuguese gerundio corresponds to the English present participle.

1) The English gerund is a verbal noun: Swimming is fun.
2) The English present particple is an adverb / adverbial: Smiling he left the room
3) The English present participle is an adjective: He watched the playing children.

With all these verb forms subordinate clauses can be shortened. We will see as well that sometimes the same subordinate clause can be shorten with each of these verbforms. However due to the fact that they have different inherent meanings and different syntactical functions they are not at all interchangeable in any context. Some hints are enough in this introductory chapter. We will discuss this issue more in detail in the following chapters.

The gerund and the present participle don't differ in the form, both of them are -ing forms, but their syntactical function is completely different. In 1) the gerund can be substituted by any noun that makes sense in this context: The party is fun. In 2) we can substitute the present participle by any adverb, that makes sense: Angry he left the room. In 3) we can substitute the present participle by any adjective that makes sense: He watches the nice children. The Portuguese gerundio can be used as a present participle, but never as an English gerund. To keep it short and simple. The term gerundio is wrong as far as roman languages are concerned. The term steems from the latin gerundium, but the latin gerundium is a verbal noun and the Portuguese gerundium is never a verbal noun.

The English gerund is to be translated in most cases with an infinitive in Portuguese. The infinitive is a verbal noun. Together with a preposition only a a noun can be used or something that can be used as a noun, for instance a verbal noun. That means that after a preposition we can use the infinitive in Portuguese, but never the gerundio.

The present participle and the Portuguese gerundio, these are the infinite forms that resembles each other, are open for interpretation. That means that it is not possible to describe the relationship between the finite and the infinite verb form with a preposition, because that is syntactically impossible, but we can deduce this relationship from the context.

present participle to shorten a relative clause: The laughing women confused him. => The women who laughed confused him. (The present participle is an adjectiv.)
present participle to shorten a conditional clause: Having done your homework, you can play football. => If you have done your homework, you can play football. (the present participle is part of an adverbial.)
present participle to shorten a concessive clause: Being ill, he went to work. => Although he was ill, he went to work. (The present pariciple is part of an adverbial.)
present participlel to shorten a causal clause: Having lost his wallet, he couldn't pay the bill. => Since he had lost his wallet, he couldn't pay the bill. (The present participle is part of an adverbial.)
present participle to shorten a modal clause: Working hard, they could finish the project in tiem. => They worked hard and therefore they could finish the project in time. (The present participle is part of an adverbial.)

In all these sentences we grasp the meaning from the context, there is nothing, nor a preposition nor a conjunction, that describes the relationship between the finite and the infinite verb. That works, at least if the context is sufficiently clear, because the Portuguese gerundio and the English present participle are open to interpretation. However this procedure is limited and the subordinate clauses that can be substituted by the Portuguese gerundio and the English present participle is limited.

The case of the English gerund / Portuguese infinitive is different. The English gerund / Portuguese infinitive are not open for interpretations. However since they are verbal nouns, they can be used with a preposition that describes the relationship between the finite and the infinite verb. In the following sentences the gerund, that should not be confused with the present participle, can be substituted by any noun. This is not possible in the previous examples, because the present participle is not a verbal noun.

gerund to shorten a temporal clause: After having done your homework, you can play football. (=> After lunch, you can play football.)
gerund to shorten a adversative clause: Instead of following my advice, they bought a car. (Instead of a house, they bought a car.)
gerund as a direct object: He enjoys sitting in the sun. (He enjoyed his holidays.)
gerund after a preposition: He said, he didn't believe in living as a couple. (He said he didn't believe it.)

The past participle / participio perfeito is a passive form and the subject, if we abstract from intransitive verbs, whose past participle is active, "Arriving at the station, he was welcomed by the crowd", is the goal of the action described by the past participle, but not the executor: The written letter lies on the table. Furthermore the past participle describes always anteriority. The action described by the past participle is always finished, when the action described by the finite verb starts.

One inherent meaning of the simple present participle / the Portuguese gerundio is that it describes an action / event as persistent. It lasts as long as the event / action described by the finite verb it refers to, "Reading a book he keeps himself concentrated". The infinitive has no inherent meaning concerning the duration of the action / event.

The infinitive and gerund has compound tenses.

Having written the letter, he felt better.
To have done this is a good idea.

In this case the action / events described by the infinitive verb is accomplished before the event / action described by the finite verb starts.

All these aspects have to be taken into account in the shortening of subordinate clauses with infinitive forms. Depending on the concrete situation a subordinate clause can be substituted by all three infinitive forms, only by the gerundio, only by the infinitive and the gerundio or only by the past participle. However there are no rules to be learned. If one thinks a bit about these issues one does it correctly without even thinking about it.





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