9.1. The verbal tense system in roman Roman languages compared to the verbal tense system in English

We start from the very beginning, because we must assume that the reader already speaks another Roman language and therefore he can be induced to believe that the portuguese verb tenses system resembles to the verb tenses system in other roman languages. This is only true in part. To keep it short and simple: The pretérito perfeito composto in Portuguese, "Tenho feito", the verb tense that corresponds from a formal point of view to the present perfect in English, "I have done", to the pretérito perfecto in Spanish, "He hecho", to the passato prossimo in Italien "Ho fatto", to the passé composé in French, "J'ai fait", since it is formed with the auxiliary verb to have + past participle, is NOT used in the context it is used in most other languages and that changes the whole system of the verb tenses. The pretérito perfeito composto corresponds more to the present perfect continuous in English, "I have been doing". The pretérito perfeito composto is NOT used, in opposite to the verb tense in other roman languages to which it resembles from a formal point of view, when the result or an action of the past have an impact on the present. The result is irrelevant. It is used, when the action or the event lasts until the present of the speaker or is repeated until the present of the speaker. We will see that this is a big difference.

For anybody who speaks already another roman language that is hard to accept. The pretérito perfeito SIMPLES Portuguese is used in two very different situations. It is used to describe an accomplished action in an accomplished past, "It rained yesterday", and to describe an action / event that has an impact on the present, "I have bought the house, now I have to live here the rest of my live". One of the first things everybody learns when he or she studies English or a Roman language is the difference between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action / event whose results are still perceivable in the present. This is not true any more. The pretérito perfeito composto is only used for ongoing actions. The result is irrelevant.

Another distinction is still made in Portuguese as well as in any other Roman languages, but not in English. English doesn't distinguish between an accomplished action in an accomplished past, "I went to London last year", and an action / event / state whose beginning and end are unclear or irrelevant, "When I saw him last time, he studied Portuguese". We don't know when he started to learn Portuguese and we don't know either whether he is still studies Portuguese. In Roman languages there is verbal tense we use for accomplished action in an accomplished past, the indefinido in Spanish, the passato remoto in Italian, the passé simple in French, the pretérito perfeito simples in Portuguese. For actions / events / states where the beginning and the end is unknown or irrelevant we use the imperfecto in Spanish, the imperfeito in Portuguese, the imperfetto in Italian and the imparfait in French.

(We are not going into the details here. We are not going to discuss whether the passe simple is still used in French or in which regions of Italy the passato remoto has been substituted by the passato prossimo etc.. Those who are interested in the details can have a look at the www.french-online.de, www.italian-online.de, www.learn-spanish-online.de.)

Therefore we have two differences between the portuguese verb tense system and the english verb tense system. In English we distinguish between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action whose results are still perceivable in the present. This distinction, in opposite to all other roman languages, it not made in Portuguese. At the other hand we distinguish in Portuguese between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action / event / state whose beginning is unknown or irrelevant. This distinction is not made in English, but is made in all other roman languages. (We are not going to discuss the German model in detail. Those who are interested in the details can have a look at the www.german-grammar.de.)

The table below shows the system of the verb tenses in the different languages. We can see that portuguese differs from all other Roman languages. In all other Roman languages and English there is a distinction to be made between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action with an impact on the present. In Portuguese we use the perfeito simples in both cases. On the other side we describe an action / event / state with an undefinite / unknown beginning and an action / event / state accomplished in an accomplished past with the same verb tense in English, the simple past, whereas the roman languages have a special tense for each of these contexts.


French Spanish Italian Portuguese English German
undefinite beginning and ending /
action repeated on a regular basis in the past
imparfaitimperfectoimperfettoimperfeitosimple past Imperfekt
Le tableau était accroché au mur.El cuadro estaba colgado en la pared. Il quadro era appeso alla parete.O quadro estava pendurado na parede The painting hung on the wall.Das Bild hing an der Wand.
accomplished action in accomplished pastpassé simplepretérito indefinido passato remotoperfeito simples simple past Imperfekt / Perfekt
Tout d un coup, il tomba par terre.De repente se desplomó en el suelo.Di colpo cadde per terra. De repente, caiu por terra. Suddenly he fell to the ground.Plötzlich stürzte er zu Boden.
Plötzlich ist er zu Boden gestürzt.
result is relevant for the present
of the speaker
passé composépretérito perfectopassato prossimoperfeito simples present perfectPerfekt
A: Est-ce que tu as faim?
B: No, j'ai déjà mangé.
A: Tienes hambre?
B: No, ya he comido.
A: Hai fame?
B:No, ho già mangiato.
A:Tens fome?
B:Não, já comi.
A: Are you hungry?
B:No, I have already eaten.
A: Hast du Hunger?
B:Nein, ich habe schon gegessen.


For those who speak Spanish this is a real challenge. They will be induced to use the pretérito perfeito composto whenever they use the pretérito perfecto in Spanish because those tenses are formed the same way, with the verb to have (haber/ter) in present tense + past participle. The problem is well documented on the internet, because there are a lot of discussions by Spanish native speakers who learn Portuguese and Portuguese native speakers who learn Spanish, but it is well possible, given that the English present perfect is formed the same way, that English native speakers blunder into this trap as well.

An interesting example of this kind we can find here: Nota de esclarecimento sobre o Pretérito Perfeito Composto. Duolingo is a website that offers basic languages courses, see www.duolingo.com, between others one as well of Portuguese for Spanish native speakers. Originally the sentences with a pretérito perfeito composto have been translated with the pretérito perfecto in Spanish until some people realised that this doesn't wok. (Actually in some cases it works, see below. In some cases for different reasons Spanish and Portuguese get to the same results.)

The person who corrected the sentences gives as well a correct explanation of the differences. (For those who are curious. A possible translation of "Tenho trabalhado muito ultimamente" in Spanish could be "He estado trabajando mucho últmamente", "I have been working a lot lately". In other words, in Spanish we would do it as in English.)



Pretérito Perfeito Composto em Espanhol
Em espanhol, o pretérito perfeito composto (PPC) serve para:
Expressar um acontecimento do passado em um tempo presente (ou seja, o momento da fala inclui o presente do falante):
Las cosas han mejorado mucho desde que estoy aquí.
Este año ha llovido mucho en Salvador.
Indicar que os fatos realizados no passado possuem consequências no presente:
Yo he perdido las llaves de mi casa esta mañana / Me han echado del trabajo, estoy muy nerviosa.
Aproximar narrativamente os fatos: Hace tres años que se ha llevado mi perro a la hacienda, y aún no me he acostumbrado a estar sin él.

Pretérito Perfecto im Spanischen

In Spanish the pretérito perfecto has the following functions.
He describes an event of the past in the present (in other words, the moment of speech includes the present of the speaker)
Las cosas han mejorado desde que estoy aquí. <=> Things have improved since I am here.
Este año ha llovido mucho en Salvador. <=> This year it has rained a lot in Salvador.
It indicates that an event of the past has consequences for the present.
Yo he perdido las llaves de mi casa esta mañana. <=> I have lost my house keys this morning.
Me han echado del trabajo. Estoy muy nerviosa. <=> I have been fired, I am nervous.
To bring the events nearer to the moment of speaking: Hace tres años que se ha llevado mi perro a la hacienda, y aún no me he acostumbrado a estar sin él. <=> Three years ago my dog was brought to the farm and still I am not accustomed being without him.
Pretérito Perfeito Composto em Português

Para nós, falantes nativos de português, é muito mais fácil entender esse tempo verbal. Prestem atenção nessa frase:

Eu tenho viajado muito para Paris.


Como vocês devem ter percebido, o PPC em português serve para expressar fatos que acontecem repetidamente e continuadamente. Ou seja, esse tempo verbal na nossa língua possui um aspecto iterativo, de algo que começou no passado e vem acontecendo no presente. Trata-se de uma particularidade da língua portuguesa que não se encontra em nenhuma outra língua que eu tenha conhecimento.


Outros exemplos:
Eu tenho ficado em casa depois das aulas.
Eu tenho dormido após as refeições, mas minha mãe não gosta.
Minha avó tem jogado futebol melhor do que vocês.
Pretérito Perfeito Composto im Portugiesischen

For us, native speakers of Portuguese, this verb tense is easier to understand. Have a look at this sentence.

Eu tenho viajado muito para Paris. <=> I have been travelling often to Paris lately.


As you have certainly realised, the PPC in portuguese serves to describe events that happen regularly and continually. In other words this verb tense has in our language an iterative aspect, something that started in the past and continues to happen until the present. This is a speciality of Portuguese and doesn't exist in any other language I know.



other examplese:
Eu tenha ficado em casa despois das aulas. <=> After school I usually stay at home.
Eu tenho dormido após as refeições, mas minha mãe não gosta. <=> Usually I sleep after dinner, but my mother doesn't like that.
Minha avó tem jogado futebol melhor do que vocês. <=> My grandfather plays better football than you.
Nota de esclarecimento sobre o Pretérito Perfeito Composto


He could have formulate that more clearly. The difference between Portuguese and Spanish is that in Spanish the pretérito perfecto is to be used, when the RESULT of an action have an impact on the present of the speaker. The Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto is used, when the action lasts until the present of the speaker. That sounds similar, but there is a very big difference in practice.

In the case of the pretérito perfeito composto it is even questionable whether it is a verb tense of the past, because very often it can be translated with a simple present, if is used to describe a habit.

1) Eu tenho dormido após as refeições. <=> I got the habit to sleep after dinner.
2) Eu tenho dormido após as refeições. <=> I sleep after dinner.

Sentence 1) is clear. He has the habit to sleep after dinner. He has been doing that and he still does it. 2) is ambiguous. It is possible that in one occasion he went to bed after dinner or he does that regularly every day. The present expands always a little bit to the past and the future. How much it expands depends on the context. If we interpret sentence 2) as a habit, it is a time of the present.



The pretérito perfeito composto describs regularily repeated action that last until the present of the speaker.
Cláudia tem levado seus filhos à escola. <=> Claudia has the habit to bring her kids to school. (every day)
Cláudia leva seus filhos à escola. <=> Claudia brings her kids to school. (only one day in an exceptional case)


The pretérito perfeito composto can describe as well the exception of the rule.




general assertion <=> exception
1) general assertion:
Eles falam português.
2) exception:
Eles têm falado português.


In case 1) we have a group of people whose mother tongue is Portuguese or who are always able to speak Portuguese. In the 2) case there is a group of people who normally speaks another language, but in certain occasions they have the habit to speak Portuguese. Another example:

1) natural law: A Terra gira em torno do Sol. = The earth turns about the sun.
2) funny: A terra tem girado em torno do Sol. = The earth normally turns around the sun.
3) funny: A terra vem girando em torno do Sol. = The earth lately turns around the sun.

If 2) and 3) are meaningful or not depends on the definition of the period of time. If we talk about 6 000 millions of year 2) and 3) make sense. If we talk about a period of time still comprehensible by human beings, let's say 60 000 years, the sentences are less meaningful, because in this case the situation can change dramatically from one day to another. Sentence 2) and 3) are therefore funny, but meaningless. 3) is a construction we haven't seen already. About the gerund we will talk in chapter 18.1.1. The construction vir (to come) + gerundio can substitute in some contexts the pretérito perfeito composto. This construction can be used to describe an action that is performed until the present of the speaker.

Venho trabalhando muito ultimamente.
I come working a lot lately.
I have been working a lot lately.



There are only few languages that have a verb tense comparable to the Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto and if we mean by verb tense something we find in grammar books in the chapter verb tenses there is no language that has something comparable to the Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto. The English present perefect continuous is something similar but is not really a verb tense in the strict sense of the term. The same is true for the spanish construction estar in pretérito perfecto + gerund. Some languages, for instance Spanish and Italian, have a verbal phrase with a similar meaning.

Therefore we have two differences between Portuguese and all other languages. First of all for actions / events / states that are repeated or lasts until the moment of speaking Portuguese uses the pretérito perfeito composto. In other words, a very important verb tense in any other language, is reserved in Portuguese for a more special context. Second: All other languages use the present perfect to describe an action / event whose RESULT has an impact on the moment of speaking. In Portuguese we use the pretérito perfeito simples in this context. Formally this verb tense correspond to the pretérito indefinido in Spanish, to the passato remoto in Italian and to the passé simple in French, but is used as well in a context where it can never be used in these languages. The pretérito perfeito simples is used as well to desribe an action / event whose impact is still perceivable in the present of the speaker.

The following table shows the portuguese system in comparison to the system of other roman languages. There is no difference in the sentences without color.

German Portuguese English Spanish Italian French
general statement: Es regnet viel. Chove muito. It rains a lot.Llueve mucho.Piove molto.Il pleut beaucoup.
regularly repeated until the moment of speaking and perhaps beyond this moment: Es regnet schon die ganze Zeit. Tem chovido. It has been raining.Ha estado lloviendo.Ha piovuto molto ultimamente.Il a plu beaucoup ces derniers jours.
accomplished action in accomplished past: Es regnete. Chuveu. It rained.Llovió.Piové.Il plut.
impact on the present of the speaker:Es hat geregnet, ich bin klatschnass. Chuveu, estou encharcado. It has rained, I am soaking wet.Ha llovido, estoy todo mojado.Ha piovuto, sto bagnato.Il a plu beaucoup, je suis tout mouillé.
beginning and end of the action is unknown or irrelevant: Es regnete. Chuvia. It rained.Llovía. Pioveva.Il pleuvait.

If we look at the schematic presentation we see that all languages use the present for general statements like the "The earth turns around the sun". In this case we have actions / events that happen until the present of the speaker and beyond this moment, but the pretérito perfeito composto would represent the action / event as an exception and that is absurd in case of general statement.

Only portuguese has a special verbal tense to describe actions / event that are repeated regularly until the present of the speaker. In Spanish and English there is a verbal form that can be used in this context, but it is not a verb tense. In German, Italian and French we need to add an adverb or an adverbial. This adverb / adverbial describes that the action / event has happened several times. If we say "Il a plu beaucoup ces derniers yours", "I has rained a lot these last days", it is obvious that the action / event has happened several times.

For an accomplished action in an accomplished past all languages use a non compound tense. (We abstract from the fact that in Italian and French the rules of the standard grammar that pupils learn at school is not respected anymore in everyday language and that in German the use of a non compound tense is only compulsory if any relationship to the present of the speaker is to be denied.)

In the case that an action / event has an impact on the present of the speaker there is a big difference between Portuguese and all other languages. Portuguese is the only language that uses a non compound tense in this context, in other words, in Portugese it is irrelevant whether an action / event has an impact on the present or not, because it uses this verb tense as well for accomplished actions in an accomplished past.

That explains the broad discussion about the pretérito perfeito composto. Regardless of the mother tongue there is a tendency to use a compound tense in the case that an action / event of the past has an impact on the present, because in any language a compound tense is used in this context. On the other hand Portuguese native speakers tend to use a non compound tense in this context if they learn spanish, the pretérito indefinido in this case, what is a big infringement against the spanish standard grammar.

However there is one special situation where the pretérito perfeito composto Portugues can be translated with a Spanish pretérito perfecto, what complicates things still more, because in some grammars we find the affirmation that the pretérito perfeito composto Portugues corresponds to the Spanish pretérito perfecto and this affirmation is then illustrated with exemples, where it is true, although in general it is not true.

The Spanish pretérito perfecto is indifferent concerning the question whether an action / event has happened one time or several times. The only thing that matters is the question whether it has an impact on the present of the speaker or not. In case that it is unclear whether an action / event has happened one time or several times we can use an adverb. In case that we have adverbs / adverbials like several times, often, lately etc. it is obvious that the action has been repeated.

Spanish: Este año te lo he dicho ya varias veces.
(Te he estado diciendo esto varias veces este año.)
=> I have already been telling you that several times this year.
Spanish:Ya se lo he dicho este año. => I have already told you that this year.

How the pretérito perfecto is to be understood can be deduced from the adverb. Whether it has been said one time or several time can't be deduced from the pretérito perfecto, although we can construct as well with the gerund. In this case it would be clear and it would be obvious that the pretérito perfeito composto portuguese doesn't correspond to the Spanish pretérito perfecto. Some grammar books affirm that the use of the pretérito perfeito composto depends on trigger words like ultimamente (lately), nas últimas semanas (in the last weeks), até agora (until now), ainda não (not yet) etc.. It is a very bad idea to explain it this way, because some of these trigger words establish as well a connection to the present of the speaker and if the speaker is in the same period of time as the one the action / event happened the the pretérito perfecto is used as well in Spanisch, although for different reasons.

Concerning this special case, the sentence is introduced by one of these trigger words, it is true that the pretérito perfeito composto Portuguese can be translated with the Spanish pretérito perfecto. However we can't deduce a rule based on the exception. Let's have a look at this example.

Portuguese: Ultimamente os pássaros tem cantado na janela da cozinha todos os dias.
Spanish: Últimamente los pájaros han cantado en la ventana de la cocina.
English: The birds have been chirping in the kitchen window lately.

In this case it is indeed true that the pretérito perfeito composto Portuguese can be translated with the spanish pretérito perfecto, but the reasons that justify the use of this verb is completely different. Ultimamente suggests that the birds have been singing several times, otherwise a concrete moment would be given, yesterday, in the morning, an hour ago etc.. That justifies the Portuguese pretérito perfeito. Últimamente suggeste as well that the speaker is in the same period of time in which the event happened. That justifies the use of the pretérito perfecto in Spanish, although in Spanish it is completely irrelevant whether they have chirped one time or several times.

We can change the example a little bit to see that more clearly. The pretérito perfecto in Spanish would be used as well if the birds chirped only one time. However in this case we would use the preterito perfeito simples in Portuguese.

Spanish: Hoy por la mañana los pájaros han cantado en la ventana.
Portuguese: Esta manhã os pássaros cantaram na janela da cozinha.
English : The birds have chirped in the kitchen window this morning.


In this case "Hoy por la mañana" establishes a relationship to the present of the speaker. The action of the immediate past has an impact on the present, because he feel happy due to the chirping of the birds for whatever reason. In Portuguese however we can use the non compound tense pretérito perfeito simple, when the birds chirped just one time.


Finally, before we start with the description of the conjugation we have good news and bad news. The good news is that the pretérito perfeito composto is seldom used, because the context it could be used is rarely given. In a Spanish text you have a distribution of 50 / 50 between pretérito perfecto and pretérito indefinido, in a Portuguese text it is well possible that the pretérito perfeito composto is never used. The bad news is, that the pretérito perfeito is very irregular.





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