9.2. Use and conjugation of the pretérito perfeito simples

The Portuguese pretérito perfeito simples describes, as in all other formally corresponding verb tenses in other roman languages an accomplished action / event in an accomplished past and, in STRONG OPPOSITION to all other roman languages and English as well actions / events whose results have an impact on the present of the speaker. In other words, the very important distinction we have in English between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action whose result has an impact on the present of the speaker is not made in Portugese. For a more detailed discussion see 9.1.

Everybody would believe that in the context given below "Não, já tenho comido" is correct, but that's not true. It is incorrect. "Não, já tenho comido" would be translated in English with "No, I have been eating" and that wouldn't make sense in this context. The point is not that the action is performed until the present of the speaker, the point is the result of this action. Since he has already eaten something, he is not hungry. However this is irrelevant in Portuguese.

Portuguese English Spanish
A: Tens fome? A: Are you hungry?A: ¿Tienes hambre?
B: correct: Não ja comi.
wrong: Não, já tenho comido.
B: wrong: No, I aready ate something. .
correct: No, I have already eaten something.
B: wrong: No, ya comí.
correct: No, ya he comido.

The distinction between an accomplished action in an accomplished past without any relevance for the present of the speaker and an action / event that still has an impact on the present of the speaker is more and more vanishing in French and Italian as well, although not everybody accepts that use as correct. What is strange in Portuguese is the fact that the pretérito perfeito composto, a real verb tense and not just a verbal frase, is reserved for a very special context. By doing this Portuguese attaches a great importance to an aspect that is regarded less important in other languages. As the English present perfecto continuous the pretérito perfeito composto is used if there is an adverb that indicates that the action has been performed repeteadly until the present.

In some other languages there is a way to express this idea, although in some languages, as in German, the only way to express this idea is with an adverb, but there is no language that has reserved a verb tense for that.

Portuguese German Spanish English
A: O que fez?* A: Was hast du gemacht?* A:Qué has hecho?* A: What have you done?*
B: Tenho trabalhado muito. B: Ich habe viel gearbeitet. B: He estado trabajando mucho. B: I have been working a lot.

* Depending on the context the present perfect is possible as well. If someone hears a loud bang in the room next door the answer to the question "What have you done?" can be as well "I have knocked over the bookshelf". In this case the action is finished, but has an impact on the present, because all the books lie on the floor. However in this context one would use the the preterito perfeito simples in portuguese.

Situations where an action / event is to be described as continuing or lasting until the present of the speaker are relatively rare. Situations where the impact of an action / event of the past on the present are to be described are very common. That explains why the Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto is much less frequently used than the Spanish pretérito perfecto. If we search with google the sentences "tenho feito" and "he hecho", in quotation marks otherwise we get all websites where the single words show up in any order, we will see that the spanish pretérito perfecto is used much more frequently than the portuguese pretérito perfeito simples, because the situation where the spanish pretérito perfecto is used is much more common than the situation where the Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto is used.

Even if we take into account that there are two times more native Spanish speakers than native portuguese speakers, the results are clear.

Portuguese: tenho feito: 525 000 results
Spanish: he hecho: 11.600.000 results
Portuguese: tenho falado: 225.000 results
Spanish: he hablado: 449.000 results
Portuguese: tenho lido: 393.000 results
Spanish: he leído: 15.500.000 results

The crosscheck shows what we expected. The Portuguese pretérito perfeito composto is used as well to describe actions / events that have an impact on the present and for accomplished actions in an accomplished past and we get therefore much more results for the pretérito perfeito simples than for the spanish pretérito indefinido although there are much more Spanish native speakers than portuguese native speakers.

Portuguese: trabalhei muito: 255 000 results
Spanish: trabaje mucho: 110 000 results
Portuguese: falaram: 6.230.000 results
Spanish: hablaron: 5.660.000 results
Portuguese: eu li: 521.000 results
Spanish: yo leí: 399.000 results

The pretérito perfeito simples is the most important verb tense of the past in Portuguese. It describes finished events, actions and processes of the past, irrespectively whether they are relevant for the present or not. A time reserved for accomplished action in an accomplished past doesn't exist. Only in the case that an action, event or process is to be described as something continuing and lasting until the present of the speaker it is NOT used. Only in this case the pretérito perfeito composto is to be used.

In Portuguese there are three types of verbs. Those ending in -ar (falar), those ending in -er (vender) y those ending in -ir (partir). The pretérito perfeito simple is formed by leaving out these endings and by adding to what is left the corresponding endings, that vary depending on the type of the verb.

The brasilian você / vocês can be used in formal and more informal situations. It corresponds therefore to the english you. In European Portuguese there is a clear distinction between a formal and an informal situation. In the case that the relationship to the person addressed is closer, we use tu and in the case that this familiarity is not given o senhor / os senhores, a senhora / as senhora. This is possible as well in Brasilain Portuguese, but these forms are only used in very formal situations.

Since the pretéritio perfeito simples is used to describe an accomplished action in an accomplished past, "I made a trip to London last year", and for actions whose results have an impact on the present of the speaker, "I have lost the keys, I can't go in", we translate in english with the simple past and present perfect.

formation of the pretérito perfeito simples
to speak vender
to sellpartir
to go away
Stamm -fal Stamm -vendStamm -part
eufalei I spoke
I have spoken
vendi I sold
I have sold
parti I went away
I have gone away
tu falaste you spoke
you have spoken
vendeste you sold
you have sold
partiste you went away
you have gone away
ele / ela
o senhor / a senhora
falou he - she - it - you spoke
he - she - it - you have spoken
vendeu he - she - it - you sold
he - she - it - you have sold

partiu he - she - it - you went away
he - she - it - you has / have gone away
nósfalámos we sprachen
we haben gesprochen
vendemos we sold
we have sold
partimos we went away
we have gone away
eles / elas
o senhores / as senhoras
falaram they spoke
you spoke
they have spoken
you have spoken

they sold
you sold
they have sold
you have sold

partiram they they went away
you went away
they went away
you have gone away

In the following sentences we don't have a context. Therefore we can translate arbitrarily with the simple past or the present perfect. For a more detailed description of the whole Portuguese verb tenses see 9.1. The most important aspect is the fact that the pretérito perfeito simples can be used, in strong opposition to any other roman language and English, in a context where an action of the past has an impact on the present.

chorar = to cry
Ascrianças choraram.
The children cry.
escrever = to write
Durante toda a sua vida ela escreveu mais de 12 livros.
During whole the her live she wrote more of 12 books.
During her whole live she wrote more than 12 books.
vender = to sell
Eles venderam a casa para poder viajar o mundo.
They sold the house for to can voyage the world.
They sold their house in order travel around the world.
falar = sprechen
Tu falaste comigo, e eu prestei atenção em cada palavra.
You spoke with me and I lent attention in any word.
You talked to me and I paid attention to every word.
escutar = to hear
Hoje eu escutei uma canção de amor.
Today I heard a song of love.
lembrar = to remember
Se você lembrou todos os nomes parabéns!
If you remember all the names gratulations!
viver = to live
Ele viveu 35 anos na rua.
He lived35 years in the street.
He lived 35 years on the street.
esquecer = vergessen ensinar = lehren
Acho que vocês esqueceram tudo que lhes ensinei.
Think that you forgot whole what you taught.
I think you have forgotten everything I taught you.

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