9.3. irregular verbs in pretérito perfeito simples

Since the pretérito perfeito composto is only used in a very special context the pretérito perfeito simples is the dominant verb tense of the past. It can be used in both cases, in a context where we use the indefinido in Spanish and in a context where we use the pretérito perfecto in Spanish. However it is useful to see that we can't say that it substitutes the simple past and present perfect in English, because in Roman languages there is distinction between an action / event where the beginning and ending is unknown or irrelevant and accomplished actions in an accomplished past. This distinction is not made in English. We use the simple past in both cases in English.

1) Beginning and ending is unknown or irrelevant: He admired the Greeks because they reserved the best building sites for God.
2) Accomplished action in accomplished past: The car crashed into a tree.

In 1) we don't know when he started to admire the Greeks and we don't know whether he still does it or not. In this case we would use the imperfeito in Portuguese. In 2) we can take it for granted that the action is finished, because if the the car would still be crashing into the tree, there would be no crash at all. In this case we use the pretérito perfeito simples in Portuguese.

To resume: In english we distinguish between actions that have an impact on the present, in this case we use the prestent perfect, and accomplished actions in an accomplished past, in this case we use the simple past in Englisch. On the other hand we distinguish in Portuguese between actions whose beginning and ending is irrelevant or unknown, in this case we use the imperfeito and accomplished actions in an accomplished past, in this case we use the pretérito perfeito simples.

In other words: The English simple past can only be translated in Portuguese with a pretérito perfeito simples if it describes an accomplished action in an accomplished past. Otherwise we have to use the imperfeito.

The problem with the pretérito perfeito simples is that it is the verb tense with the most irregular verb forms. That's like that in all roman languages and this perhaps explains why it is vanishing away in French and Italian. In Portuguese however it is the most important verb tense of the past.


ter que to have to / must
poder* can
ser** to be
estar** to be
querer to want
saber* to know
ir*** to go
fazer to do
vir to come
pôr to put


* Saber as well as poder can be used as modal verbs in the meaning of to be able to / can. However there is a difference. Saber is used if someone is able to do somenthing because he / she has learned it, what doesn't necessarily mean that he / she is able to do it at a determined moment: He can read, but he forgot his glasses. Poder is used if there is no hindrance, but no learning process is required: He can eat as much as he want.

** Ser as well as estar are translated in English with to be. However, ser is used to describe an inherent property, estar is used to describe a transitional state.

*** The forms of the pretérito perfeito simples are the same for ser and ir. Ir is an important verb, because there is a verbal phrase that is used to describe the future from a perspective of the past.





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