9. the verb tenses

A longer conversation is not possible if we are not able to talk about things that happens in the past. We therefore introduce now the pretérito perfeito simples, which is, for reasons already to be discussed, in opposite to other roman languages, the most important verb tense of the past in Portuguese. We will discuss this issue, the verb tenses, once again in chapter 11. It is important to see that the Portuguese verb tense system differs from the verb tense system of the other Roman languages.

Those who have learned already another Roman language with a teacher or a book of the "old school", in other words with a teacher who stick to the standard grammar we find in classical literature knows that at least in literature we have the same distinction we have in English between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action / event whose results are still perceivable in the present of the speaker. In French, at least in the classical literature, we use the passé simple for accomplished action in an accomplished past and the passé composé for action whose results have an impact on the present of the speaker. In Italian, at least if we stick to the standard grammar we find in the classical italian literature, we use the passato remoto for accomplished actions / events in an accomplished past and passato remoto for actions / events who has an impact on the present of the speaker. Only in Spanish the distinction between accomplished actions in an accomplished past and actions / events whose results have an impact on the present of the speaker is still made in colloquial language.

What we have to understand now is that the difference between an accomplished action in an accomplished past and an action whose results are still perceivable in the present of the speaker is not made in Portuguese and never was made. In other words both sentences are translated in Portuguese with the pretérito perfeito simples.

accomplished action in an accomplished past: He played football, when he was young.
action / event that has an impact on the present of the speaker: If you have done your homework, you can play football.

That may seem surprising and astonishing for some people, other people won't even believe it, but that's like that. The portuguese verb system differs in this aspect from the Spanish and English verb system. From a formal point of view the pretérito perfeito composto resembles to the Spanish pretérito perfecto and the English present perfect, since it is formed with the verb to have as an auxiliary verb in present, haber in Spanish and ter / haver in Portuguese, and the past participle: I have done <=> Eu tenho feito <=> Yo he hecho. However the pretérito perfeito composto Portuguese corresponds to "I have been doing" in English and "He estado haciendo" in Spanish.

For the rest of the world the use of the pretérito perfeito composto is difficult to understand, but not for English native speakers. As the english present perfect continuous the pretérito perfeito composto is used if an action lasts or is repeated until the present of the speaker.

1) Action is repeated until the present of the speaker: I have been doing that for years and I have never had a problem.
2) Action has an impact on the present: I can't open the door, I lost my keys.

1) focus on the action, not on the result, 2) focus on the result. Whether he repeated the action or not is irrelevant, although in this case the use of the present perfecto continuous would be strange: ~ I can't open the door, I have been losing the keys.

The formal resemblance of the pretérito perfeito composto and the English present perfect or the corresponding verb tenses in Roman languages induce people to believe that the pretérito perfeito composto is used whenever we use this compound tense in other languages. That is not the case. Whether an action has an impact on the present of the speaker or not is irrelevant in Portuguese. Sentence 1) would be translated with the pretérito perfeito composto, 2) with the pretérito perfeito simples, that corresponds, from a formal point of view, to the English simple past, because it is a non compound tense.

The preterito perfeito simples is the most important verb tense of the past in Portuguese. About the other verb tenses we will talk in chapter 11.





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