Portuguese Tenses: Formal VS Informal

Portuguese is a language that has a great difference between its written and spoken form. Here you will find a formality comparison between verb tenses. The following tenses will be analysed:

  1. Imperativo Formal e Informal
    2. Futuro Simples (Futuro do Presente) VS Futuro Imediato
    3. Condicional (Futuro do Pretérito) VS Pretérito Imperfeito
    4. Passado Contínuo (Pretérito Imperfeito)
    5. Pretérito Mais que Perfeito Simples VS Composto
    6. Subjuntivo VS Infinitivo Pessoal

1. Imperativo Formal e Informal

To give instructions or express wishes we use the imperative tense. For example:

Suba as escadas! = Go up the stairs!
Corra, você está atrasado! = Run, you are late!

In Portuguese there are two ways of expressing this tense, one with a formal conjugation and one with an informal conjugation. In colloquial language (spoken) people rarely use the formal way (except when they intend to show politeness or in badly dubbed films) while the formal is used in adverts, road signs, manual instructions and food recipes, so it’s essential to know both forms.

  (Verb) Formal Informal
AR Verbs Falar Fale! Fala!
Parar Pare! Para!
Entrar Entre! Entra!
ER and IR Verbs Beber Beba! Bebe!
Comer Coma! Come!
Abrir Abra! Abre!

The only possible endings in the conjugation of this tense are on the letter E and on the letter A. The formal is the opposite of the infinitive, so AR verbs will finish with the letter E (e.g. fale!) and ER or IR verbs will finish with the letter A (e.g. coma!).

Tip: It’s easier to memorize the informal way. If you only drop the letter ‘R’ from the verb (infinitive), you will have the informal way (e.g. Falar = Fala, Beber = Bebe).

Finally, there are also irregular verbs. You don’t need to know them all because many will not make any sense in this tense (you wouldn’t say “be able to! = possa!” or “want!” = “queira!”), but I suggest to learn the following verbs: dizer, fazer, ler, trazer, ver, pedir, pôr, dormir, fugir, ouvir, sair, subir and vir. Irregular verbs, formal and informal, are derived from the Present Tense, for example:

Dizer Fazer Ler Trazer Ver Pedir
(Presente – Eu) Digo Faço Leio Trago Vejo Peço
Imperativo Formal Diga Faça Leia Traga Veja Peça
(Presente – Você) Diz Faz Traz Pede
Imperativo Informal Diz Faz Traz Pede


2. Futuro Simples (Futuro do Presente) VS Futuro Imediato:

The Futuro Simples tense (A.K.A. Futuro do Presente or Futuro Imperfeito) is another way of expressing the future, but it is commonly used in formal contexts, such as on the TV news, in lectures and in written Portuguese (letters, documents, etc.). In spoken Portuguese, the Futuro Imediato (the verb Ir conjugated on Present Tense) is preferred, similar to the English Going-to Future. You can see the difference in the examples below:

Eu vou falar com você amanhã.
Ela vai escrever um livro.
Você vai aprender português.
Nós vamos jantar no restaurante.
Elas vão fazer um bolo.
Eu falarei com você amanhã.
Ela escreverá um livro.
Você aprenderá português.
Nós jantaremos no restaurante.
Elas farão um bolo.

Note: There is also another way of expressing the future, which uses the verb Haver (e.g. Eu hei de falar). However, this is only common in poetry and classical literature.

3. Condicional (Futuro do Pretérito) VS Pretérito Imperfeito

In Portuguese we can express hypothetical situations or factual implications using two different verb tenses, one that is usually used for a formal context (Condicional, A.K.A Futuro do Pretérito) and the other for an informal context (Pretérito Imperfeito).

Formal: Eu poderia comprar a casa. = I could buy the house.
Informal: Eu podia comprar a casa. = I could buy the house.

  Informal Formal
Regular Verbs    
Falar Eu falava* Eu falaria
Vender Eu vendia Eu venderia
Abrir Eu abria Eu abriria
Irregular Verbs
Poder Eu podia Eu poderia
Dever Eu devia Eu deveria
Querer Eu queria
Ser Eu seria
Estar Eu estaria

* Note: Most AR verbs used in the Pretérito Imperfeito Tense (Informal) are not commonly used to express the conditional sentences in Brazilian PT, but only in European PT. Thus, Brazilians prefers to use always the formal way for AR verbs. For example:

Brazilian PT: Eu gostaria de viajar amanhã. = I would like to travel tomorrow.
European PT: Eu gostava de viajar amanhã = I would like to travel tomorrow.

Observe that the verbs Querer, Ser and Estar offer only one possibility, thus they don’t change according to formality (queria, seria, estaria).

4. Passado Contínuo (Pretérito Imperfeito)

The past continuous in English is expressed in a single way, for instance: “I was speaking”. But in Portuguese, this same sentence can be expressed as:

Informal: Eu estava falando com ele. (Or in a more coloquial way: Eu “tava” falando com ele.)
Formal: Eu falava com ele.

Note that the formal way is very common in literature.

5. Pretérito Mais que Perfeito Simples VS Composto

The Pretérito Mais que Perfeito tense has two forms: a simple and a compound. The difference here is not actually the formality, since the compound form is preferred in almost all cases. The difference is that one of them is used in some works of classical literature and poetry only. Although it doesn’t concern formality, it also present two forms so I thought it could be useful to include it here.

Common: Eu tinha falado com ele. = I had spoken with him.
Literature: Eu falara com ele. = I had spoken with him.

This is a tense that is becoming archaic, so for students of Portuguese as a second language this tense is not very important (even many natives barely know how to use it nowadays).

6. Subjuntivo VS Infinitivo Pessoal

In most cases, the Infinitivo Pessoal tense, which is a unique tense in Portuguese (other Romance languages only present the Subjunctive), can have the same meaning as the Presente do Subjuntivo tense and the Pretérito Imperfeito do Subjuntivo tense. When this happens, the Infinitivo Pessoal sounds more informal than the Subjunctive tenses. For example:

Informal: É bom vocês estudarem muito. = It’s good that you study a lot.
Formal: É bom que vocês estudem muito. = It’s good that you study a lot.

Informal: É importante termos mais paciência. = It’s important that we have more patience.
Formal: É importante que tenhamos mais paciência. = It’s important that we have more patience.

Besides all these formality differences with verb tenses, there are other differences considering pronouns, verbs and colloquial contractions. I hope to be analysing those in another post soon.

For more information about verb tenses and conjugation visit:

And if you want to search verbs and see their full tenses table, go to:

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