Como se chama? Ele chama-se Filipe Why does the 'se' move

One of the most common questions I get asked by learners who are really starting to get into the language is why do some words move around. I ask a few questions to find out what they are talking about in particular, and they are nearly always talking about the -se - o - nos etc, that can either be tagged onto the end of verbs, or just before them.

‘It seems to be so random!’ they say, ‘sometimes they are stuck at the end of a verb, other times right before!´ There is nothing worse than something you can’t pin down, a wild card, and this gets learners worrying!

No need to worry! It is very predictable, although it does take time and practise to master. This is something peculiar to European Portuguese, the Brazilian version (like Spanish and French) puts these little words neatly before the verbs.

So, to let out the secret….

It’s all about what I call ‘trigger words’. These are certain words, which when found just before the verb in a sentence oblige the little word to move from its usual position tagged onto the end of the verb to being placed before the verb (without the hyphen).

Let’s look at some examples:

Como se chama? vs Ele chama-se Filipe
Não me lembro o nome dele. vs Lembras-te o nome dele?
Já o vi vs Vi-o
Gosto de lhe dar prendas vs Dei-lhe uma prenda

Can you spot the trigger words? Como, Não, Já and de

I group these words into 4 categories to make it easier to remember:

  1. Question WORDS - Como, Porque, Quando…. (must be a word not just a question…)

  2. Negatives - Não, nunca, nada…

  3. ‘Adverbials’ - words like já, ainda, só, todos …

  4. Prepositions - de, em, por, para ….

And that’s about it! Get reading to spot as many examples as you can, and once you are feeling confident, have a go! You’ll soon be correcting yourself for putting the -me, te, o etc after as you get a feel for it, Já me.. Nunca o .. quando te .. starts to sound really good :)

There are a few more advanced points here, but to keep to the point and not go off on tangents I’ve left them out (perhaps they will be the subject of another blog post!)