Portuguese Language Blog

Podcast: Using the past tense to discuss Carnival Posted by on Feb 27, 2009 in Learning, Podcast

Carnival Past Tense Podcast

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Today, we’re going to look at the difference between the perfect preterite and the imperfect preterite in the past tense using ser and estar, as well as other verbs. We’ll also be talking about Carnival.

Ontem eu fui assistir o desfile no Sambódromo. Estava muito cheio.
Lá encontrei com meus amigos.

Estavam um pouco bêbados.
Eu estava com muito calor, mas consegui me refrescar bebendo água.
Tirei muitas fotos e gravei três vídeos.

No dia seguinte, fui ao bloco perto da minha casa.

Muitos amigos meus estavam lá.
Curti muito este Carnaval.

First, we need to keep in mind that the perfect preterite form describes an action that took place only once or at a specific time, while the imperfect preterite refers to a temporary state of being or an action taking place over an undefined period of time.

In this first phrase, we find both forms. In the first sentence, “Yesterday I watched the parade at the Sambodrome,” we use the perfect preterite, (fui) since it was an action that took place at a specific time (yesterday). The second phrase, “It was very crowded,” uses the imperfect preterite, since it describes a temporary state of being. Note that assistir means to watch and cheio means crowded or full.

This means, “I met my friends there.” In this case, we use the perfect preterite, since it describes a single action taking place once in the story. Note that to say meet, we say encontrar com (literally, to meet with).

Here, the speaker says, “They were a little drunk.” In this case, we use the imperfect preterite form, since temporary physical states are described with this tense, like being drunk or sick.

This means, “I was very hot, but I managed to keep cool by drinking water.” Note that the phrase to describe being hot is estar com calor, literally, to be with heat, where we use estar in the imperfect preterite, since it is a temporary state of being. To manage, or to successfully do something, is conseguir. In this case, we use the perfect preterite, since it is an action that took place once.

“I took lots of pictures and recorded three videos.” Tirar foto means to take a picture, and gravar video means to film. Here, we use the perfect preterite to indicate the singularity of the action at a specific moment rather than referring to a period of time.

Here, the speaker says, “The next day, I went to a street party near my house.” A bloco is a Carnival parade with a band and singers that make their way through the streets on foot or by truck. Note the use of the perfect preterite to refer to a specific action taken at a specific time.

This means, “Many friends of mine were there.” Here, we use estar in the imperfect preterite, since we are referring to a temporary state over an indefinite period of time. This can be a little tricky, but another way to understand this concept is combining the imperfect and perfect preterite into one phrase, like “Eu estava lá quando ele chegou.” I was there when he arrived.

Finally, this means “I had a lot of fun during Carnival.” Curtir is a slangy verb that means to have fun or to enjoy oneself.

Extra tip: try to think of the perfect preterite as something that happened, as opposed to the imperfect preterite as something that was happening.

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  1. Peggy Burns:

    This appears to be a great site. I am trying to learn portugues and am having more than a bit of trouble with all the verb forms. Would really like more exercises or examples as shown on this page of usage for the various verb forms.like these imperfect preterit and perfect preterit. The explanation of when to use each is extremely helpful. Then there is the subjunctive. Yikes!!
    Where can I get more examples online, please.