Portuguese Language Blog

Porque, Por que and Por quê Posted by on Oct 1, 2007 in Grammar

A common error in Portuguese is the misuse and confusion of these three similar phrases (and two more words). Let’s clarify briefly:

Por quê (two words, with circumflex accent on ‘e’) can only occur at the end of an indirect or direct interrogative phrase:

  • Interrogação direta: Eline não chegou ainda, por quê?
  • Interrogação indireta: Eline não chegou ainda, ninguém sabe por quê.

Por que (two words, no accent) can be used in two situations:

  1. To start an interrogative, direct or indirect:
    • Direct: Por que Gui não ligou ontem?
    • Indirect: Ninguém sabe por que Gui não ligou ontem.
  2. When it could be substituted for: pelo qual, pela qual, pelos quais, pelas quais:
    • Desconhece-se a razão por que (pela qual) Gui não ligou.

Porquê / Porquês (one word, with an accent circumflex on the ‘e’) is the right way to form the noun. It is easy to spot, since it will always be preceded by an article: o, a, os, as, da, das, do, das, na, nas, no, nos, etc., demonstrative pronoun (este, estes), or an adjective:

  • Desconhece-se o porquê da ausência de Marcos.
  • O estudo dos porquês é interessante.
  • Os estudantes se defrontam com muitos porquês.

Porque (one word, no accent) for when all else fails, and the use fits none of the previous categories: O Gui não ligou porque estava fora da cidade.

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