EP word of the week (#68): amámos [and other 1st person plural preterite forms]

Two weeks ago I mentioned the reasons why I haven’t used many verbs as Words of the week, but I’m trying to change this slightly but highlighting aspects of verb forms that are different between EP and BP, which is hopefully help you get a better idea of the main differences between variants overall.

If with descolar the focus was in spelling changes, today’s word is a slightly more complicated issue and one that most people don’t notice: the fact that 1st person plural forms on the preterite in verbs of the 1st conjugation (ending in -ar) have a different spelling of the stressed vowel (á, which also shows a change in its sound).

To break all this confusing information apart, I’ll use some bullet points to make sure you understand this properly:

  • The first conjugation of Portuguese verbs includes almost all verbs whose infinitive ends in -ar (amar – to love; falar – to speak/talk; assar – to roast; saltar – to jump; ficar – to stay; ajudar – to help; gostar – to like; chegar – to arrive; etc.); this rule does not include irregular verbs such as estar or dar.
  • The preterite is the verb tense that deals with finished/completed events in the past (similar to the basic use of the past simple as long as we’re talking about events that are fully concluded/ended; everything else will fall under the mantle of the imperfect).
  • The 1st person plural is the Nós [“we”] form, used when the subject is part of a group of more people and is speaking in name of the whole group.

In this first conjugation, the forms for the 1st person plural in the present and the preterite are identically spelled and pronounced in BP (for example, for amar both take the form amamos); in standard EP¹, there’s a change in sound between the two in the stressed syllable: the present has a [ɐ] sound; the preterite has a low/open a, [a] sound; this is marked graphically by an acute accent on the stressed syllable (which here is always the next-to-last, which precedes the 1st person plural ending -mos) in the preterite forms:

  • [Nós] amamos (We love) > [Nós] amámos (We loved)
  • [Nós] falamos (We speak) > [Nós] falámos (We spoke)
  • [Nós] assamos (We roast) > [Nós] assámos (We roasted)
  • [Nós] saltamos (We jump) > [Nós] saltámos (We jumped)
  • [Nós] ficamos (We stay) > [Nós] ficámos (We stayed)
  • [Nós] ajudamos (We help) > [Nós] ajudámos (We helped)
  • [Nós] gostamos (We like) > [Nós] gostámos (We liked)
  • [Nós] chegamos (We arrive) > [Nós] chegámos (We arrived)
Change of the stressed vowel from amamos (present) to amámos (preterite).

¹ Much like BP, European Portuguese’s northern accents don’t make any distinction between the present and the preterite here, pronouncing both like the present form (again, just like BP, spelling differences aside); but unlike BP, it is expected for people in Northern Portugal to use the form with -á- in their contacts with other EP speakers when speaking about the past (since that’s the standard spelling and a useful way to distinguish between the two tenses).

4 thoughts on “EP word of the week (#68): amámos [and other 1st person plural preterite forms]

  1. João Duarte October 20, 2016 / 10:38 pm

    This was, at some point, a huge debate here at home, my wife being from the north and all… :)
    Then we found out both ways were accepted as preterite; I was shocked… :) Now I’m at peace with it…
    I heard that in Madeira they also don’t use the accented way…


    • luisdomingos October 24, 2016 / 7:29 pm

      Yeah, it does vary from place to place… sometimes I still find weird when hearing people from Northern Portuguese “miss” the open a, but it’s usually easy to figure out whether people are talking about the present or the past via context :)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dan D October 21, 2016 / 12:31 am

    I knew of the accent was there, but had no idea a and á could make different sounds. Is there a handy sound clip with both sounds you could link to?


    • luisdomingos October 24, 2016 / 7:38 pm

      Hey! Sorry about the late reply – I’ve been caught up with work :)

      If you input the two words in IVONA (https://www.ivona.com/) and you choose the EP female voice (under “European Portuguese, Inês”) you get them in reasonably correct EP pronunciation (it’s usually more jagged if you use longer sentences though). The male voice has better enunciation, but bad phonetics – it pronounces “amámos” perfectly, but gives “amamos” an open A sound where there shouldn’t be any.

      Basically, the two As in “amamos” should sound the same, and that same sound is used for the first A in “amámos”. The outlier is the second A, “á”, which is an open vowel (closer to the A in “Alice”, just to name an English word)


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