Hello, everyone! Today I bring you a question about sound changes and stress patterns in verb forms. A quite pertinent question, something that we usually just take for granted but that can be hard for someone to learn. Here’s the question:
Gosto muito do seu blog!!
Há umas regras gerais sobre como pronunciar os vogais nas palavras como ‘meter’ e ‘ganhar’ etc que não mudam no processo de inflexão?
Por exemplo, metem, mete, meto, e metam (de Conjuntivo), e ganhava, ganho, ganham, e ganhe, ganhem (de Conjuntivo), etc. São muitas diferenças entre EP e BP?
Obrigado pela ajuda!
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Hi, Huawen! Thank you so much for the kind words and for following the blog!
I’m still in the process of gathering my thoughts and information to write a more comprehensive article on stress and vowel changes in European Portuguese, but for now I’ll try to answer your question with the bare basics and solely using verb forms as examples. Since verb forms have very specific endings and patterns, they don’t cover all the rules of the language, but they’re a good start.
The basic rules you should know are:
- European Portuguese is a stress-timed language, meaning there’s a clear distinction in emphasis between the stressed syllable and the rest; in EP, this also manifests with certain vowels being used only (or mostly) in stressed and unstressed positions.
- Stress can only fall on the three last syllable, but it normally falls on the second-to-last syllable; but there are many exceptions, including words ending in -r (like verb infinitives), -l, -s/z, -ão (like 3rd person plural forms in the future indicative, and certain irregular verbs in the present indicative) which carry their stress on their last syllable;
- A different stress than what one would expect is generally marked with a diacritic; `´ the acute and grave accents mark a raised stressed vowel, ^ the circumflex a lower stress vowel. All words with a stress on the third-to-last word have a diacritic (for example, verb forms [nós] estávamos, [se nós] corrêssemos, [nós] corríamos)
- A single vowel in words with one syllable is pronounced unstressed (i.e. unless there isn’t any diacritics telling us to pronounce it differently); semantically relevant examples of this change are the pairs da (preposition) vs. dá (form of verb dar, “to give”, present indicative and imperative); de (preposition) vs. dê (again, form of dar, imperative).
Regarding one of your questions, many of these rules don’t apply to Brazilian Portuguese at all, which is more syllable-timed, i.e. like French, each syllable has more or less the same emphasis, and the changes between stressed and unstressed vowels are less noticeable.
The Portuguese oral vowels (which are the ones that showcase this difference between stress and their quality) are as follows:
|Vowel||Letters used to represent it||Approximate sound in English (if applicable)|
|[a]||a, á, à||BrEn Albert|
|[ɐ]||a, e¹||close to the a in about|
|[ɛ]||e, é||first e in elephant|
|[e]||e, ê||AusEn bed|
|[ɔ]||o, ó||first o in obvious|
|[o]||o, ô||AmEn omen (just the first sound, not the whole diphthong, oʊ)|
|[u]||o, u||too (but short)|
¹ Before palatal consonants (nh and lh) in EP’s standard central dialect (spoken from Lisbon to Coimbra), [e] to other EP speakers.
This table will also be a part of that article on Portuguese vowels I’m writing, together with the following chart that helps explain the connections between stressed and unstressed oral vowels in Portuguese (i.e. the from the previous chart): as you can see, unstressed vowels (the ones being pointed by the arrows) are usually pronounced with the mouth more closed than stressed vowels. The letters i and u, which when alone are always pronounced exactly like the sounds [i] and [u], can be both stressed or unstressed.
That said, it’s still sometimes hard to know which stressed syllable to choose when the language doesn’t mark it graphically; if you apply the rules I gave you earlier, you’ll get the grasp of most verb forms, but in some cases you’ll just have to learn how to pronounce a certain verb by heart. For example, with verbs with infinitives ending in -er, this last, stressed vowel of the infinitive is always the closed [e], for example, comer is pronounced [ku.mer], meter is [mə.ter], etc.
A few other verb-specific rules include:
- the 3rd person singular imperative will generally help you learn the correct present subjunctive pronunciation (since the present subjunctive forms are based on it; for regular verbs, the form is the same as the 1st person singular of the present indicative); for example, “[eu] amo” (PRES.IND) has a closed A vowel, ɐ, therefore [que] eu ame” (PRES.SUBJ.) has a closed vowel too, but “[eu] abro” has an open A vowel, a, therefore “[que] eu abra” has a open vowel too.
- in the past (imperfect) subjunctive and future subjunctive, the regular 1st conjugation verbs (ending in -ar) and the irregular verbs ending in -er usually have a stressed open vowel (-asse/-ar, -esse/-er); compare amasse/amar [a] and tivesse/tiver [ɛ] with the regular 2nd conjugation verbs (ending in -er) vivesse [e] and comesse [e], where the stressed vowel is closed. The same pattern applies to the forms of the preterite indicative (pretérito perfeito, i.e. past simple) where the stressed syllable in also the one in the infinitive, namely the 2nd singular (tu), the 1st plural (nós) and the 3rd plural (eles/elas/vocês); example: [tu] amaste / [tu] tiveste vs. [tu] viveste / [tu] comeste; [nós] amámos, [nós] tivemos vs. [nós] vivemos / [nós] comemos, [eles/elas/vocês] amaram / tiveram vs. viveram vs. comeram.
- Verbs with the radical -ava in the imperfect indicative have an open stressed A vowel on the second-to-last syllable throughout (1st person plural – ávamos); verbs starting with -ia have their stress on the [i] sound throughout (1st person plural –íamos).
I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear – I was writing these rules on the fly as they came to me – I’ll try to systematize them better in the future. Let me know if there’s something you don’t understand or would like to have explained; I’d very much like if we could use the comments like the Duolingo sentence discussions, i.e. as an opportunity for you to ask specific questions about something you don’t understand and where my answers can help you out get the pieces right, one individual piece at a time.