There is a scarcity of material for the study and teaching of Portuguese. Of the grammar books available the most recent (and excellent), Gram tica Activa (Isabel Coimbra, Lidel, 1994), is likely to deter most students through being written entirely in Portuguese, so there is a large gap in the market for a straightforward, affordable grammar book for English-speaking students of Portuguese. The author's aim is to present the major grammatical concepts of the language in accordance with the standardised spelling of the 1971 Acordo Ortogr fico.
As indicated by the title, it is divided into two sections of equal length. After an introductory chapter on pronunciation (in which there are some good, imaginative approximations of Portuguese sounds expressed via English words) the author moves straight on to what most teachers would regard as the basis for study of any language: the regular verb system. Here one meets the strength of this book: clarity of exposition. Not only is each page clearly organised and laid out but the explanations are so clear that even the less academically aware students should have no difficulty in understanding them. Nothing is taken for granted: before the present tense is outlined the reader is taken through clearly written definitions of subject pronouns (with explanations of the various forms of address), conjugations and the indicative mood, with a list of the six tenses of the indicative. In this way the student is led carefully to an understanding of the principles underlying the verb system before embarking on detailed study of this tense. Examples are given of common verbs of each conjugation before the chapter moves on to the imperfect, preterite, simple pluperfect, future and conditional tenses. The chapter ends with a checklist of endings of all six tenses and a synopsis in which the first person singular of falar is given in all the tenses. The reader is therefore led very carefully through the structures and English equivalents are given throughout.
Each chapter follows this plan and the readers are thereby helped to negotiate their way through the complex but appealing maze of Portuguese verb forms. More advanced elements such as the subjunctive and personal infinitive are treated in an equally sympathetic manner. Irregular verbs are fully conjugated and listed alphabetically.
The second half of the book treats all the usual grammatical structures, beginning with "articles" and ending with "prepositions". Some tricky items, such as por/para and todo/tudo, are dealt with in separate chapters, and a chapter on letter writing (business and formal only) is included. The book ends with a selection of idioms and vocabulary topics.
Portuguese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar is likely to become a popular book for English learners of Portuguese as well as being a useful reference tool. It is not a coursebook - there are no exercises, for example - but there is a progression through the book: "new material is used in such a way that it is based upon and builds on material previously presented, so that the student can progress with ease through the various sections" (author's preface). All examples are to the point and they are always translated, making it suitable for learners working without a teacher. The publisher has been generous in allowing plenty of space for impressively clear layouts. Both European and Brazilian Portuguese are covered, with no undue emphasis on either of these two variants. Presumably for the sake of publication in the United States readers will find some Americanisms, but these are not intrusive.
On the negative side, more advanced students may find fuller explanations desirable on occasions. There are limits to what can be simplified for the learner of Portuguese (for example, I couldn't find guidance on word order when using object pronouns with infinitives), but one has to accept the fact that one book cannot meet the needs of all students.
Peter Bull teaches Portuguese and Spanish at William Hulme's Grammar School, Manchester and is the author of a forthcoming BBC book on Portuguese.
Portuguese Verbs and Essentials of Grammar: A Practical Guide to the Mastery of Potuguese
Author - Sue Tyson-Ward
ISBN - 0 8842 4698 0
Publisher - Passport Books
Price - £5.99
Pages - 140