Common ESL Grammar Mistakes Made by Portuguese Students
Portuguese and English sentence structure is similar, so the ESL grammar mistakes made by Portuguese students don’t often interfere with a student’s ability to be understood when speaking English. However, there are a few ESL grammar mistakes that definitely can confuse or amuse a native English listener.
Portuguese Students’ 4 Worst ESL Grammar Mistakes
The biggest grammar stumbling blocks for Portuguese ESL students are: 1. possessive pronouns, 2. verb/tense, 3. questions, and 4. the word “have”.
1. Possessive Pronouns
Portuguese doesn’t have as many possessive pronouns as English does, BUT Portuguese does have gendered nouns—this leads to two ways that Portuguese ESL students can be tripped up when speaking English.
The first involves mixing up the possessive pronouns, his, her, and your.
My Uncle is a great athlete, but his knees are shot.
becomes My Uncle is a great athlete, but your knees are shot.
This mistake happens because in Portuguese the word “your” translates to “of the man/gentleman” or “of the woman/lady” so Portuguese ESL students think they are saying “the knees of my Uncle” when they use “your”.
The second way English possessive pronoun mistakes are made is the misuse or his/her.
She has vegetables on her plate. becomes She has vegetables on his plate.
This grammar mistake happens because there is just one word in Portuguese for “his” and “her” and it agrees in gender with the possessed item—in this instance, “plate” or “o prato” in Portuguese which is a masculine noun.
Most of the problems that Portuguese ESL students have with verb tenses involve 2 of the English tenses, the simple past, and the present perfect progressive.
The simple present talks about an action happening now, or one that happens regularly.
She practices English every day.
Portuguese students will mistakenly say…
She is practice English every day.
The present perfect progressive talks about an action that is also happening now, it is in progress, and it may happen into the future.
She is sitting in class, waiting for the teacher.
Portuguese students will mistakenly say…
She has sitting in class, waiting for the teacher.
Verb/tenses seem to cause more problems for Portuguese ESL students when the subject of the verb is a noun. Maintaining tense continuity is a challenge for most English language students. Learn how tense functions in English by personalizing it—talk yourself through your day in English, you’ll live the tenses and they may become clearer to you.
Questions in Portuguese are formed with intonation; English questions also have a tone change—your voice rises on the last word. BUT, there is only one question tag in Portuguese, “isn’t it”, and there are dozens of them in English, and two forms, positive and negative!
A positive statement gets a negative question tag.
You’ve studied, haven’t you?
A negative statement gets a positive question tag.
You’re not ready for the test, are you?
Portuguese ESL students mistakenly employ the phrase “isn’t it” or neglect to use a question tag at all.
She has class, isn’t it? instead of She has class, doesn’t she?
I’m studying __? instead of I’m studying, aren’t I?
In English the word “have” has several meanings, it can mean to possess, to make use of, to experience something, to be obliged to…
The first way Portuguese ESL students misuse the English word “have” is to use it to talk about the existence of something.
Have red flowers on your shirt. instead of There are red flowers on your shirt.
The second way students misuse the word “have” is to attempt to use it in the way it functions in their native Portuguese.
I have 23 years old. instead of I am 23 years old.
I have hungry. instead of I am hungry.
You’ll find it’s important to let go of your native language when studying English. Don’t avoid using complex statements for fear of making mistakes, because to correct ESL grammar mistakes you must first be able to recognize them. It’s true, Portuguese ESL students have some grammar dragons to slay, but with humility and diligence, they can be mastered.