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In Portuguese (Br, and I think Pt too), the future tense of a verb can be created by taking its infinitive, and adding a suffix depending on the subject, e.g.:

to think -> pensar
I will think -> Eu pensarei
He will think -> Ele pensará
We think -> Nós pensaremos
They will think -> Elas pensarão

This works for all except three verbs: fazer, dizer, and trazer. This was a bit surprising to me, since even though those three verbs are slightly irregular in other tenses, this means that all of the other very irregular verbs like ser, estar, pôr, etc. all conjugate regularly in this tense.

Is this just a coincidence or is there a reason this tense feels much more regular than the others in the language? I was curious to see if there's some history.

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    I don't want to make this an answer since I'm not familiar with Portuguese specifically, but the Romance future tense evolved from a combination of multiple words, while words like ser were irregular well before that time.
    – Draconis
    Dec 9, 2023 at 1:45
  • Notice the importance of the r: fazer, farei, dizer, direi, trazer, trarei. In that sense, they go along with all the others due to the r.
    – Lambie
    Dec 9, 2023 at 19:03
  • That's a nice observation @Lambie; I didn't realize that by making their stems irregular, they do have consistency still phonetically in making the end "r + [ending]".
    – RLanguage
    Dec 11, 2023 at 0:34
  • @user61794 whilst the question is primarily about Portuguese, the phenomenon is general to (most) Romance languages, and the explanation primarily relies on diachronic (across time) analysis, so imo it's slightly better suited here (although I don't think it would have been off-topic on the Portuguese site either)
    – Tristan
    Dec 11, 2023 at 10:07

1 Answer 1

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Most of the "tenses" of the modern Romance languages are inherited directly from Latin, and so have had plenty of time to accumulate irregularities (and indeed many existed even within Latin).

The two exceptions are the future and conditional (in languages with them, they are notably absent in Sardinian and Balkan Romance like Romanian).

These tenses were originally formed from the infinitive, being followed by a fully conjugated form of the verb habeō (which otherwise survives into Portuguese as haver).

The future tense is formed with the present tense of habeō, and the conditional is formed with its imperfect.

I.e. The forms quoted in the question continue the following constructions in Proto-Romance:

I will think: pensarei < pēnsāre habeō
He will think: pensará < pēnsāre habet
We think: pensaremos < pēnsāre habēmus
They will think: pensarão < pēnsāre habent

Portuguese (and Galician) actually preserve this earlier stage better than most other Romance languages, because in formal language pronominal object clitics can appear between the infinitive stem and the ending (so-called "mesoclisis").

E.g. Formal Portuguese dar-mo-ás (regularly contracted from what would otherwise be dar-me-lo-ás) "you will give me it" vs Colloquial Portuguese & Spanish me lo darás.

This mesoclisis reflects the typical position of pronominal object clitics across Romance, of immediately preceding a finite verb (non-finite verbs can frequently take clitics either before or after them) if and only if the ending is still seen as a separate (albeit cliticised) finite verb, whilst the colloquial form fits the pattern if and only if the entire infinitive + habeō unit is taken to constitute a single finite verb.

Note also, that as part of the process of univerbation, the form of habeō used has been reduced, with the -b- typically dropping out, even in forms where it has typically been retained in the uncliticised form of the verb. In particular, the imperfect of habeō, and some forms in the present plural, generally retain the -b- (typically lenited to -v-) when not cliticised in most of Romance (sometimes alongside reduced forms without the -b-).

The irregular futures you cite (which also have irregular conditionals) also come about because of reduction during this univerbation process. In this instance the reduction occurred in the infinitive part.

The Spanish cognates of fazer and dizer (hacer and decir) show the same irregular dropping of the middle consonant of the infinitive in the future & conditional. This consonant was already lost in the infinitive itself in most of the rest of Romance.

Trazer is somewhat more interesting, because it continues Latin trahō, meaning that the z in the Portuguese is unetymological (likely inserted due to analogy from the perfect participle tractus). Traer (attested in Old Galician-Portuguese, and continuing in Galician) is the expected form.

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  • Nit: ‘he/she/it will give it to me’ should be dar-mo-á: me + o contracts to mo, and you accidentally used 2sg but translated it as 3sg. And as far as I understand it, mesoclisis vs proclisis is not a matter of formality, but of dialect: except where blocked syntactically, European Portuguese always uses mesoclisis (and enclisis), even informally; while Brazilian never does, even formally. EP speakers increasingly tend to avoid the future and conditional altogether, which also makes mesoclisis less common – but when they do use them, it’s generally with mesoclisis, not proclisis. Dec 9, 2023 at 17:00
  • Thanks for this answer. So it seems like it's a real example of the analytic -> inflection half of the cycle that languages often bounce between the two. In Latin, the more analytic convention of infinitive + haber (conjugated) ends up getting mashed together into an inflected future tense. And if this happened later on, it's easier to enforce regularity I suppose. I'll have to reread your answer a bit more closely to understand why this seems to have happened more "carefully" in Portuguese, but not in, say, French.
    – RLanguage
    Dec 11, 2023 at 0:37
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    @RLanguage In which sense it doesn't happen in French? The list of verbs with "irregular" roots (different from the infinitive) is a bit longer, bit it's more or less the same, except for the mesoclisis Dec 11, 2023 at 7:44
  • @JanusBahsJacquet thanks for spotting that mistake, I think I've corrected it now. My understanding was that even in European Portuguese it was only really current in literary Portuguese, but that it was reasonably productive in Galician even in informal situations. I guess there might also be variation between dialects of European Portuguese? It's interesting to hear that European speakers tend to avoid the future and conditional altogether though. If you've got a source I'll happily update the answer to reflect this all
    – Tristan
    Dec 11, 2023 at 10:12
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    @RLanguage it's not so much that it's easier to enforce regularity, as that there just hasn't been as much time for irregularities to accumulate. We'd typically expect all inflectional forms coming from analytic ones to start off entirely regularly, but over time sound change will introduce divergent outcomes resulting in apparent irregularities
    – Tristan
    Dec 11, 2023 at 10:15

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