In French and Portuguese you have to be careful which form of the second person subject pronoun (tu or vous in French, tu or você in Portuguese) you use, because there are social distinctions to consider. In English, this doesn’t apply because nowadays we use ‘you’ to cover every situation, the language having dropped “thou” some time ago, although it is still used in prayers, hymns etc. (The ‘you’ forms of Spanish, Italian and Romanian I shall discuss elsewhere to save space.)
If you are learning Brazilian Portuguese, the guide books may mention that there is a tu form but will say it is never used in Brazil so you don’t have to bother learning it. Great, you might think, I won’t bother! It’s one less verb form to learn off by heart. But you may regret doing this, because when you go to Portugal you soon realise that tu is used widely, and then you have play catch-up with your learning.
In Brazil the situation is simple, você is used for the second person singular and vocês for the second person plural, regardless of social distinctions. Here, for example, is a Brazilian tutor on You Tube running through the verbs ser and estar…. note the total absence of tu. But also note that the verb is the same for both the second person (you) and third persons (he, she, they).
In Portugal, however, tu is used in informal social contexts (among one’s peers, friends, and lovers, and you will hear it a lot in love songs). Você might be used for more formal situations (addressing a stranger, or one’s elders or superiors, for example) but even here you have to be careful. Using você might be disrespectful – it could imply disdain or scorn. (As in “You! Winning a talent competition. I don’t think so!”) It is safer when approaching a man to use o senhor, or a senhora for a woman, and again here you would use the same verb ending as you would for the third person ele or ela.
In French, the situation is not as complicated as it is in Portuguese. Tu would be used in the same circumstances, while vous would be used more formally. The vous singular takes the same verb form as the vous plural, though, but if there are adjectives involved they will have to agree in number – vous êtes malade (you, singular, are sick), vous êtes malades (you, plural, are sick).
To give you a sample of a Portuguese accent, using the verb ser, here is a song Eu não sou ela (I am not her) by Rebeca. It’s quite dated, admittedly, but I quite like the tune. It’s about a love triangle, Rebeca seems to be the loser and thus stands on a roof or wanders around looking lost. Perhaps that’s what love triangles do to people. Note that sou is pronounced like the English words sew or sow and not like sue…. In Portuguese, the stress generally falls on the penultimate vowel, which is the o in sou.
The first part of the chorus goes like this: Porque eu não sou ela/eu sou eu, e não posso ser a mulher que eu não sou (Because I am not her, I am me, and cannot be the woman that I’m not.)
Here are the lyrics (letras in Portuguese)
O VERSO 1
Eu dei-te algum tempo para esquecer
A lembrança que até hoje te consome
Até te perdoei por te querer
Essas vezes que trocavas o meu nome
Mas hoje cansei-me de fingir
De usar roupas e perfumes que ela usava
Eu posso te amar mas vou sair, não te quero dividir
E não posso mais vencer esse fantasma
O REFRÃO (the chorus/refrain)
Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)
Eu sou eu
E não posso ser a mulher que não sou
Porque eu não sou ela (não sou ela)
Não posso vencer a força desse amor (x2)
O VERSO 2
Eu tentei lutar contra esse amor
E as recordações que tinhas do passado
Mas como ganhar contra quem foi
E é ainda quem tu vês em todo o lado
Agora acabei por desistir
E deixar-te com essa paixão perdida
Pois sei que não posso mais seguir
A saber e a sentir que nunca vou ser o amor da tua vida