You might have realized that languages, or more accurately, the speakers of every language often pick a couple of words that will work amazingly well in several contexts, then use those words to say a bunch of different things by pairing them with different particles or words.


In English, for example, the verbs “get” and “take” (among others) are remarkably versatile and useful in a handful of contexts.


Without further ado, in Portuguese we also have one, and I’d wager it’s the verb dar, which literally means “to give”.


  • Ele sempre me dá presentes. (He always gives me presents)
  • Não dê comida aos animais no zoológico. (Don’t feed (give food to) animals at the zoo)


But beyond its literal meaning, there’s a whole range of other interesting ways the verb can be used. I’ve taught a bunch of these uses to a few students, but it seems like this verb has endless (and rather funny) connections.


Here you will have a glimpse at my 10 favorite expressions with the verb dar, you will see the expressions along with the literal translation and also explanations of the cultural origin, so that you can switch cultures a bit in order to have a better understanding.


1. Dar as caras (give the faces)


This one is mostly used in negative and interrogative forms, and it means to show up, to appear.


  • Será que a Angelina Jolie vai dar as caras na festa?
    • I wonder if Angelina Jolie is going to show up.
  • A festa está quase no fim e o DJ ainda não deu as caras.
    • The party is coming to an end and the DJ hasn’t turned up yet.


2. Dar em cima (give on top)


It means to hit on. I don’t need to explain this one too much, since I’m quite sure it exists in every language.


  • Ele está dando em cima dela.
    • He is hitting on her.
  • Pare de dar em cima de mim, não estou afim!
    • Stop hitting on me, I’m not in the mood!


3. Dar um fora (give an out)


Well, this one could be the outcome of the aforementioned expression if the person who’s being hit on declines the “request”. It means to turn someone down.


  • Ela me deu um fora mesmo eu tendo sido tão legal com ela.
    • She turned me down even though I was so kind to her.


  • Ele deu um fora a nela depois que ele viu ela bebendo (álcool).
    • He turned her down after seeing her drink (alcohol).


4. Dar uma de (give one of...)


This is a very useful expression. It’s used to talk about people who are pretending to be something they’re not.


  • Ele está dando uma de santo agora.
    • He is playing the saint now.
  • Ele tá dando uma de machão (apesar de ser sensível).
    • He’s playing the macho man (even though he’s sensitive).


5. (Não) dar a mínima (not to give the minimum)


You know when you’re already fed up with something and you couldn’t care less about it? This is the way to say that in Portuguese.


  • Quer saber? Eu não dou a MÍNIMA para o que você pensa de mim!
    • Know what? I don’t give a DAMN what you think of me!


Another way to say it would be Não estou nem aí or To nem aí.


6. Dar certo/errado (give right/wrong)


In English, you say that something worked or didn’t work, will or won’t work. It’s pretty much the same in Portuguese.


  • Cara, isso não vai dar certo! To te dizendo!
    • Man, this won’t work out! I’m telling ya!
  • Será que dá certo se eu fizer assim?
    • Do you think it’ll work if I do it this way?


7. Dar conta (give count?)


I’ll set the scene: say you’re about to lift a heavy suitcase to put in your car’s trunk. Your mom asks:


  • Jackson, tu vais dar conta (de carregar isso)?
    • Jackson, will you be able (to do this)?


It is usually used in situations where the task to be accomplished is a bit hard or challenging.


  • Não dei conta de terminar todos os exercícios.
    • I couldn’t finish all the exercises.


This expression is probably short for “dar conta do recado”.


8. Se dar conta (give yourself count)


This is used when you realize something. There was evidence of it already, and then you finally realize--in other words, when something dawns on you.


  • O aluno começou a gaguejar, foi aí que eu me dei conta que ele estava mentindo.
    • The student started stammering, and that’s when I realized he was lying to me.
  • Só depois de terminar que eu me dei conta do quão idiota eu era.
    • Only after breaking up did I notice how much of an idiot I was.


9. Dar pra cabeça (give to the head)


Maybe this is a southern expression, I’m not that sure.


Let’s suppose there’s a kid climbing up a chair in order to reach a toy on top of the fridge. Is that going to end well? I don’t think so…


Moms would certainly say something like:


  • Isso vai dar pra cabeça!
    • This is going to have a bad ending.


10. Dar bola (give ball)


This has quite a lot to do with “Dar em cima” and “dar um fora”, at least in some situations. It can be used when another person gives you the green light, or accepts your questions and replies.


  • Acho que ela tá me dando bola!
    • I think she’s kind of into me.


It could also be used when someone has been a pain in the neck to you. You’re almost through the roof with exasperation, but then your good friend says:


  • Nem dá bola, não vale a pena se estressar com isso.
    • Don’t even bother, it’s not worth it.


That’s all for now, I guess!


Obviously, we could branch those expressions and their variations endlessly. If you’re a Portuguese speaker, please add your variations in the comments!


I hope you found this interesting and worth reading!


Tchau e até a próxima!


Hero Image (The three monkeys) by John Snape (CC BY-SA 3.0)