In a dialogue, when we are speaking to someone and our message is misunderstood, we can repeat or restructure our sentence in order to make our message clearer. In a written text though, that is not possible because, most of the time, the author of the text is not present when the text is being read. Therefore, our message has to be as most accurate as possible to avoid ambiguity and even misinterpretation. In order to ensure that, we have to choose our words wisely and always remember punctuation.


Punctuation marks are based on prosodic nature distinctions. There are the ones that signal a pause in the speech (period, comma, semicolon) and the ones that signal intonation (question marks, exclamation marks, colon, ellipsis). All punctuation marks are very important and most of them present no doubts about where they should be inserted. However, the insertion of commas in Portuguese is an extremely sensitive issue. They are important because they can change the entire meaning of a sentence!


Let's see some examples:


  • "Não queremos saber." (We don't want to know) or (We don't care).
  • "Não, queremos saber." (No, we do want to know).
  • "Adoro comer meus amigos!" (I love eating my friends!)
  • "Adoro comer, meus amigos!" (I love to eat, my friends!)


See how important the insertion of commas is?


Here are some useful tips.


1. Use commas to separate things in a list or series


  • "Fui ao mercado e comprei batatas, cenouras, couve, pimentos e fruta."
  • "O João pediu brinquedos, lápis de cor, uma bola e um livro ao Pai Natal."


2. Use commas to separate some additional information in the middle of the sentence


  • "O João, filho do Sr. José, está no café."
  • "O Pedro, que casou com a Marta, vai vender o apartamento."


3. Use commas to separate structurally dispensable information


Commas can separate an expression that indicates time, place, or other structurally dispensable information (adverbial adjunct) in the beginning of a sentence.


  • "Semana passada, os pais da Maria estiveram cá em casa."
  • "No lago, os patos passeiam-se alegremente."
  • "Regra geral, não falo com pessoas que desconheço."


4. Use commas before adversative conjunctions


  • "Eu adoro comer gelado, mas prefiro chocolate."
  • "Eu adoro comer gelado, porém prefiro chocolate."
  • "Eu adoro comer gelado, contudo prefiro chocolate."
  • "Eu adoro comer gelado, no entanto prefiro chocolate."
  • "Eu adoro comer gelado, todavia prefiro chocolate."


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5. Use commas to isolate conjunctions


  • "Eu sou vegetariano, isto é, não como carne."
  • "Hoje está frio e, além disso, está a chover."
  • "Entretanto, vou lendo este livro."


6. Use commas before an "e" (depending on subject)


You can ONLY do this when the subject in the first clause is different from the subject in the second clause.


  • "A Maria ficou doente, e os pais chamaram o médico." - Correct
    Subject - Maria / Subject - pais
  • "A Maria ficou doente, e foi trabalhar." - Incorrect
    Subject - Maria / Subject - Maria


7. NEVER use commas to separate the verb from the subject or the complements


  • "A Ana, foi ao supermercado." - Incorrect
  • "A Ana foi, ao supermercado." - Incorrect
  • "A Ana foi ao supermercado." - Correct


The verb can never be separated from the subject or the complements.


8. Use commas to isolate the vocative


  • "Joana, traz-me esse documento."
  • "Sofia, vai comprar cenouras."
  • Ó Deus, valei-nos!


9. Use commas to separate the place from the date


  • "Porto, 10 de maio de 2010"
  • "Coimbra, 25 de setembro de 2014"


10. Use commas in postal addresses


  • "Rua Combatentes da Pátria, 123, 1.º esq."
  • "Praceta 25 de abril, 57, 3.º dir."


11. Use commas in decimal numbers


  • "A temperatura lá fora era de 25,5ºC."
  • "O material todo custou 250,80€."
  • "Os impostos aumentaram mais de 2,3%."


12. Use commas to individualize the different segments in bibliographical references


  • VILELA, M., “Gramática de texto e análise do discurso”, in Mário Vilela, Gramática da Língua Portuguesa, Coimbra, Almedina, 1999, 2.ª edição, pp. 399-495


13. Use commas when the name of an author comes after their work


  • As Viagens na Minha Terra, de Almeida Garrett.
  • O Crime do Padre Amaro, de Eça de Queirós.


In some cases, the commas can be omitted, but only when the omission does not result in confusion or hesitancy. Except when it is intended to create such confusion like in the following widely known case.


A dying man was writing his will, but he died before he could insert the commas. The text was left like this:


"Deixo a minha fortuna ao meu irmão minha irmã jamais pagarei a conta do alfaiate nada aos pobres."


Let's insert some commas...


"Deixo a minha fortuna ao meu irmão, não à minha irmã, jamais pagarei a conta do alfaiate, nada aos pobres."


"Deixo a minha fortuna, ao meu irmão não, à minha irmã jamais, pagarei a conta do alfaiate, nada aos pobres."


"Deixo a minha fortuna ao meu irmão, não, à minha irmã jamais pagarei a conta do alfaiate, nada aos pobres."


So, what did the dying man really want to say? We will never know for sure!


Missing commas can cause awkward situations. Some experts defend the insertion of commas in more places than others. There is no consensus!


Oscar Wilde said, "I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out."


I hope that this article helps you with placing commas in Portuguese!


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