Genders and articles
In grammar, nouns (Portuguese: "substantivos") are all words that give names to things. Some Indo-European languages (like Portuguese) present grammatical genders (Portuguese: "gêneros gramaticais), meaning that every single word has a specific gender. In English words are either masculine, feminine or neutral, but only singular personal pronouns distinguishes genders: "he", "she" and "it", respectively. The grammatical gender in English coincides with the "natural gender": masculine nouns are those that name men or male animals, feminine nouns are those that name women and female animals, neutral nouns are all those that are not male nor female.
Unlike English, Portuguese has no neutral gender (nouns are either masculine or feminine) and there is not actually a rule for determining what the gender of a noun is. Every single noun (people, animals, even inanimate objects and places) has a specific gender. For example, the word "mesa" (table) is a feminine noun, but the word "prato" (dish) is a masculine noun. The gender of each noun must be learned, although there is a rule of thumb that does help you to greatly minimize the amount of mistakes that can be made - you will meet it in the next few paragraphs.
Portuguese articles and adjectives also have masculine and feminine forms. Their gender is determined by the noun they are with (masculine nouns must be linked to masculine articles and adjectives, and feminine nouns to feminine articles or adjectives). Looking at a word's article, it is possible to say which is the gender if the noun. The definite articles in Portuguese are:
|Definite article ("the")|
Unlike English, grammatical gender isn't always correlated to sexual gender; it is sometimes correlated, but it is not a rule.
- a mulher ("the woman") – "mulher" is a feminine noun.
- o homem ("the man") – "homem" is a masculine noun.
- a criança ("the child") – "criança" is a feminine noun, but it is used both for boys and girls.
There is a tip about determining the gender of a singular noun: the last vowel of a noun is often the same as that of the definite article of its gender. It means that nouns ending in -o are mostly masculine, and nouns ending in -a are mostly feminine.
- a casa ("the house") – "casa" is a feminine noun.
- o almoço ("the lunch") – "almoço" is a masculine noun.
- a caixa ("the box") – "caixa" is a feminine noun.
- o quarto ("the room") – "quarto" is a masculine noun.
Portuguese indefinite articles are easier to learn than the definite ones. Let's look at them:
|Indefinite article ("a", "an", "some")|
- uma mulher ("a woman")
- um homem ("a man")
- uma criança ("a child")
- uma casa ("a house")
- um almoço ("a lunch")
The plural form of the indefinite article has the meaning of the english "some".
- umas caixas ("some boxes")
- uns quartos ("some rooms")
It is worth calling attention to the fact that um and uma are also the numerals for the English one - in Portuguese, numerals also accord to the gender of the noun they refer to.
Homem (men) is masculine and mulher (women) is feminine. What is the article of...
- (os) men are tall.
- (as) women
There are eight personal pronouns (Portuguese: "pronomes pessoais") in standard Portuguese:
|3. s.||ele||he, it|
|2. p.||vós||you all|
Some of these are unusual or absolutely not used in common Brazilian Portuguese. The pronoun "vós" is never used colloquially (even in European Portuguese), either in formal language or in informal language; however, you will find it in classic literary work. Also, in some dialects, the pronoun "tu" is no longer used. Instead of the second-person pronouns, one may use the address pronouns (Portuguese: "pronomes de tratamento") "você" (singular) and "vocês" (plural). Despite being second person pronouns (meaning "you" and "you all"), they behave as third person pronouns (all address pronouns behave the same way).
The pronoun "nós" is becoming increasingly avoided by many people (especially the younger) in colloquial language, although a significant portion of the population still uses it. Instead, "a gente" (literally: "the people") is used. Though it actually means "we", it is a feminine noun, and behaves as a third person singular "pronoun".
|Personal and address pronouns|
(in colloquial language)
|você||behaves as third person singular|
|3. s.||he, it||ele|
|a gente*||not actually a pronoun|
behaves as third person singular
|2. p.||you all||vocês||behaves as third person plural|
Languages such as Italian, German, Polish and even Portuguese have special words to address people politely. In Italian, Lei is used for addressing both a man and a woman, generally an unknown or someone we know but are not intimate with; in Polish one has Pan for men and Pani for women. In Portuguese, it is customary to address older people, or anyone we would want to be respectful with, by o senhor (the male form, equivalent to the english "sir") and a senhora (the female form, equivalento to "madam"). These words mean, respectively, "the sir" and "the madam". When using the vocative, the articles ("o" and "a") are removed.
- Senhor, que horas são? ("What time is it, sir?")
- Com licença, senhora, qual o nome desta rua? ("Excuse me madam, what is the name of this street?")
- Como a senhora está? ("How are you?", polite)
However, do not address people by senhor or senhora unless they are of a certain age, or if they are in an important position. Brazilians tend to be very informal and many people might find it strange to be addressed by senhor or senhora. As a matter of fact, they might even feel old - and they will let you know it sometimes, albeit with a great dose of good humor!
Adjectives and nouns
Portuguese nouns, just like English ones, are inflected in singular and plural forms. As said before, adjectives must have the same gender of the noun they are connected to. Adjectives must also have the same grammar number (singular, plural) of their nouns.
In normal situations, the adjectives are put after the noun, but they may be put before. Putting the adjective before the noun may cause a different interpretation, or may sound weird to a native speaker. This is because putting an adjective before a noun is mostly used in literary work.
To turn the vast majority of common nouns and adjectives to their plural form, just add -s at the end of the word.
- a pessoa elegante ("the elegant person")
- as pessoas elegantes ("the elegant people")
All adjectives which end in -o also change in gender. To turn them into their feminine forms, change the final -o to -a. The gender of some nouns which end in -o may be changed the same way.
- o menino cansado ("the tired boy")
- os meninos cansados ("the tired boys")
- a menina cansada ("the tired girl")
- as meninas cansadas ("the tired girls")
You will also find many nouns and adjectives that end with an r. Such nouns are generally masculine; the female form will usually take an a:
- o pintor ("the painter", male)
- a pintora ("the painter", female)
- o professor ("the teacher", male)
- a professora ("the teacher", female)
Some adjectives that end in -z take -es for forming the plural.
- o indivíduo feliz ("the happy person")
- os indivíduos felizes ("the happy people")
Most nouns and adjectives ending in -l have their last syllables stressed. The plural of such words is made by changing the -l for -is.
- o código penal ("the penal code")
- os códigos penais ("the penal codes")
Some nouns ending in -l don't have their last syllable stressed (marked by the circumflex or by the acute accent), so they don't get -is for pluralizing. Instead, they get -es, just like words ending in -z.
- o cônsul ("the consul")
- os cônsules ("the consuls")
Of course, there would be exceptions to the simple rule. One of them is when a noun ends with -ão, which becomes ões:
- o avião ("the airplane")
- os aviões ("the airplane")
- o balão ("the balloon")
- os balões ("the balloons")
This ending can also be used to for the augmentative form of nouns. Used colloquially, it can also be an enhancement to the quality expressed by the adjective, but only in the masculine:
- amarelo ("yellow")
- amarelão ("intense yellow")
- bonito ("handsome")
- bonitão ("very handsome")
The feminine version of this "superlative" form would be -ona. The grammatically correct form used generally would be to add "muito" (very) before the adjective, or the append the suffix -íssimo:
- alto ("tall", "high")
- muito alto ("very tall", "very high")
- altíssimo ("extremely tall")
as opposed to altão, which would be a colloquial but very common form for muito alto.
Copula verbs ('ser' and 'estar')
Copula verbs (Portuguese: verbos de ligação) are verbs which mean "to be". Portuguese make a distinction between two copula verbs: "estar" and "ser". While "estar" denotes a non-permanent situation (like "to stand" or "to stay"), "ser" denotes a permanent situation.
- estar feliz ("to be happy") – being happy is not a permanent situation.
- ser feliz ("to be happy") – being happy is a permanent situation.
The copula verb "estar" is also used with places (where it happens) and "ser" is used with time (when it happens).
- estar aqui ("to be here")
- ser noite ("to be night")
Portuguese verbs conjugate or inflect, having different forms for each grammatical person. Most verbs follow one of three regular conjugation patterns. There are several irregular verbs; the two copula verbs are irregular. The first verb you will learn is "estar" in the simple present. Portuguese grammar calls this tense present indicative (Portuguese: presente do indicativo).
|1. s.||eu estou||I am|
|2. s.||você está||you are|
|3. s.||ele/ela está||he/she/it is|
|1. p.||nós estamos||we are|
|2. p.||vocês estão||you all are|
|3. p.||eles/elas estão||they are|
- Eu estou feliz! ("I am happy!")
- Nós estamos alegres. ("We are happy.")
As seen before, the adress pronouns "você" and "vocês" behave as third-person pronouns, so they get third-person inflected verbs. A similar phenomenon happens with "a gente", which gets the third person singular. Paradoxically, if you use the third person plural form with "a gente", people will frown at you!
- A gente está alegre! ("We are happy!")
- Tu estás aqui! ("You are here!")
- Você está lá. ("You are there!")
When having lots of subjects, the conjugation is that of the equivalent personal pronoun.
- Eu e você ("I and you" are "we") estamos aqui. ("I and you are here")
- Tu e ele ("you and he" are "you all") estais aqui. ("You and he are here")
- Você e ele ("you and he" are "you all") estão aqui. ("You and he are here")
For turning a sentence to the negative form, just put the adverb "não" (not) before the verb. For turning a sentence to the interrogative forms, don't change the place of verbs as you do in English.
- Eles estão lá. ("They are there.")
- Eles não estão lá. ("They are not there.")
- Eles estão lá? ("Are they there?")
- Eles não estão lá? ("Are they not there.")
As the verb changes for each person, one can take the pronoun out of a sentence. Portuguese grammar calls this phenomenon hidden subject (Portuguese: sujeito oculto). The hidden subject is a widely used element both in informal and formal speech.
- Eu estou elegante. / Estou elegante. ("I am elegant.")
- Nós estamos elegantes. / Estamos elegantes. ("We are elegant.")
The hidden subject is meant to be used only with first-person and second-person forms of inflected verbs. Using it for the third person, might cause some confusion, since "vocês" and "eles/elas" take the same verbal form.
- Você está feliz? / Está feliz? ("Are you happy?")
- Ele está feliz? / Está feliz? ("Is he happy?")
- Ela está feliz? / Está feliz? ("Is she happy?")
- A gente está feliz? / Está feliz? ("Is she happy?")
- Vocês estão felizes? / Estão felizes? ("Are you all happy?")
- Eles estão felizes? / Estão felizes? ("Are they happy?")
- Elas estão felizes? / Estão felizes? ("Are they happy?")
When one hides a third-person singular subject, it can be either "ele" (he), "ela" (she), "você" (you) or even "a gente" (we), and when one hides a third-person plural subject, it can be either "eles" (they), "elas" (they) or "vocês" (you all). Grammatically it is called indeterminate subject (Portuguese: sujeito indeterminado). However, in colloquial Brazilian Portuguese, a hidden subject of third person is always meant to be "ele" or "ela" - colloquially, the hidden subject is not used for plural forms at all.
Colloquial form of some pronouns and the verb 'estar'
This is quite important to understand colloquial Brazilian Portuguese, independently of the dialect one considers. You will only very rarely hear the verb "estar" fully pronounced. Only a few people will pronounce it fully and not sound pedantic. Instead, most of the time you will hear their contracted forms.
The contracted form of "você" is "cê" (plural: "cês"), and the contracted forms of the verb "estar" are obtained simply by removing the initial syllable ("es") from the fully conjugated form. So, if someday you are walking through the streets of Brazil and you hear someone asking on the phone:
- Onde cês tão?
you won't panic. Instead, you'll have that enlightened smile of someone who knows that the question was
- Onde vocês estão?
However, it is important to know that "você" is usually but not always contracted. Generally, after "para" (for), and as a vocative, "você" is not contracted:
- Eu trouxe este presente para você. ("I brought you this gift.")
- Você! É, você! Me ajude aqui, por favor! ("You! Yes, you! Please help me here!")
In English, the continuous tense (Portuguese: tempo contínuo) is formed by combining "to be" with the present participle of a verb. In Portuguese, it is formed the same way, with the auxiliary verb "estar". The present participle is called gerund (Portuguese: gerúndio) by Portuguese grammar. The infinitive verbs are preceded with "to" in English. In Portuguese, all of them end in -r. To form the gerund tense, just change their -r to -ndo.
- Eu estou andando. ("I am walking.")
- Por que vocês estão sorrindo? ("Why are you all smiling?")
John is from England, and he is learning to speak Brazilian Portuguese. He meets his Brazilian friends Renata and Marcelo, who also live in England.
|atrasado||late||regular inflection (atrasado, atrasada, atrasados, atrasadas)|
|(a) aula||(the) class||feminine noun (plural aulas)|
|bem||(estar bem)||reduced form of estar bem|
|estar||to be (in)||irregular present indicative (estou, estás, está, estamos, estais, estão).|
|estar bem||to be fine||bem is an adverb which means well.|
|ir embora||to leave, to go out||ir means to go|
|oi, olá||hello, hi|
|(o) idioma português||(the) Portuguese language||masculine noun (plural portugueses)|
|você||you (single person)||takes third-person singular verb.|
|vocês||you all||takes third-person plural verb.|