Basic Foundations of Portuguese - 2

Portuguese 101: the Definite + Indefinite articles and how to form the Plural

Olá!

Hope you all had a great weekend.

Today we will learn…

How to use Definite vs Indefinite Articles in Portuguese.

These articles are used all the time in English when addressing any matter:

  • the” (known as a definite article, which refers to an exact noun or object - the car, the apple, the people);

  • a”, “an”, “some” (known as an indefinite article, which refers to a noun or object of no particular importance or clarity - a car, an apple, some people).

It sounds quite easy, right? Things can get a bit come complicated when learning Portuguese, as the use of these articles is less straight forward compared with English.

In Portuguese, ALL nouns and adjectives can be either masculine or feminine and, at the same time, either singular or plural.


Let’s have a few simple examples:

  1. Definite Articles (o, a, os, as = “the”)

    • Masculine Singular: O gato é bonito. (“The cat is pretty”)

    • Feminine Singular: A gata é bonita. (“The cat is pretty”)

    • Masculine Plural: Os gatos são bonitos. (“The cats are pretty”)

    • Feminine Plural: As gatas são bonitas. (“The cats are pretty”)

  2. Indefinite Articles (um, uma, uns, umas = “a, an, some”)

    • Masculine Singular: Um homem atravessou a rua (“A man crossed the street”)

    • Feminine Singular: Uma mulher atravessou a rua (“A woman crossed the street”)

    • Masculine Plural: Uns homens atravessaram a rua (“Some men crossed the street”)

    • Feminine Plural: Umas mulheres atravessaram a rua (“Some women crossed the street”)

As you can see from the examples above, there are four different ways of writing these phrases in Portuguese, depending on if the noun is either masculine or feminine and singular or plural.


One of the questions my students normally ask me is: how do I know if a noun or adjective is either masculine or feminine?

  • There is a little hint: nouns ending in -o are mostly masculine, and nouns ending in -a are mostly feminine:

    • A bola ("the ball") – "bola" is a feminine noun.

    • O quarto (“the room”) - “quarto” is a masculine noun.

  • But, as expected, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Here are some examples:

    • O sofa (“the sofa”)

    • O mel (“the honey”)

    • O sol (“The sun”)

    • Etc.

      • Hint: When unsure about the gender of the noun because it ends in a different letter - look up the word’s gender in a Portuguese-English dictionary.


Another two important points to keep in mind are:

The adjective’s gender should match the gender of the noun.

Like nouns, masculine adjectives normally end in -o, and feminine adjectives end in -a.

Every time you describe the noun with an adjective — like bonito (pretty), engraçado (funny), or pequeno (small) — you change the end of the adjective to make it either masculine or feminine.

  • O gato é bonito.

  • As gatas são bonitas.

Although, some adjectives are neutral and stay the same for both masculine and feminine nouns. 

  • A casa é grande (“the house is big”)

  • O cão é inteligente. (“the dog is intelligent”)

  • Etc.

The adjectives usually come after the nouns.

This is the opposite of English:

  • She saw a small cat. - Ela viu um gato pequeno.

  • The couple bought a big house. - O casal comprou uma casa grande.


Let’s now talk about the Plural.

As you probably have already noticed, the plural is formed by:

  • Adding -s to words ending in vowels (a/ e/ i/ o/ u), and -es to those ending in consonants;

  • Words ending in -m, it changes to -ns;

  • Words ending in -ão, it changes to -ães or -ões;

  • Words ending in -ãe, ir changes to -ães.

    • A banana > as bananas

    • O tio > os tios (the uncle/ uncles)

    • A viagem > as viagens (the journey/ journeys)

    • O cão > os cães (the dog/ dogs)

    • O pão > os pães (the bread/ more than one piece of bread)

    • A mãe > as mães (the mother/ the mothers)


Here are some simple exercises you can do at home, to practise what you have just learnt:

EXERCISE 1

Learn what the words mean, and fill in the blanks with the appropriate definite article.

  1. …. rapariga bonita.

  2. …. rapaz feio.

  3. …. escritório do pai.

  4. …. casa é grande.

  5. …. flores cheiram bem.

  6. …. gatos brincam.

  7. …. alunas estudam.

  8. …. mesa está limpa.

  9. …. mesas estão limpas.

EXERCISE 2

Learn these new words and then fill in the blanks with the appropriate indefinite article.

  1. …. viagem a Paris.

  2. …. escritório à venda.

  3. .... avião aterrou.

  4. …. cidade cosmopolita.

  5. …. bilhete (m.) para o teatro.

  6. …. homens mudaram de emprego.

  7. …. mulheres foram ao cabeleireiro.

  8. …. viagens compradas.

  9. …. escritórios à venda.

  10. …. raparigas bonitas.


I hope this lesson was useful and written in a way that made these grammar basics somewhat simpler to understand.

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I will be posting again next week - stay tuned!

Obrigada e até à próxima!

Joana