Today I will write about the Portuguese articles – definite and indefinite. One thing you have to know is that in European Portuguese, we always use and abuse these grammar particles.
Like in English, we use the indefinite articles to speak about something that we are presenting in the discourse for the first time.
On the other hand, the definite articles are here to tell us about some noun that we already know. They introduce something more specific.
Let us take a look at the following example:
ex: “Tenho um livro bonito” (“I have a beautiful book”); “O livro é branco” (“The book is white“).
In the example above, while in the first sentence we did not know which book we were talking about, since it was introduced for the first time then and there, in the second part we already know we are speaking about a specific book, i.e., the book I have, which is beautiful. Therefore, in the first sentence we use an indefinite article, while in the second one we use a definite article.
Until here, it seems simple enough. Right?
In English there is only one definite article – “the” – and two indefinite articles – a and an – but in Portuguese there are many more. In fact, we have different articles for every gender (feminine or masculine) and number (singular or plural). What I mean is that if a noun is masculine and singular, it will take a different definite or indefinite article than if it is a feminine singular, for example.
Another thing that you, my dear students, have to understand, is that in Portuguese almost EVERY noun is assigned a gender. It is either masculine or feminine. There are some exceptions, but they are really just only a few.
So, even if it does not make sense to you (probably because your language does not assign a gender to things) that a pen is feminine, in Portugal we really look at a pen and see a feminine object (at least from my experience and by questioning other people). This happens because in our language, the word “pen” is feminine and we say “a caneta”. See what I did there? I wrote “the pen” but the “the” part is feminine and singular in this case, because the noun is feminine and singular as well.
If I were to say “the pens”, however, I would have to change the definite article into “as”, because that is the article corresponding to the feminine, plural nouns.
To give you an overview of all the definite articles, here is a table I made to make it easier:
|Portuguese Definite Articles|
1. So, now that you know this chart, and that you know that “casa” (house) is a feminine singular word in Portuguese, which of the above-written articles would you choose?
- o casa
- a casa
- os casa
- as casa
2. In the same way, knowing that “barco” (boat) is a masculine noun in European Portuguese, which of the articles in the table would you choose?
- o barco
- a barco
- os barco
- as barco
Can you put them into the plural form?
Just write down what you think is the right choice and keep reading to find the correct answers.
By now what you must be thinking is, “but how can I know which article to assign to a noun? How can I know if a pen is feminine or masculine (well, this one is easy cause I already told you)?”
Well, the truth is, there are some rules you can follow, but all those rules will have exceptions. However, if you follow them there will be a chance that you will be right.
RULES for assigning gender in Portuguese:
– Words ending in “o” are generally masculine.
Examples: “o carro”, “o cavalo”, “o quadro”;
– Words ending in “ama” or “ema” are also generally masculine.
Examples: “o programa”, “o pijama”, “o tema”, “o problema”;
– Words ending in “a” are generally feminine.
Examples: “a casa”, “a banana”, “a cama”;
– Words ending in “ção“, which have the translation to words ending in “ion” in English (like a tradução – the translation) are generally feminine.
Examples: “a intenção” (in English, the intention), “a poluição” (in English, the pollution);
– Words that end in “gem” or “ade” are also generally feminine;
Examples: “a margem”, “a espionagem”, “a garagem”.
The indefinite articles work exactly in the same way as the definite articles. What I mean is a noun that is feminine and singular, will take the equivalent indefinite article. In this case, if we want to say “a pen” (we already know that pen is feminine and singular), then we will say “uma caneta”. “Uma” is then the indefinite article that corresponds to the feminine, singular nouns. If, on the other hand we wanted to make it plural, we would have to use the article “umas”, which is the article one should use for feminine, plural nouns.
I also made a table to help you with your indefinite articles. Take a look:
|Portuguese Indefinite Articles|
3. So, let´s try the same game we tried above with the definite articles? As you already know, “casa” is feminine and also singular. So if you wanted to say “a house” this time, which one of the following numbers would you choose?
- um casa
- uma casa
- uns casa
- umas casa
4. In the same way, knowing that “barco” (boat) is a masculine and singular noun in European Portuguese, which of the following lines would you choose?
- um barco
- uma barco
- uns barco
- umas barco
Can you put them into the plural form?
Again, just write them down and continue reading, because the answer will come at the end.
There is just one or two more details I want to point out about the indefinite articles. While “um” and “uma” mean “a/an”, “uns” and “umas” mean “some” in English. So, if I say, “Eu vi umas casas”, that means that “I saw some houses”. There is also another way to say this, which is with “algum/alguns/alguma/algumas”, but you ought not to worry about it now. Just know that “uns” and “umas” mean “some”, instead of “a/an”.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you use a masculine, singular definite article with a certain noun, that means that the noun is masculine and singular and that will remain like that when you extend it to the use of the indefinite articles and vice-versa. So, if you say “o carro” (the car), because you know that “carro” is a masculine, singular word, then you will also have to use the indefinite article which is masculine and singular “um carro” (a car).
Alright, folks! If you made it till here, I want to congratulate you! You have just learnt something new about the amazing European Portuguese language and I am proud of you! Keep going and exploring around to know more!
But before I go, here are the correct answers for the exercises above:
1.1 – A casa – Plural: as casas (Do not worry, I will tell you more about how to form your plurals in another post)
1.2 – O barco – Plural : os barcos
1.3 – Uma casa – Plural : umas casas
1.4 – Um barco – Plural : uns barcos
Did you get it right? If you did, congratulations! If you didn’t, don’t give up. If you have any questions, just ask me in the comments below. I would be glad to answer them!