The Ambiguity of Seu, Sua, Seus, and Suas
To review, the possessive pronouns/determiners for the third-person forms are the following:
|Subject||Possessive Pronoun/Determiner||English Equivalent|
|Ele, Ela, Você||Seu Sua Seus Suas||His, Her/Hers, Your/Yours(formal)|
|Eles, Elas||Seu Sua Seus Suas||Their, Theirs|
As you can see, ele he, him, ela she, her, você youformal, eles they, themmasc., and elas they, themfem. all share the same exact possessive determiners! Since the determiners agree with both the number and the gender of the noun that is being possessed (rather than the subject), knowing precisely who we’re talking about is a bit tricky. Let’s see some examples:
O seu sofá é muito confortável. Her sofa is very comfortable.
Without any extra context, this could also mean His sofa, Your(formal) sofa, or Their sofaA sua caldeirada de marisco é de morrer. His seafood stew is to die for.
This could also mean Her stew, Your(formal) stew, or Their stewOs seus sapatos são feitos à mão. Her shoes are handmade.
This could also mean His shoes, Your(formal) shoes, or Their shoesAs suas encomendas foram enviadas para trás. His packages were sent back.
This could also mean Her packages, Your(formal) packages, or Their packages
A Better Alternative Using “De”
Confusing, right? Luckily, Portuguese also has another way to talk about possession which makes things a bit clearer. To avoid confusion, you can use these four determiners: dele, dela, deles, delas. These are formed by contracting the preposition de of, from with the third-person subject pronouns. Let’s see what they look like:
Both ways are correct, but using “de” + the pronoun is more specific in the way it references the intended subject.
O seu casaco e a sua t-shirt. His coat and his t-shirt? Her coat? Their t-shirt? Who knows?
O casaco e a t-shirt dela. Her coat and t-shirt. With no other possibility.
Differences in usage
There are 2 important differences regarding the use of dele, deles, dela, and delas:
- They are always placed after the noun
- They agree in gender and number with the subject/person who owns the noun (instead of agreeing with the noun itself)
Because it avoids ambiguity, the third-person possessive with dele, dela, deles and delas is very convenient and more frequently used in everyday life compared to seu, sua, seus and suas.
Deles is used for the third person plural, referring to a masculine subject (or when both males and females are being referenced collectively). It is equivalent to “their” in English. Example:
As notas deles pioraram este semestre. Their grades worsened this semester.