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3rd Person Possessives: De + Pronoun

The Ambiguity of Seu, Sua, Seus, and Suas

To review, the Portuguese possessive pronouns/determiners for the third-person forms are the following:

Subject Possessive Pronoun/Determiner English Equivalent
Ele, Ela, Você Seu paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Sua paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Seus paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Suas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio His, Her/Hers, Your/Yours(formal)
Eles, Elas Seu paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Sua paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Seus paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Suas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their, Theirs

As you can see, ele paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio he, him, ela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio she, her, você paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio you(formal), eles paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio they, them(masc.), and elas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio they, them(fem.) 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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Her sofa is very comfortable.

Without any extra context, this could also mean His sofa, Your(formal) sofa, or Their sofa

A sua caldeirada de marisco é de morrer. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio His seafood stew is to die for.

This could also mean Her stew, Your(formal) stew, or Their stew

Os seus sapatos são feitos à mão. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Her shoes are handmade.

This could also mean His shoes, Your(formal) shoes, or Their shoes

As suas encomendas foram enviadas para trás. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of, from with the third-person subject pronouns. Let’s see what they look like:

  • De paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Of + Ele paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio He, him = Dele paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio His
  • De paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Of + Ela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio She, her = Dela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Her
  • De paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Of + Eles paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio They, them(masc.) = Deles paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their(masc.)
  • De paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Of + Elas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio They, them(fem.) = Delas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their(fem.)

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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio His coat and his t-shirt? Her coat? Their t-shirt? Who knows?
O casaco e a t-shirt dela. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio 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.

More Examples

Dele

Dele is used for the third person singular, referring to a masculine subject. It is equivalent to “his” in English. Example:
O cão dele é velho. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio His dog is old.

Dela

Dela is used for the third person singular, referring to a feminine subject. It is equivalent to “her” in English. Example:
As calças dela são azuis. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Her trousers are blue.

Deles

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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their grades worsened this semester.

Delas

Delas is used for the third person plural, referring to feminine subjects only. It is equivalent to “their” in English. Example:
Os carros delas são a gasóleo. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their cars run on diesel fuel.
Later in this unit, we’ll review this topic and get more examples comparing when to use dele vs seu.

Sidenote…

Dele(s) and dela(s) are not strictly possessive words. They also show up in other contexts when you need to combine the preposition de with ele(s) or ela(s). For example:

  • A Maria gosta delas. – Maria likes them. | Remember that gostar is followed by de. Elas could refer to a group of females or to a plural feminine noun, such as canetas (pens)
  • Falam muito bem deles. – They speak very well (highly) of them. | Eles could refer to a group of people, or to a plural masculine noun.
  • O Paulo falou dele – Paulo talked about him. | Ele could also refer to “it”, a singular masculine noun.

Comments

  • No surprise, this is confusing. In the examples, like “o cao dele”, could you not also use “o seu cao”. Likewise for the other examples.
    I can see why its important to be able to discriminate when things are ambiguous, like the t-shirt example, but not with the s-possessives and the de-le possessives. If there is no ambiguity, can you use either just as well?

    • Oh, yes, “o cão dele” is just as valid as “o seu cão”. These are all alternative ways of expressing the same with less ambiguity, but it’s not an either/or situation. You can always use the s-possessives if you know you’ll be understood 🙂

  • Clever putting the De +le last so that we can understand the distinction and have more options when speaking.

  • Olá, Bruce. Sorry if not all words include audios yet, we’re working on it 🙂 The audios are recorded in bulk every so often. But then, whenever Learning Notes are updated, some audios might need to be re-recorded or re-linked. In time, we hope to get it all perfect!

  • AFTER LEARNING ON OTHER SITES FOR A FEW MONTHS, I AM VERY HAPPY TO HAVE DISCOVERED YOU. THE DIFFERENCE IS STRIKING. THE ATTENTION TO REALLY MAKE US UNDERSTANDING IS THE QUALITY THAT DISTINGUISHES YOU. GREAT WORK AND THANK YOU!. THE SOUND OF RECORDING WITH PICTURES IS STILL DIFFICULT TO GRASP, BUT THE SOUND OF THE ” LOUDSPEAKER” IS OF VERY GOOD QUALITY I HAVE FOUND MY TEACHERS!

    • Thank you so much for the kind feedback! We’re really happy to hear the site is making a difference for you.

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