3rd Person Possessives: De + Pronoun

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 sofa

A 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 stew

Os seus sapatos são feitos à mão. Her shoes are handmade.

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

As 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:

De Of + Ele He, him = Dele His

De Of + Ela She, her = Dela Her

De Of + Eles They, themmasc. = Deles Theirmasc.

De Of + Elas They, themfem. = Delas Theirfem.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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. Their cars run on diesel fuel.

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 🙂

  • 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!

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