Clitic Pronouns: 3rd Person

In this lesson we’ll explore 3rd-person clitic object pronouns in Portuguese. Both the singular and plural forms work in the exact same way. Let’s look at the direct pronouns first, followed by the indirect pronouns.

3rd Person Direct Object Clitic Pronouns

The following clitic pronouns stand in for him, her, it, or them as the direct object. We have the default forms: o/a/os/as, plus two variants:

  • lo/la/los/las (used after a consonant) and
  • no/na/nos/nas (used after a nasal sound)

O/A, Os/As

Third person direct pronouns are replaced by o or a (corresponding to him or her, respectively) in singular form and os or as (standing for them, masculine and feminine) in plural form.
Examples:
Ela detestava-o profundamente. She hated him deeply.
Ele amava-a do fundo do coração. He loved her from the bottom of his heart.
Adoro-as, mas só se estiverem maduras. I love them, but only when they’re ripe.

Lo/La, Los/Las

If the last sound before the direct object clitic pronoun is a consonant, that consonant is dropped and an L is placed at the beginning of the clitic. In all the examples below, the preceding verb would have ended with an s (conheces, amavas, afinavas), so the s was dropped and the l was added onto the default clitic form.
Examples:
Conhece-lo há muito tempo? Have you known him for long?
Amava-la assim tanto? Did you love her that much?
Afinal, afinava-las desde que eras criança. After all, you have tuned them ever since you were a child.

No/Na, Nos/Nas

These forms are used for verbs ending in a nasal sound, in other words, verbs that end in –am/-em/-êm/-ão. In this case, you keep the nasal sound and just add an n to the beginning of the default direct object clitic form.
Examples:
Eles davam-no de graça. They gave it for free.
Apresentaram-na ontem na televisão. They introduced her yesterday on the television.
Eles idolatravam-nos, era uma loucura. They idolised them, it was insane.

3rd Person Indirect Object Clitic Pronouns

The two indirect pronouns for the third person singular and plural are lhe and lhes, respectively. (Lhe is also the pronoun used in place of você you formal). Keep in mind that the rules above about dropping the -s or adding an L or N do not apply to these indirect object clitic pronouns.

Lhe, Lhes

The clitic pronouns lhe (singular) and lhes (plural) stand in as the indirect object in place of:

  • (to/for) him
  • (to/for) her
  • (to/for) it
  • (to/for) you (singular, formal)
  • (to/for) them

Examples:
Eu fazia-lhe esse favor. I'd do him that favour.
Os pais gostavam muito delas e faziam-lhes todas as vontades. Their parents loved them dearly and indulged their every wish.

Comments:

    • A bit of an odd example, but the verb “afinar” means to tune (as in, tuning a musical instrument or singing in a correct pitch), hence the translation.

  • idolatrovam-nos, nos here means ‘them’, but can it also mean they ridiculed ‘us’, since ‘nos’ also means ‘us’? it’s very confusing…..

    • Yes, Hana, that’s correct. Because of the nasal ending in ‘idolatravam‘ (conjugated in the plural form), the subsequent pronoun must be modified, from -os to -nos. So, there’s this confusing overlap when you have a plural subject, but never when the subject is singular. In this example, if the subject were Ele instead of Eles, you’d get “Ele idolatrava-os“.

      All of this is more difficult to understand when you don’t have the whole context for the sentences. In a full text or dialogue, you’ll be able to make the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ more easily 🙂

  • Olá Rui & Joel,

    I just grabbed my Portuguese grammar book to see if it has all variations you are explaining and saw that there is an other case:

    infinitive + 3rd person direct objects
    convidar + o = convidá-lo
    beber + a = bebê-la
    ver + os = vê-los
    preferir + as = preferi-los

    But besides that this explanation really helped to understand the objects in Portuguese. I did not quite remember from my grammar book but I am sure I will remember from your lesson 🙂

    Beijinhos!

    Linda

    • Olá, Linda. That’s right, you can also use the pronouns with the infinitive forms of verbs. We’ll add that info. Thanks for your comment!

  • Hi team
    Could you clarify something for me, please? In the example:

    Adoro-as, más só se estiveram maduras = I love them, but only when they are ripe

    Why is the second clause of the Portuguese sentence in past tense (Pretérito), but the translation is in present tense. Would it be incorrect to say…
    … só se estāo maduras. ?

    Sorry to be picky, but I’m really trying to get my head round these tricky little rascals!
    Best wishes
    Geraldine

    • Olá, Geraldine. The sentence is actually “Adoro-as, más só se estiverem maduras”. This is a future subjunctive conjugation, and the subjunctive fits pretty well in the example, since it’s talking about a hypothetical situation, one of its uses 🙂 It’s easy to confuse it with estiveram, which is indeed a past tense conjugation, but it’s not used here.

  • Ola a todos!

    I have a question. I was told by a Portuguese teacher that if a sentence was a question, had a question word (quem, quando, qual, etc), or was negative, then word order changes.

    This would mean that a sentence like “Tambem convidaste os teus primos?” would actually be “Tambem os convidaste?” rather than “Tambem convidaste-os?” or “Nao, nao vi os teus oculos.” would be “Nao, nao los vi.”

    Am I misunderstanding something?

    • Olá Rochelle! Your teacher gave you a rule of thumb which does apply in many cases. We cover that in another Learning Note: Introduction to Clitic Object Pronouns
      But it is not a strict rule, as there are several exceptions, with certain sentence structures and wordings that either allow for different placements of the pronouns or force a specific placement which might go against the norm. We’re actually working on expanding on these Learning Notes to give everyone more information on that 🙂

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