In Portuguese, adjectives change form depending on the gender and number of the noun. Similarly to English, they can also be expressed in different graus Play slow audio Play normal audio degrees:
- grau normal Play slow audio Play normal audio positive degree
- grau comparativo Play slow audio Play normal audio comparative degree
- grau superlativo Play slow audio Play normal audio superlative degree
This is the basic form of each adjective. We use it to qualify a noun without making any comparisons.
A Joana é uma rapariga feliz. Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana is a happy girl.
O teste foi fácil. Play slow audio Play normal audio The test was easy.
You use the comparative degree to… you guessed it: compare!
A Joana é mais feliz que o Pedro. Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana is happier than Pedro.
A Joana é mais inteligente que estudiosa. Play slow audio Play normal audio Joana is more smart than studious.
In the first sentence, we’re comparing the happiness of two different people. In the second, we’re comparing two different attributes of the same person.
The comparative degree can be further divided into:
- Superiority: This type expresses the idea of “more ___ than” using the adverb mais Play slow audio Play normal audio more. The format is mais + adjective + que or do que.
- Inferiority: This type expresses the idea of “less ___ than” using the adverb menos Play slow audio Play normal audio less. The format is menos + adjective + que or do que.
- Equality: This type expresses the idea of “as ___ as“ using the adverb tão Play slow audio Play normal audio as, so. The format is tão + adjective + the conjunctions como or quanto.
The superlative degree is used when the attribute indicated by the adjective is present at a level greater than normal. It’s the only degree in which the adjectives themselves are modified, instead of just complemented by other words.
The superlative is further divided in two forms:
- Absolute superlative: This form is used to talk about possessing a high level of a certain quality. In English, we would use adverbs such as very before the adjective.
- Relative superlative: This form is used when you want to talk about the highest level of that quality in comparison to others. In English, this is where we would use words like most and least, or the suffix -est.
Let’s see some examples of both types:
- The first way is by adding an adverb that indicates excess before the adjective. This could be an adverb like excessivamente Play slow audio Play normal audio excessively or imensamente Play slow audio Play normal audio immensely, but the most common one is muito Play slow audio Play normal audio very Lisboa é muito bonita. Play slow audio Play normal audio Lisbon is very beautiful.
- The second way is to transform the adjective itself by adding the suffix -íssimo. For example, fértil Play slow audio Play normal audio fertile becomes:
There are a few variations for adding the suffix that depend on how the adjective is spelled:
- If the adjective ends with a vowel, you need to remove that vowel before adding -íssimo
- If the adjective ends in -vel, you drop those three letters and add the suffix -bilíssimo instead
- If it ends with -z, you remove it and add -císsimo
- Also note that these suffixes must agree in gender and number with the noun being modified, so the final -o could become -a, -os, or -as.
The superlativo relativo Play slow audio Play normal audio is a little simpler, as it just involves some slight modifications to the comparative form. The structure is: definite article (o, a) + comparativo + de
There are two forms:
- Relative superlative of superiority: o/a + mais + de
- Relative superlative of inferiority: o/a + menos + de
Esta rapariga é a menos feliz do grupo. Play slow audio Play normal audio This girl is the least happy of the group.
The term possível Play slow audio Play normal audio possible, or another equivalent expression, can also be used to form the superlative relativo.
A casa é a mais barata possível. Play slow audio Play normal audio The house is the cheapest possible.
There are a few very common Portuguese adjectives which are exceptions to the rules we’ve just covered. They use a completely different word in their comparative and superlative forms, similar to how English uses the word “better” instead of “more good than” and “the best” instead of “the most good”.
Note: Pequeno is not a total exception, because the construction mais pequeno que is also absolutely acceptable and probably more often used than menor.