Dele(s) and Dela(s) vs. Seu(s) and Sua(s)

Dele(s) and Dela(s) vs. Seu(s) and Sua(s)

How do we decide when to use dele, dela, deles, delas  vs. seu, sua, seus, suas?

dele, dela, deles, delas

  • Dele His – When the subject is ele (him).
  • Dela Her – When the subject is ela (her).
  • Deles Their – When the subject is eles (them, a group with at least one male).
  • Delas Their – When the subject is elas (them, an all-female group).

seu, sua, seus, suas

These are also used for the same 3rd person subjects, but the specific form used must match the object/noun being modified.

  • seu (masc. object) or sua (fem. object) – For a single object, regardless of which subject
  • seus (masc. objects) or suas (fem. objects) – For multiple objects, regardless of which subject

This is why the possessives formed with de are less ambiguous: they agree strictly with the subject, not with the object. With seu and its derivatives, we are not able to differentiate between the several possible 3rd person subjects without extra context.

Disambiguation with Dele(s) and Dela(s)

Let’s say we had uma caneta a pen (fem. noun) and um lápis a pencil (masc. noun) and want to talk about who each belongs to. Notice that the examples below using seu and sua are all the same, despite very different meanings which are revealed with the use of dele(s) and dela(s).

Single male subject (ele):

A sua caneta e o seu lápis. His pen and his pencil. – Object agreement.
A caneta dele e o lápis dele. His pen and his pencil. – Subject agreement.

Single female subject (ela):

A sua caneta e o seu lápis. Her pen and her pencil. – Object agreement.
A caneta dela e o lápis dela. Her pen and her pencil. – Subject agreement.

Collective male subject (eles):

A sua caneta e o seu lápis. Their pen and their pencil. – Object agreement.
A caneta deles e o lápis deles. Their pen and Their pencil. – Subject agreement.

Collective female subject (elas):

A sua caneta e o seu lápis. Their pen and their pencil. – Object agreement.
A caneta delas e o lápis delas. Their pen and Their pencil. – Subject agreement.

What About the Pronoun Você?

Você is a second-person singular pronoun, but used with a third-person framework, which is why it also uses seu and its derivatives. Unlike the actual third-person pronouns, você can’t be combined with de, (in European Portuguese).
In Portugal, people tend to reserve seu(s) and sua(s) when the pronoun você is implied, while favouring dele(s) and dela(s) for the other third-person subjects:
O seu carro e a sua casa. Your formal car and your formal house.
O carro e a casa dele. His car and house.
O carro e a casa dela. Her car and house.
O carro e a casa deles. Their masc. car and house.
O carro e a casa delas. Their fem. car and house.

2 Responses to Dele(s) and Dela(s) vs. Seu(s) and Sua(s)

    • Formal sentence structures are used in every appropriate context, just as much as informal constructions. But yes, some people do avoid explicitly using the pronoun itself, “você”, choosing to omit it instead or to replace it by an alternative form of address. For example, instead of saying “Você precisa de ajuda?” (Do you need help?), people might say “O senhor/A senhora precisa de ajuda?”, or simply “Precisa de ajuda?”. I wouldn’t say that “você” is rarely used, just perhaps not as much as one would expect.

      We had an interesting discussion about this subject on our forum. You can read it here: https://forum.practiceportuguese.com/t/voce-vs-o-senhor-a-senhora/32

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