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Introduction to Portuguese Adjectives

Adjetivos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Adjectives are words that describe a noun, assigning it a quality, state, appearance, or other property. (Adverbs are also used to describe, but instead of nouns, they modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.) In Portuguese, using adjectives requires that you consider the gender and number of the word being modified, as well as the word order of the sentence.
Many different types of words can fall into the category of adjectives, including colours, shapes, materials, and nationalities. They are the words that let us distinguish between concepts such as:

  • um bom carro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a good car and uma carrinha avariada paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a broken van
  • uma criança pequena paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a small child and um adulto crescido paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio a grown adult

Furthermore, adjectives are necessary for making comparisons in Portuguese. Just like English, there are 3 different degrees: positive, comparative, and superlative (the equivalent of happy, happier than, and happiest). In addition, compound adjectives give you even more specific descriptive power!

Stop – It’s Grammar Time! 👖🕺

Portuguese adjectives are usually variable, meaning that they change form according to whether they describe something that is masculine or feminine and singular or plural. In other words, contrary to English, you have to match the noun’s gender and number when assigning it an adjective.

Below are some common adjectives in Portuguese. Notice that most have both masculine and feminine forms, while the last few are invariable, thus only having one form:

bom, boa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio good
mau, má paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bad
bonito, bonita paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio beautiful
feio, feia paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio ugly
pequeno, pequena paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio small
grande paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio big
feliz paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio happy
triste paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sad

Using Portuguese Adjectives in a Sentence

Adjectives commonly appear after a linking verb like ser paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to be(permanent state) or estar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to be(temporary state)
In Portuguese, adjectives can appear right before or right after a noun, but most of the time they appear after. It’s important to pay attention, however, because sometimes placing an adjective before a noun actually gives it a very different meaning! You’ll notice particular adjectives, such as bom and boa, often come before the noun. Let’s see a comparison using the adjectives grande paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio big and pobre paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio poor:

  • Grande after the noun: Ela é uma mulher grande. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio She is a big woman. – describes her body size
  • Grande before the noun: Ela é uma grande mulher. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio She is a great woman. – refers to her qualities as a person
  • Pobre after the noun: Oh, que família pobre. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Oh, what a poor family. – refers to the family’s lack of wealth
  • Pobre before the noun: Oh, que pobre família. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Oh, what a poor family. – emphasizes the family’s bad luck or misfortune (not necessarily related to wealth)

Examples

Continue to explore the different placements of adjectives in the examples below, as well as how the words change to maintain gender and number agreement. You’ll get more practice with these different forms in future lessons.
O carro é caro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The car is expensive
A televisão é cara paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The television is expensive
Os carros são caros paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio The cars are expensive
Eu quero o bolo pequeno paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I want the small cake
Eu odeio moedas pequenas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I hate small coins
Este é um bom romance. Vou levá-lo comigo. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio This is a good novel. I'll take it with me.
Nem todas as ideias são boas. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Not all ideas are good.
Foi uma boa ideia. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio It was a good idea.
Ele é um grande homem. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio He is a great man.
Ele é um homem grande. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio He is a large man.

Ordering of Multiple Adjectives

In English, adjectives tend to follow a certain order when there are several of them qualifying the same noun. For example, you could say “I have a small black cat”, but it would sound weird to say “I have a black small cat”.
In Portuguese, adjectives are employed much more freely, since they’re not ordered by category. All you need to do when using several adjectives in a row is separate them with commas.

Learning More About Portuguese Adjectives

Throughout this unit (and future units), we’ll cover many different adjectives and let you practice matching them to the gender and number of the nouns within the lessons. If you want to skip ahead, here’s a list of the adjectives units to follow: Adjectives 1 | Adjectives 2 | Adjectives 3 | Comparative and Superlative Adjectives | Compound Adjectives

Comments

  • I find the hardest is when Portuguese is being spoken to pick up whether o a um or uma is used as they slur their words. I suppose it is just practice but 90% of my mistakes are with them and I am not sure how to fix unless it is just a matter of listening more. Any suggestions?

  • I’ve just started , but am liking the methodology very much so far , especially the video in addition to the audios.

    • Thanks Damien, sorry about that! We record these in batches, so sometimes you’ll see example sentences like this that don’t have audio just yet. But don’t worry, it’s on the list! 🙂

  • Can you give an example of “In English, adjectives tend to follow a certain order when there are several of them qualifying the same noun.”?

    • For example, in English you could say “I have a small black cat”, but it would sound weird to say “I have a black small cat”. You could say “I have a big brown wooden desk”, but not “I have a brown wooden big desk”. Basically, in English there is a certain order we put the adjectives in based on what category the adjective falls into (and that native speakers do without even realizing)! Make sense?

  • Spoken Portuguese is very fast and runs together. As a foreigner, would people mind a slow enunciated approach, as we tend to do in English? Does the lack of proper Portuguese accent sound very weird to native speakers? They don’t get insulted, I hope? I just can’t imagine ever getting the fast pronunciation correct!

    • I think an unfamiliar language is always going to sound too fast! It sounds so fast to me too, but I think someone learning English would say the same about English. It just sounds fast when your brain can’t easily process where the breaks between words are.

      I don’t think anyone would be offended by your accent not sounding native or by you speaking slowly. They would understand that you are learning and that the pronunciation does not come naturally. It’s probably a much better idea to speak very slowly and be understood, than to speed up attempting to make it sound more like their speech. So don’t be afraid to take your time!

      Here are some links to some pronunciation guides if you’re interested: Vowels, Consonants

  • Hey guys, there are several examples in the exercises in the form ‘a primervera e o verão são bons’ i.e. different genders for the two things listed. I haven’t seen the reverse order with the feminine object last so my question is: in these cases with mixed genders do we follow the rule that masculine always wins or do we agree with the second noun?

    • Olá, Michael! Both ways are fine: you can agree with the last noun or use the masculine for a “global” agreement. On the other hand, if the sentence carries on, the adjective may actually have to agree with other unrelated words. For example:
      – A primavera e o verão são bons. (masculine adjective, agreeing with ‘verão’ or overall)
      – A primavera e o verão são boas estações do ano. (a longer sentence where the adjective is feminine to agree with ‘estações’ (seasons), not with any of the nouns before)

  • Good day. I wish we could start with single terms like. I, I am, we, we are, good, bad, father, mother, boy, girl etc.

    • Olá! I would recommend starting from the top of the units page and going in order. I, I am, we are, etc is covered in the Introduction to Verbs unit, as well as in The Verbs Ser and Estar unit. Good and bad are covered in the Likes and Dislikes unit. Boy, girl, man, woman come up in the Basic Grammar unit, but we don’t cover family member vocabulary until later in the Family 1 unit. (Although you may be able to pick some of it up from the dialogues, such as this one – Tiago Conversa com o Pai). I hope that helps!

  • Hi there.
    Is there a reason why it’s
    Tu foste o meu melhor amigo
    BUT
    Eu fui uma crianca feliz?
    In terms of the adjective before and after the noun?
    Thanks

      • HI Joseph
        Just wondering why it’s:
        Tu foste o meu melhor amigo
        but
        Os meus amigos melhores foram ao meu casamento

        Thanks

        • Olá! Could you let me know where you found example #2? Because we would say “Os meus melhores amigos foram ao meu casamento”.

          • Thanks Joseph, you are right. I write down my new phrases to repeat them aloud while I am walking my dogs. I have checked, and you are 100% correct. I copied it down incorrectly. Os meus melhores amigos it is! Which makes perfect sense.
            Muito obrigada

  • Eu não concordo com lição um. O cão não é feio, o cão é muito bonito! Corrija por favor. Muito obrigado. Muitos cumprimentos

  • Hi!
    I can’t figure out the different uses of ser or ficar in a couple of these lessons. I’ve read the “How to use ficar” lesson but am still confused 🙁
    Lesson #6: O aluno vai ficar triste (the student is going to be sad)
    Lesson #7: O teste vai ser dificil (the test is going to be difficult).

    Could you please explain why either “ser” or “ficar” are used in those two examples? Is the lesson #6 example, if the adjective is temporary, could “Estar” be used instead?

    Thanks!

    • Olá. In the example from lesson #6, “ficar” is used so as to describe a change in emotional state. One of the meanings of “ficar” is “to become” and that’s how it’s being used in this context. In English, you can still use the verb “to be” in contexts like this (as you see in the translation of that example, which is more idiomatic than literal), but in Portuguese, we get more specific.

      In the example from lesson #7, we can consider the temporary vs. permanent rule of thumb. Once the test is ready, it won’t change. So, the verb “ser” is a good option. To describe something much more variable, such as the daily weather, we would use “estar”. For example: “Amanhã vai estar frio” (Tomorrow it’s going to be cold).

      Relevant Learning Notes:
      How to Use the Verb Ficar
      Ser vs. Estar: Two Ways of Being

    • It depends on what’s the intended meaning. We’d say “está feliz” to say that the person is happy in this particular moment (whether or not they’re happy at other times). We’d say “é feliz” to say that the person is generally happy in life.

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