How to Say “The” in Portuguese
Definite articles introduce a specific instance of a noun, whereas indefinite articles introduce a non-specific instance of a noun. In English, there is only 1 definite article: the. Then to refer to objects more generally, English uses the indefinite articles a or an.
In Portuguese, we have 4 artigos definidos Play slow audio Play normal audio definite articles that serve the same function as the: o Play slow audio Play normal audio the a Play slow audio Play normal audio the os Play slow audio Play normal audio the as Play slow audio Play normal audio the
Why 4 different words with one meaning? In Portuguese, many words take on different forms, depending on the following two properties:
- Gender: The masculine forms of “the” are o and os. The feminine forms are a and as.
- Number: A singular object is referred to with o or a, whereas plurals use os or as.
Here are some examples:
- Masculine, singular: o carro Play slow audio Play normal audio the car
- Feminine, singular: a mesa Play slow audio Play normal audio the table
- Masculine, plural: os carros Play slow audio Play normal audio the cars
- Feminine, plural: as mesas Play slow audio Play normal audio the tables
When to Use Definite Articles
Similar to how we use “the” in English, Portuguese definite articles also appear before a noun.
O ladrão foi apanhado em flagrante. Play slow audio Play normal audio The thief was caught red-handed.
There are also additional situations in which definite articles are used in Portuguese, but not in English:
- Before proper nouns:
Eu sou a Ana Play slow audio Play normal audio I am Ana
- Before the name of a city/region, when its name derives from a common noun:
The Exceptions: When Not to Use Definite Articles
- When using the vocative case, such as in greetings:
- When listing multiple items
- When naming planets or stars
Masculine & Feminine
In Portuguese, almost every noun (person, place, or thing) is either masculine or feminine. Masculine nouns go with the definite articles o and os, while feminine nouns go with the definite articles a and as. If you’ve never studied a Romance language before, this may seem strange at first. After all, in English we usually only assign gender to people or living things, right?
Here are two examples of what we mean by grammatical gender:
A ponte é estreita. Play slow audio Play normal audio The bridge is narrow.
O gato é preto. Play slow audio Play normal audio The cat is black.
In this case, ‘the bridge’ is feminine (‘a ponte’), while the cat is masculine (‘o gato’). Sound strange? Well, believe it or not, Old English used to use grammatical gender in a similar way, but it fell out of use over time!
Gendered words remain a fact of life for Portuguese speakers. But as a learner, how are you supposed to know whether a word is masculine or feminine, other than simply memorizing them all?
To get started, here is the most basic rule:
- Most words that end in “a“, are feminine. Example: a mesa
- Most words ending in “o” are masculine. Example: o carro
However, you’ll soon find out that there are words that break this rule, and many that end in a letter other than “a” or “o”.