Definite Articles – How to Say “the” In Portuguese
In English, we only have 1 definite article: the, which is used to refer to a specific instance of an object, as opposed to when we use a or an to speak more generally. In Portuguese, we have 4 artigos definidos that serve the same function as the. These 4 words used to say the in Portuguese are o, a, os, as. We’ll have an in-depth look at articles a bit later. For now, you can just keep in mind that the article we use depends on:
a) Gender: masculine (o, os) or feminine (a, as)
b) Quantity: whether we are referring to a single object (singular: o, a), or more than one (plural: os, as).
Here are some examples:
- Masculine, singular: o carro the car
- Feminine, singular: a mesa the table
- Masculine, plural: os carros the cars
- Feminine, plural: as mesas 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. The thief was caught red-handed.
There are also additional situations in which definite articles are used in Portuguese, but not English:
1) Before proper nouns:
Eu sou a AnaI am Ana
2) Before the name of a city/region, when its name derives from a common noun:
Exceptions: When not to use Definite Articles:
1) When using the vocative case, such as in greetings:
Olá Ana! Hi Ana!
2) When naming planets or stars
3) When doing enumerations (listing multiple items):
Preciso de comprar: leite, cereais, peixe I need to buy: milk, cereals, fish
Masculine & Feminine
In Portuguese, almost every noun (person, place, or thing) is either masculine or feminine. If you haven’t 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. The bridge is narrow.
O gato é preto. 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”.