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Definite Articles in Portuguese

A substantivonoun is basically a person, place, or thing. When we think of nouns, we tend to think of vocabulary words. But before we go adding a bunch of Portuguese words to your vocabulary, we have to get some boring really fun stuff out of the way first…

How to Say “The” in Portuguese

When we talk about a noun that has already been defined (the book), we use a definite article. In other words, artigos definidosdefinite articles introduce a specific instance of a noun (similar to the in English).
In Portuguese, we have 4 definite articles, which all translate to the: othe athe osthe asthe
Why 4 different words with one meaning? In Portuguese, you’ll find that 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: You refer to a singular object with o or a, whereas plurals go with os or as.

Here are some examples:

Gender & Number

In Portuguese, almost every noun is considered either masculine or feminine. 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? Well, believe it or not, Old English used to use 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, these guidelines will help some of the time:

But don’t get too comfortable… You’ll definitely come across words that break this rule, and many that end in a letter other than a or o.
a tribothe tribe
a pontethe bridge
As you may have noticed, all it takes to make a definite article plural is to add an s. This also applies to many nouns, such as mesas and carros above. Unfortunately, there are more complicated rules for making many other words plural, but we’ll worry about that later…

When to Use Definite Articles

Similar to how we use the in English, Portuguese definite articles often appear before a noun:
O homem lê o jornalThe man reads the newspaper
But it doesn’t always map perfectly to English like this. There are also situations in which definite articles are used in Portuguese, but not in English, and vice versa. This may be confusing at first, but it will get easier after you’ve had more exposure to the language.
Here are a few examples of when to include a definite article in Portuguese:

When Not to Use Definite Articles

Here are a few common examples:

  • When referring to something more general or undefined, you typically drop the definite article, and may or may not include an indefinite article (we’ll cover these later in this unit)
    • Não tenho carroI don't have a car – Without the article, this statement becomes more general, just like I have children, I have a job, etc.
    • Ele comprou um carroHe bought a car   – The word um is an indefinite article.
  • When using the vocative case, such as in greetings: Olá Ana!Hi Ana!
  • Before planets, stars, and most cities: Lisboa é a capital de PortugalLisbon is the capital of Portugal , unless the name derives from a common noun: O Porto é a segunda maior cidade de PortugalPorto is the second largest city of Portugal . The word porto also means port/harbour.

A Quick Note About Learning Vocabulary

When we introduce individual vocabulary words throughout the Units, Shorties, etc., we will usually include the definite article, as such:
a palavraword
It’s more efficient to learn the gender at the same time you learn the noun. To avoid lots of unnecessary repetition in vocabulary lists, the English translation will usually not include the word “the”.


  • Good explanation. I like hearing the examples. It may be a little helpful for the beginning student to heave longer examples done a bit more slowly as well as in normal cadence in order to learn the proper pronunciation of each of the words in the phrase or sentence. Thanks so much! 🙂

    • Don’t forget to click the turtle to slow down the delivery of the words. It really helps alot…especially with European Portuguese…so that you can hear more of the syllables.

  • Thanks for having Rui speak the Portuguese. He is easy to understand and makes for consistency in the hearing and learning.

  • Great start for me so far. My only feedback is to use more realistic sentences in the examples. For example, I can’t imagine talking about hawks anytime soon. Maybe something more commonplace could be used?

    • Haha, I agree that talking about actual hawks/hawk-like birds probably doesn’t happen often! What you might not know is that Portugal has some beautiful islands called Açores (or Azores, in English), named after that bird 🙂 That is why that particular example of use of definite articles is under point 2), “2) Before the name of a city/region, when its name derives from a common noun”.

  • I seems to me that the vowel sound of the feminine singular in “a mesa” is different than the vowel sound of the feminine singular in “A ponte é estreita.” Does the sound of the feminine article vary slightly between nouns?

    • Hey, Christopher. Actually, the vowel sound in the definite articles ‘a’ and ‘as’ is always the same 🙂

  • Thanks Joseph for confirming that. I listened again and this time they did sound the same to me. However, I now notice a difference in the audio examples between “os” when used with os carros (I hear ossh carros) and Os Açores (I hear Oss Açores, no SH). Am a crazy?

  • I like the way this is going!
    I have a mental block with leading Portuguese since i did not like the sound of it!
    But this is not too bad!

  • An engaging lesson. It is good to read the background to the conventions of the language as well as to practise the language itself.

  • Having this as a basic is very good. After learning some vocabulary elsewhere, and trying to string some phrases and short sentences or questions together, I now realise that the basics around the definite article have been missing and would have been really helpful. D’oh!

    • No, Daniel, gato has a different form for each gender, fortunately 🙂
      The male cat = O gato.
      The female cat = A gata.
      The cat had kittens yesterday = A gata teve gatinhos ontem. (Gatinhos is masculine because we default to the masculine gender for groups, unless we know for sure that the group only has female elements)

  • I’m starting to learn Portuguese and having you pronouncing all words and sentences slowly is a big help on my journey ;-; thank you so much for the lesson, gonna continue on more!

  • The tortoise is my saviour. I’m “not young” with slight hearing problems and I’ve found making sense when the speaker seems to miss vowels quite difficult to understand (as I have found in Portugal). The tortoise gives me the opportunity to build up speed and to appreciate how/why it appears that some vowels are missed out.

    Makes me look forward to what is to come and the use I’ll make of my 12 weeks of isolation due to Covid 19!!

    • I have a hearing issue as well and find the spoken word very difficult to understand. I wonder if there some tricks?

      • I would recommend doing a lot of listening practice with the Shorties (under the Practice tab), while following along with the Portuguese transcript. This will help your brain connect what you hear to the written word. It may help you listen for words or sounds that would be easy to miss otherwise. (If your hearing loss affects high frequencies, for example, that means certain sounds like s and f are very hard to hear.)

        Listen a few times like that, and then challenge yourself to listen without looking. Over time you will get used to which words often go together and what common words sound like.

        You could also practice listening to 1 sentence at a time and then speaking and/or writing what you heard. (Any way you can think of to make more connections between what you hear / read / say.)

        Try out the Minimal Pairs unit, too. It may be very tough, but is a good challenge to come back to when trying to differentiate similar sounding words.

        In real life conversations, pay special attention to the context, tone of speech, gestures, facial expressions, lip movements, etc., as you may need these extra “clues” to help get the meaning. This blog post has some good phrases for asking for clarification / repetition.

        • Thank you so much for your very helpful reply. I will follow up on all your suggestions. I have hearing aids that help a lot, but with the face masks understanding is much more difficult. Voices get muffled and I cannot lip read. I will be so happy when we are free of the mask. We shop at the Central market in Braga for most of your needs and find the sellers to be friendly and patient.

  • Good start for me. Nothing too difficult for a beginner who understands very basic Portuguese! And importantly quite enjoyable!

  • I, too, am trying to use isolation to be more diligent in my lessons. As well-designed as your lessons are, In a few months I did not get anywhere close to fluent and I am sure that my pronunciation was atrocious when I visited Portugal in January, as big 70th birthday present to ourselves para meu marido and me. However, it was a wonderful trip and I am even more interested in cementing the basics into my brain for next trip to Terceira in Açores (where my grandmother was born). Now you have cleared up a mystery for me. When I visited a park in Portugal with Açores in its name, I wondered if this was the region in Portugal where the earliest inhabitants of the Azores originated. Haha! I will do my own research but I will start by guessing that the islands had hawks when they were discovered. Now my question regarding grammar, based on what I learned above, shouldn’t we call the islands Os Açores? Like Oporto.

  • Olá Sharon and thank you for your comment! Yes, it’s believed that the name was inspired in all the birds that the Portuguese settlers saw when they arrived to the island. It’s not the only theory, but it’s the main one. The name of the islands is just Açores, just like the name of the city is just Porto. But when they’re used in sentences, we do use the definite article before them 🙂 E.g. “Os Açores são um arquipélago” or “O Porto é uma cidade”. Any proper names that derive from common names generally require a definite article when mentioned.

  • Just joined Practice Portuguese and, though I speak some Portuguese, thought I’d start from the beginning. Surprised to learn things I didn’t know even in the first two lessons, which is great. I’m thinking I’ll continue through in order and also experiment with some of the listening sessions. Is there an order of progression in these or should I just dip in at random?

    • That’s great! Sometimes it’s really helpful to go back through the basics, even if you’re more advanced. Since the information is no longer new, it frees up your brain to pick up on the details!

      Some of the listening practice (Shorties) will appear at the end of the Units, but otherwise, there is no set progression. We do have them tagged by difficulty, so if you wanted, you could start with Beginner, then Easier, then Medium, then Advanced. But sometimes I think it’s more motivating to just skip around to the topics that interest you. So the choice is yours!

  • Thanks, Molly. I’ll continue with the beginner stuff to refresh and pick what’s new to me, and dip into the units as I feel. Looking forward to making some progress.

  • I am writing a novel. One character’s first language is Portuguese. She says to a male character, “You are marvelous.” There are feminine and masculine words for marvelous. Which should I use?
    Thank you, very much, for your help.

    • Adjectives always take on the gender of the person/object that they’re qualifying. So, for a male character, you should use masculine forms (e.g. maravilhoso). Good luck with your novel!

  • Joseph,
    Thank you very much for your reply! I really appreciate it, even though it means some editing. 😉

  • So far grammar has not been a problem because I am from Spain and we have gender and apply similar rules to the use of artigos definidos. We also have quite a lot of vocabulary in common, but when it comes to pronunciation European Portuguese is complex. Being able to repeat whole sentences that are also a good example of your simple grammatical explanations is most useful. Thank you!

    • Olá, Maria. Your message is in line with what I hear/read from other Spanish speakers: grammar and written language is fine, but then a Portuguese person speaks fast and everything goes out the window 🙂 I hope Practice Portuguese’s resources continue to help you with that!

  • Thanks for the lesson. I have a question with the phrase “Eu sou a Ana”. If the name is a male name is it “Eu sou o John” or is it always “a”?

  • So far, so good – only signed up just now ! But I have used Duolingo for a year…I hadnt realised I was learing Brazilian Portuguese – Doh
    p.s. Im a slow learner !

  • I noticed in the definitives, “as” was pronounced differently when presented alone compared to when it was the first word in the sentence that followed.

    • That’s right! This is not exclusive to the word “as”, it’s a feature of the letter S, which can sound differently when followed by other letters. In normal speech, an ending S followed by a vowel or H sounds more like a Z, and when followed by another consonant, it sounds more like a zh. This Learning Note talks about that and goes through some examples: The Letters S and C

  • There’s a lot to learn, but I’m making frequent use of the Tortoise, and I’m sure I will make progress. I like the idea of presenting some of the basic rules first — it’s grounding.

  • Very good and so convenient compared to listening and rewinding DVDS. Would it be possible to have a facility to reverse things?.

    So, after you speak the Portuguese and observe the English translation below, you could show the English in bold and hide the translation below until you click on it. This way you would be forced to learn the vocabulary.

    • Good idea! We don’t have a simple way to include this in the learning notes, but you will get to practice switching between Portuguese to English and English to Portuguese in the lesson exercises that follow.

      I think what you’re suggesting is somewhat similar to how our Smart Review flash cards work (under the Learn tab in the top menu bar). Using the phrases you learn in the lesson exercises, it shows you the English and you translate to Portuguese without help. Then you click to flip the card and see the Portuguese to check yourself.

    • Maybe you’re talking about “a” vs. “à”? These are two different words, with two different pronunciations:
      – a (no accent): it’s either a definite article (the) or a preposition (to; among others)
      – à (with accent): it’s a contraction between the preposition “a” and the definite article “a”. a + a = à (weird, I know)

      This Learning Note should help (it includes audio examples): The Preposition “A”

      Anyway, “a” without accent may also sound like “à” sometimes, if followed by a word started with the letter A. It’s a sort of liaison that tends to happen in speech when the two vowels are close together.

  • Wow this is so awesome, I was having trouble understanding portuguese contractions you made it so simple for me, thank you thank you.

  • it is I am sure a bit stupid….but you start with explaining Definite Articles….. these terms are language terms….Definite Articles…inDefinite Articles etc, can you perhaps start with one sentence explaining these terms……..

    • No, not stupid at all! In the beginning we explain that definite articles are used to refer to a specific instance of an object (e.g. “the”), whereas indefinite articles refer to objects more generally (e.g. “a” or “an”). So basically it’s introducing a noun that is specific (definite article) vs. non-specific (indefinite article). Does that help clarify? I’ll update the wording to make this more clear.

  • Funny, I have been studying Portuguese off and on forever and I didn’t know the Azores was named after a hawk! The use of it makes total sense! And I just saw a red tailed hawk this morning on my Forest Friday with my sons “preschool pod”.

  • I love this cute little picture (top right). I can quickly see where the “O A OS AS” belongs and they are even in national costume – great attention to detail!

  • My first introduction to the site. Starting with definite articles, quite exciting putting my basic knowledge of French in grasping Portuguese

  • I enjoy how this course is layed out much like a college course. I’ve been studying EU portugues using language apps, for over a year, and this is the time I’ve seen the definite articles explained at all.
    Thanks so much for spelling out the basics!

  • This explanation of definitive articles vs indefinite articles is better than any English class I ever took in school (I live in the United States)

  • When do you NOT and When DO you use articles like a tua, o teu,I’m totally confused when to say tua or a tua and o minho, and just minho.. also with o seu or seu without the article a or o before it!

  • I cannot understand two pronounciation issues:

    1) leite and peixe both contain ‘ei’ but get pronounced differently – ‘leit’ and ‘paish’, why?

    2) does estreito get pronounced as ‘shtreitu’ or ‘eshtreitu’? Why do words beginning with ‘est’ and ‘esp’ sometimes get pronounced without and sometimes with ‘e’. For examle estar sounds as ‘shtar’, but in some words it’s included in pronounciation.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Allow me to say that you’re probably overthinking it!

      1) The sound “ei” is exactly the same in every word. The consonants around it may make it sound somehow different but the sound is always the same. lEIte, pEIxe, estrEIto, rEI, esprEItar, tirEI,…

      2) When speaking quickly – or just having a regular conversation – we tend to turn the sound “es-” into “sh-“. Just when we want to emphasize the word or the say it slowly to be perfectly understood we sound like “esh-“! Honestly we don’t even notice we do that. EScolha, EScola, ESpreitar, EStar, ESpecial, EStreito, EStabelecimento,…
      In some cases we even omit the sound “es-“! Like with the verb “estar”: “tou” instead of “estou”. “tás” instead of “estás”. This is considered slang, though! It’s common to pronounce it like this in informal context only, but not correct when writing or formally speaking.

      So, I’d conclude by saying:
      – Ei is always Ei. If it sounds different it’s because of the consonants around it, but it’s always Ei!
      – Sitck to either “esh-” or “sh-” sounds for “es-“! Whatever feels more natural to you. Either way you won’t be wrong!

  • Thanks, Relógio! But I think that ‘shtar’ is obligatory for the word estar, I think it is not allowed to say ‘eshtar’. That is why I wonder in which cases I might choose and in which not.

    As far as it concerns the ‘ei’, what is your recommendation – should I pronounce ‘leit’ or ‘lait’?

    • As I said, “shtar” (as in ANY OTHER word with es-) is more natural to a native speaker. “Eshtar” (like in ANY OTHER word with es-) may be said when trying to speak clearly and slowly. It has no difference if it’s “estar” or “escolher” or “estacionar” or any other es- word!
      As for the “ei” sound I recommend listening carefully to several words provided on our website until you catch the right way of pronouncing it. Telling you “lei” or “lai” could be misleading. It does sound like a closed “a”, though. 🙂

  • I didn’t understand why ‘A’ is written before spider and ‘O’ is written before lion
    Kindly reply me

    • As we describe on this learning note, in Portuguese, you’ll find that many words take on different forms, depending on gender and number. So, in english is always: THE spider, THE lion, etc. In Portuguese the definite articles are either a, o, as or os. So, we decided to include the definite article to each noun, so you can learn not only the word in Portuguese but also its gender. Therefore, “a aranha”, “o leão”, etc.

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