Definite Articles in Portuguese (Masculine vs. Feminine, Plurals)

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)
and
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:

O Porto Porto means a dock

A Régua Régua means ruler

Os Açores Açor is a type of hawk

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”.

Comments:

  • 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! 🙂

  • 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!

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