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Plurals in Portuguese

A challenging part of learning Portuguese is realizing that many words need to be adjusted to agree with the gender and number of the people or objects we are talking about. Let’s see a quick overview of which types of words change, and which ones stay the same to help us understand the rules for making words plural in Portuguese.

Invariable Words

The invariable classes of words (that don’t change to match gender and number) are:

  • advérbios paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio adverbs  Adverbs generally modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, clarifying or intensifying their meaning.
  • preposições paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio prepositions – Prepositions connect different words in a sentence.
  • conjunções paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio conjunctions – Conjunctions connect different clauses of a sentence.
  • interjeições paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio interjectionsInterjections are filler words or words that express a strong, abrupt feeling

Variable Words

The variable classes of words (that do change to match gender and number) are:

  • nomes paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nouns or substantivos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nouns, substantives – Nouns represent people, places, things, or ideas.
  • pronomes paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio pronounsPronouns replace nouns in a sentence.
  • determinantes paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio determinersDeterminers precede a noun and help clarify the context. This class includes articles and quantifiers, among others.
  • adjetivos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio adjectivesAdjectives indicate the attributes of a noun.
  • verbos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio verbsVerbs describe actions and states and locate them in time.
  • numerais paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio numeralsNumerals express quantities and orders. Some are variable and others are invariable.

Forming Plurals in Portuguese

With so many variable classes of words, it’s important to learn how to change a word from singular to plural. There are many ways to go about making words plural in Portuguese, and the method used depends on the spelling of the end of the word.
Here are some general rules and examples:

Add -s after a vowel*

  • Words that end in a vowel become plural by simply adding an -s to the end.

carro ~ carros paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio car ~ cars
casa ~ casas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio house ~ houses

Replace -ão with -ãos, -ães, or -ões

  • *Here’s the exception to the previous rule. Words that end in -ão are tricky because there are 3 different possible endings when forming plurals: ãos, ães, or ões. Knowing which to choose is one of those things you will have to memorize over time. When in doubt, -ões is more common.

mão ~ mãos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio hand ~ hands
cão ~ cães paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio dog ~ dogs
leão ~ leões paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio lion ~ lions

Add -es after -n, -r, -s, and -z

  • Words that end in -n, -r, -s and -z become plural by adding -es at the end:

hífen ~ hífenes paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio hyphen ~ hyphens
país ~ países paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio country ~ countries
feliz ~ felizes paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio happy (sing.) ~ happy (pl.)

  • See exceptions*

Replace -m with -ns

  • Words that end in -m become plural by replacing the -m with -ns:

homem ~ homens paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio man ~ men
nuvem ~ nuvens paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cloud ~ clouds
álbum ~ álbuns paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio album ~ albums

Replace -L with -is

  • Words ending in -L become plural by replacing the -l with -is. Additionally, if the last syllable is stressed and has an E or O vowel, an acute accent (´) is added:

plural ~ plurais paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio plural ~ plurals
animal ~ animais paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio animal ~ animals
papel ~ papéis paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio paper sheet ~ paper sheets
farol ~ faróis paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio lighthouse ~ lighthouses

*Exceptions

It’s less common, but certain words that end in -s do not change. In other words, they are the same in both the singular and plural forms (similar to the word sheep in English: one sheep, many sheep). The only part that changes in Portuguese would be any variable words that go with it, such as definite articles (e.g. o vs. os). Examples:

  • o oásis Play normal audio the oasis | os oásis Play normal audio the oases
  • o lápis paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the pencil | os lápis Play normal audio the pencils | os lápis amarelos Play normal audio the yellow pencils
  • o vírus Play normal audio the virus | os vírus Play normal audio the viruses | estes vírus Play normal audio these viruses

Similarly, some words do not have a singular form, so you will always hear them as plural, such as:

  • as costas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the back(body part)
  • as calças paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the pants (trousers)
  • parabéns paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio congratulations

Comments

  • Regarding the words that end in a vowel how can I know when it should end in an ‘es’ instead of ‘s’? Mão and cão both end in nasal vowels.

    • Olá, Sheridan. I wish I had a great answer for you, but I only have a terrible one: you can’t know, you’ll have to memorize it! 🙂 Mão -> mãos, but cão -> cães. Irmão -> irmãos, but pão -> pães. You’d have to go all the way back to the Latin roots of each of these words to understand why they have different plural forms. Portuguese is crazy, isn’t it?

  • Is it just my ears or does the “e” sound dubble somehow in the spoken plural of the next lesson?: cafés (hear: café-es), têm (hear tai-ains),ect.

    • It’s not your ears, that’s correct. Not in ‘cafés’, where the E is a single sound; but in ‘têm”, we do tend to pronounce it as a double E 🙂

  • Hi, I seem to think that I have read somewhere that if a word ends -al, -el, -ol, or -ul then the L is changed to IS but if the word ends -il the L is changed to S if the stress is on the last syllable OR to EIS if stress is on the last but one syllable. egs. funil = funis, reptil = repteis (I apologise because the e in both of the last words should have an accent, but not sure how to do that with my keyboard}

    • Oh no, let’s end that confusion 😀 Here’s a quick reference for you:
      – Masculine, singular: mau
      – Masculine, plural: maus
      – Feminine, singular:
      – Feminine, plural: más

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you. I guess this is one that must be memorized as the rules presented don’t apply.

  • PS while we’re on the subject… do “quanto” and “muito” change masculine/feminine and singular/plural? I’ve only heard them in conversation at different times so I can’t seem to compare.
    Thanks again

    • You’re welcome! And yes, “quanto” and “muito” also have multiple forms depending on gender and number. However, in cases where “muito” is used as an adverb, it is invariable. It’s only as a quantifier that it varies.

      Muito as an adverb:
      – A casa é muito bonita. (The house is very beautiful)
      – Tu trabalhas muito. (You work a lot)

      Muito as a quantifier:
      – Eu tenho muito tempo e muita paciência. (I have a lot of time and a lot of patience)
      – Ela tem muitas tarefas. (She has many tasks)

      Here are some relevant Learning Notes:
      Quantifiers – Interrogative Quantifiers
      Expressing Quantities – Muito, Pouco, Algum

  • Hello, in the examples of the last case, the stress is on the last syllable when we utter the word. So, what makes the difference in “papel” for instance so that in the plural the acute accent is added? ‘Plural” is also stressed in the last syllable and it does not have the acute accent. Thank you in advance

    • Hi! Good question. With “papéis” and some other words whose plural is formed with “-éis“, there are two good reasons for the accent:
      1) For visual differentiation of these words vs. other similar words. Without the accent, you wouldn’t be able to tell, in a glance, if you were reading the noun “papéis” (paper) or the verb form “papeis” (a conjugation of the verb papar – to eat). Same for “fiéis” (faithful) vs. “fieis” (verb conjugation of the verb fiar – to trust, to spin), for example.

      2) For aural (sound) differentiation of these words vs. other similar words. The accent helps guarantee that the last syllable of ‘papéis‘ sounds noticeably open, with a wide E. Without the accent, the E could be made to sound more closed, especially if the speaker’s regional accent already encourages it or if the language just gradually evolves in that direction. This would make ‘papéis‘ sound the same as the aforementioned ‘papeis‘ (of the verb papar).

  • Great lesson ! I can not thank you enough! However, I have a small doubt. What do you do with words that end with two vowels like lingua or sereia for example? Do you simply add -s to it as well? Also I read in one of your replies in the comments above that in order to understand more about why ao is replaced with oes,aes,aos one can go back to latin roots. I’m terribly sorry if i am being greedy but there is a source i can find reliable latin roots(you dont really have to provide me with a source if its too much trouble 🙂 🙂 ), since learning origins will not only aide in learning portuguese but also help with my english. Apologies for not using accents, my keyboard does not allow it! Thank you once again !!

    • Hi! Yes, for those words with 2 vowels you would just add -s. As for -ões, ães, and ãos, unfortunately I don’t know of a good source for Latin roots, but I will let you know if I come across something. In terms of using Latin to help you with these plurals, I think it would probably come down to researching the roots of each individual word, rather than being able to study a set pattern.

      This Wikipedia page could be a starting point: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/-%C3%A3o (see the sections titled Etymology 1 and Usage Notes at the bottom). And if it helps at all, -ões is the most common ending, followed by ãos, followed by -ães.

      Also check out this guide to typing accents that we put together: https://help.practiceportuguese.com/article/42-typing-portuguese-accents. Hopefully there’s something in there that works for your computer!

      • Hi Molly and Batul. I did some research into typing Portuguese characters on a Windows PC keyboard without using character codes. I found out you can do it quite easily using the English United States – International keyboard. Once installed as an additional keyboard you can press the tilde shift+ ~ and then the letter n, you will create ñ or the caret key shift+ ^ and e to get ê. This web page explains all and even shows a keyboard layout to help. https://community.windows.com/en-us/stories/keyboard-shortcuts-for-typing-accent-marks-over-letters-in-windows-10

        Might be worth adding to your typing portuguese accents page. Aí o tem!

        Sorry wrong web link first time!

  • Thank you so so much! Its truly amazing how quickly you respond, I am such a big fan of your work.
    Oh yes I want to learn the origins of the words itself, thank you for sharing the link! And thank you for the typing guide !!

  • Yes, Portuguese is a very crazy language. It makes knots into my tongue :)))))) I learned Indonesian a while ago, and plurals are formed by just repeating the word. Banana – pisang / more than one banana: pisang-pisang. Soooooo easy, hahahahaha.

    • The word cinza is pluralized when it’s used as a noun and means ash. When it’s used as an adjective and means ‘gray’ (the colour), it isn’t. This is usually the case for names of colours that derive from nouns, rather than being “pure” adjectives – the same happens with rosa (pink) or laranja (orange), for example.

  • Under “Replace -L with -is,” the following is stated: “Additionally, if the last syllable is stressed, an acute accent (´) is added:” This seems to hold true unless the singular form ends in “al”. If that’s right perhaps this exception should be noted.

  • When determining the plural of a Portuguese words (maybe only nouns) that ends in -ão, you have to know cognates in languages from Latin (not necessarily Romance languages). Words ending in “-ão” you simply add an “s” to when pluralizing also include “irmão” and “verão” (because of “hermano” and “verano” in Spanish). Words ending in “-ão” you drop that “o” from and add “-es” to when pluralizing also include “capitão” (because of “captain”). Words ending in “-ão” you drop that “a” from and transfer the tilde to the “o” and then add “-es” to when pluralizing are based on cognates in any European language that end in “-on” or “-one” (and that is usually the case for that type of Portuguese words). Think of the tilde that nasalizes an “a” or “o” in a Portuguese word as a replacement for the letter “n” that is supposed to surround those letters in other languages. The letter “n” probably never comes between vowels in words native to Portuguese!

    • Obrigado/Obrigada is singular and applied individually, so either each person says their own thanks or you have to phrase it differently. You could say, for example, “Eu e [the other person] agradecemos”.

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