Plurals in Portuguese

A challenging part of learning Portuguese is realizing that some words need to be adjusted to agree with the gender and number of the people or objects we are talking about.
Right now, we’ll take a look at which types of words change, and which ones stay the same.

Invariable and Variable Classes of Words

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

  • Adverbs (advérbios) – They generally modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs, clarifying or intensifying their meaning.
  • Prepositions (preposições) – They connect different words in a sentence.
  • Conjunctions (conjunções) – They connect different clauses of a sentence.
  • Interjections (interjections) – Specific words and expressions for an intense expression of emotions.

The variable classes of words (that do change) are:

  • Nouns (nomes or substantivos)
  • Pronouns (pronomes) – They replace nouns in a sentence.
  • Determiners (determinantes) – They precede a noun and help clarify the context. This class includes articles, quantifiers, among others.
  • Adjectives (adjetivos) – They indicate the attributes of a noun.
  • Verbs (verbos) – They describe actions and states and locate them in time.
  • Numerals (numerais) – The numbers, to express quantities and orders.

Forming Plurals

There are many ways of forming plurals, depending on how the word is spelled.
Here are some general rules and examples:
Words that end in a single vowel become plural simply by adding an -s to the end. (Note that words ending with multiple vowels often require additional changes, as you will see in the next section.)
carro ~ carros car ~ cars
casa ~ casas house ~ houses
Words that end in -ão are tricky because there are 3 different possible endings when forming the plural form: ãos, ães, or ões. Knowing which to choose is one of those things you will have to memorize over time.
mão ~ mãos hand ~ hands
cão ~ cães dog ~ dogs
leão ~ leões lion ~ lions
Words that end in -m become plural by replacing the “-m” with -ns:
homem ~ homens man ~ men
nuvem ~ nuvens cloud ~ clouds
álbum ~ álbuns album ~ albums
Words that end in -n, -r, -s and -z become plural by adding -es at the end:
hífen ~ hífenes hyphen ~ hyphens
país ~ países country ~ countries
feliz ~ felizes happy sing. ~ happy pl.

Exception: Some words that end in -s are not pluralized, such as oásis oasis and lápis pencil. The same word is used for both the singular and plural forms, similar to the word “sheep” in English.

Words ending in -L become plural by replacing the “L” with -is. Additionally, if the last syllable is stressed, an acute accent (´) is added:
plural ~ plurais plural ~ plurals
animal ~ animais animal ~ animals
papel ~ papéis paper sheet ~ paper sheets
farol ~ faróis lighthouse ~ lighthouses

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}

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