Possessive Determiners vs. Possessive Pronouns
In this unit, we’re going to learn about possessive determiners and possessive pronouns in Portuguese, which both serve the function of expressing possession or ownership of something.
In English, we use my, your, his, her, their, and our as possessive determiners and mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, and ours as possessive pronouns.
Possessive determiners precede the noun they are modifying. They tell you to whom a specific item belongs. For example, in the sentence “It is my cat”, you can tell that the word “my” is a determiner because it needs to be followed by a noun (“cat”). “It is my” would not be a complete sentence.
Possessive pronouns replace the noun they are modifying. They convey ownership without telling what exactly is being owned. For example, in the sentence “It is mine”, you can tell that the word “mine” is a possessive pronoun because it can stand on its own in place of a noun.
In Portuguese, possessive pronouns and possessive determiners make use of the same words: meu, teu, seu, nosso, vosso, plus their associated feminine and plural forms. As you will see below, this means that there are multiple possible translations of each English possessive word. For both possessive determiners and possessive pronouns in Portuguese, you start by choosing the form that goes with the person possessing something, and then modify that word to match the gender and number of the noun being possessed.
|Eu||o meu / a minha / os meus / as minhas||my or mine|
|Tu||o teu / a tua / os teus / as tuas||your or yours (informal)|
|Ele||o seu / a sua / os seus / as suas||his|
|Ela||o seu / a sua / os seus / as suas||her or hers|
|Você||o seu / a sua / os seus / as suas||your or yours (formal)|
|Nós||o nosso / a nossa / os nossos / as nossas||our or ours|
|Vocês||o vosso / a vossa / os vossos / as vossas||your or yours (plural)|
|Eles||o seu / a sua / os seus / as suas||their or theirs|
|Elas||o seu / a sua / os seus / as suas||their or theirs|
It sounds confusing at first, but it will make more sense once you see some examples. Let’s break it down by Person to see how we modify each possessive form to agree with the noun in gender and number.
Meu, Minha, Meus, Minhas (1st person singular)
Meu is used for masculine nouns, while minha is used for feminine nouns. Meus and minhas are the plural forms of meu and minha. All of them stand for “my” in English. Examples:
Foi o meu gato. Play slow audio Play normal audio That was my cat.
A minha tia deu-me uma prenda. Play slow audio Play normal audio My aunt gave me a present.
Os meus cachorrinhos são tão giros! Play slow audio Play normal audio My puppies are so cute!
Viste as minhas chaves? Play slow audio Play normal audio Have you seen my keys?
Teu, Tua, Teus, Tuas (2nd person singular)
Teu is used for masculine nouns, while tua is used for feminine nouns. Teus and tuas are the plural forms of teu and tua. All of these words stand for “your” in English, when “your” refers to something or someone belonging to a single person.
You would choose this more informal form of “you” when you are speaking to someone you know well. When speaking to someone unfamiliar, or when trying to show respect or be more formal, you would use forms of você instead, which is conjugated in the 3rd person (see the next section). Examples of teu(s) and tua(s):
O teu primo é simpático. Play slow audio Play normal audio Your cousin is nice.
Aquela senhora é a tua mãe? Play slow audio Play normal audio Is that lady your mother?
Os teus tios vêm cá jantar. Play slow audio Play normal audio Your aunt and uncle are coming over for dinner.
Pus as tuas meias a lavar. Play slow audio Play normal audio I've put your socks in the wash.
Seu, Sua, Seus, Suas* (3rd person singular and você)
Seu is used with masculine nouns, while sua is used with feminine nouns. Seus and suas are the plural forms of seu and sua. Any of these could actually mean “his”, “her”, “your”(formal), or “their”, as you will read more about below, depending on the context. Examples:
O seu sofá é muito confortável. Play slow audio Play normal audio Her sofa is very comfortable.
A sua caldeirada de marisco é de morrer. Play slow audio Play normal audio His seafood stew is to die for.
Os seus sapatos são feitos à mão. Play slow audio Play normal audio Her shoes are handmade.
As suas encomendas foram enviadas para trás. Play slow audio Play normal audio Your packages were sent back.
Nosso, Nossa, Nossos, Nossas (1st person plural)
Nosso is used for masculine nouns and nossa is used for feminine nouns. Nossos and nossas are the plural forms of nosso and nossa. All of them stand for “our” in English. Examples:
O nosso irmão está triste. Play slow audio Play normal audio Our brother is sad.
A nossa casa é fria no Inverno. Play slow audio Play normal audio Our house is cold in the winter.
Os nossos carros precisam de ser reparados. Play slow audio Play normal audio Our cars need to be repaired.
As nossas primas foram à Suécia. Play slow audio Play normal audio Our cousins went to Sweden.
Vosso, Vossa, Vossos, Vossas (2nd person plural)
Vosso is used for masculine nouns and vossa is used for feminine nouns. Vossos and vossas are the plural forms of vosso and vossa. All of them stand for “your” in English, when “your” refers to something belonging to more than one person. Examples:
Arrumem o vosso quarto! Play slow audio Play normal audio Clean your room!
A vossa tia vai ao cinema. Play slow audio Play normal audio Your aunt is going to the cinema.
Os vossos casacos estão na sala. Play slow audio Play normal audio Your jackets are in the living room.
Pus tudo nas vossas malas. Play slow audio Play normal audio I put everything in your bags.
In Portuguese, vosso, vossa, vossos, vossas, are usually used when addressing a group of people or someone who belongs to that group. It is also a (slightly) archaic but polite way of respectfully addressing someone.
Seu, Sua, Seus, Suas* (3rd person plural)
Ah, yes, these possessives again. You see, in Portuguese, third person plural (their) uses the same exact possessive pronouns as third person singular. Just as before, any of these could mean “his”, “her”, “your”(formal), or “their”. You would need extra context to know for sure. In the examples below, we’ll assume that “they” have just been referenced in the conversation:
O seu carro ficou mal estacionado. Play slow audio Play normal audio Their car wasn’t parked well.
A sua casa é muito acolhedora. Play slow audio Play normal audio Their house is very cosy.
Os seus filhos são adolescentes. Play slow audio Play normal audio Their children are teenagers.
As suas primas eram de Aljezur. Play slow audio Play normal audio Their cousins were from Aljezur.
*Later in the Possessives unit, we will also look at another more common way of forming 3rd person possessives, which is much less ambiguous!
When To Use Definite Articles
You’ll notice that sometimes a definite article (o, a, os, as) is used before a possessive word (o meu, as minhas, etc.) and other times, the definite article is omitted (meu, minha, etc.). There are different guidelines depending on whether the word is functioning as a determiner or a pronoun. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
You’ll recall that possessive determiners precede the noun in a sentence, similar to the English words my, your, his, her, their, and our.
Possessive determiners almost always require a definite article, as in the examples below:
Perdi as minhas chaves. Play slow audio Play normal audio I lost my keys.
Este é o seu livro. O meu livro ficou ali. Play slow audio Play normal audio This is your book. My book is over there.
There are a few exceptions in which you would not include the definite article:
- Omit the article if the phrase has a vocative function. (In other words, when you are using the possessive phrase to speak directly to someone.)
- Omit the article if the phrase functions as an appositive. (An appositive is a word or phrase that renames or identifies the initial noun. You usually see it between two commas.)
- In contrast to European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese often omits possessive determiners in other situations as well.
You’ll recall that possessive pronouns in Portuguese replace the noun in a sentence, just like the words words mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, and ours do in English.
Possessive pronouns usually do not require a definite article, but it depends on the meaning of the sentence:
- They do not require an article when the emphasis of the sentence is on the possession itself.
- They do not require an article when they go along with “this” or a number. The meaning in these types of sentences is similar to “This thing of mine” or “Four things of mine”.
- Possessive pronouns do use an article when the emphasis of the sentence is on distinguishing a specific item from a group of items.
Let’s see a few examples:
Esta casa é minha. Play slow audio Play normal audio This house is mine. The focus is on the fact that I own the house, not you or somebody else. The definite article is not required here.
Esta casa minha é antiga. Play slow audio Play normal audio This house of mine is old. The definite article is not required here.
Esta casa é a minha. Play slow audio Play normal audio This house is mine. The focus here is on distinguishing a particular house from the others. The definite article is used here to show that within this group of many houses, this particular one is mine.
Os sapatos são meus. Play slow audio Play normal audio The shoes are mine. The definite article is not needed here because I simply want to express that the shoes belong to me, rather than distinguish this particular pair of shoes from a group of shoes.
Aqueles casacos são teus. Play slow audio Play normal audio Those coats are yours. The definite article is not needed here to simply express that those coats are yours.
We’ll cover each of these possessives in more detail throughout this unit and let you practice in the intervening lessons. Just to give you an preview of what’s to come, here are the topics we’ll cover: