Introduction to Possessives

Introduction to Possessives

In this unit, we’re going to learn about possessive pronouns and possessive determiners, 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 tells 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.

Possessives in Portuguese

In Portuguese, both pronouns and determiners make use of the same words – meu, teu, seu, nosso, vosso – as well as their feminine and plural forms. As you will see below, this means that there are multiple possible translations of a single English word. For both possessive determiners and possessive pronouns, 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.

PersonDeterminer/PronounEnglish Translation
Euo meu/ a minha/ os meus/ as minhasmy or mine
Tuo teu/ a tua/ os teus/ as tuasyour or yours (informal)
Eleo seu/ a sua/ os seus/ as suashis
Elao seu/ a sua/ os seus/ as suasher or hers
Vocêo seu/ a sua/ os seus/ as suasyour or yours (formal)
Nóso nosso/ a nossa/ os nossos/ as nossasour or ours
Vocêso vosso/ a vossa/ os vossos/ as vossasyour or yours (plural)
Eleso seu/ a sua/ os seus/ as suastheir or theirs
Elaso seu/ a sua/ os seus/ as suastheir or theirs

 
It sounds confusing, 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 the determiner used for masculine nouns, and 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. That was my cat.
A minha tia deu-me uma prenda. My aunt gave me a present.
Os meus cachorrinhos são tão giros! My puppies are so cute!
Viste as minhas chaves? Have you seen my keys?

Teu, Tua, Teus, Tuas (2nd person singular)

Teu is the determiner used for masculine nouns, and tua is used for feminine nouns. Teus and tuas are the plural forms of teu and tua. All of them stand for “your” in English, when “your” refers to something or someone belonging to a single person. Examples:
O teu primo é simpático. Your cousin is nice.
Aquela senhora é a tua mãe? Is that lady your mother?
Os teus tios vêm cá jantar. Your aunt and uncle are coming over for dinner.
Pus as tuas meias a lavar. I've put your socks in the wash.

Seu, Sua, Seus, Suas* (3rd person singular)

Seu is the determiner used for masculine nouns, and therefore stands for “his”, while sua is used for feminine nouns, and therefore corresponds to “hers”. Seus and suas are the plural forms of seu and sua. Examples:
O seu sofá é muito confortável. Her sofa is very comfortable.
A sua caldeirada de marisco é de morrer. His seafood stew is to die for.
Os seus sapatos são feitos à mão. Her shoes are handmade.
As suas encomendas foram enviadas para trás. His packages were sent back.

Nosso, Nossa, Nossos, Nossas (1st person plural)

Nosso is the determiner 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. Our brother is sad.
A nossa casa é fria no Inverno. Our house is cold in the winter.
Os nossos carros precisam de ser reparados. Our cars need to be repaired.
As nossas primas foram à Suécia. Our cousins went to Sweden.

Vosso, Vossa, Vossos, Vossas (2nd person plural)

Vosso is the determiner 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! Clean your room!
A vossa tia vai ao cinema. Your aunt is going to the cinema.
Os vossos casacos estão na sala. Your jackets are in the living room.
Pus tudo nas vossas malas. 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, third person plural uses the same exact possessives as third person singular, in the exact same way, except in this case they are equivalent to “their” in English. Examples:
O seu carro ficou mal estacionado. Their car wasn’t parked well.
A sua casa é muito acolhedora. Their house is very cosy.
Os seus filhos são adolescentes. Their children are teenagers.
As suas primas eram de Aljezur. Their cousins were from Aljezur.
*Later in the Possessives unit, we will also look at another more common way of forming these 3rd person possessives.
 

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.

Possessive Determiners

You’ll recall that possessive determiners precede the noun in a sentence, similar to the English words myyourhishertheir, and our.
Possessive determiners almost always require a definite article, as in the examples below:
Perdi as minhas chaves. I lost my keys.
Este é o seu livro. O meu livro ficou ali. 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.)
    • For example: “Meu amigo, é preciso calma!” – My friend, stay calm!
  • Omit the article if the phrase functions as an appositive. (An appositive is a word or phrase that renames the initial noun. You usually see it between two commas.)
    • For example: “Pedro, seu irmão, chamou-o.”  – Pedro, his brother, called him.
  • In contrast to European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese often omits possessive determiners in other situations as well.

Possessive Pronouns

You’ll recall that possessive pronouns replace the noun in a sentence, similar to the English words mine, yours, his, hers, theirs, and ours.
Possessive pronouns usually do not require a definite article, but it depends on the meaning of the sentence:

  • Possessive pronouns do not require an article when the emphasis of the sentence is on the possession itself.
  • Possessive pronouns 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. 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. This house of mine is old. The definite article is not required here.
Esta casa é a minha. 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. 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. Those coats are yours. The definite article is not needed here to simply express that those coats are yours.

8 Responses to Introduction to Possessives

    • Hi! Sorry about it. A lot of work is being done on the website’s backend, which might cause/have caused some temporary bugs or random formatting issues, for example. If things continue looking messy for you, let us know via our contact page, so we can check it out 🙂

    • Hi, Gerald! It would make sense, but actually, “seu/sua” and “seus/suas” only agree with the respective noun, without giving any indication of the gender/number of the subject of the sentence. So, because “sofá” is a masculine noun, it’s always preceded by “seu”, even if the subject is one or many women. Same for “caldeirada”, which is feminine, and preceded by “sua” for that reason, even if the subject is male.

      Here’s another Learning Note that explains how the Portuguese deal with this ambiguity: https://www.practiceportuguese.com/learning-notes/deles-and-delas-vs-seus-and-suas/

  1. In the example ” os tuas tios vem ca jantar”, how do you know that it means Aunt and Uncle, rather than just Uncles?

    Apologies for the lack of accents, this computer doesnt have them but I know they are there!

    • You don’t know! 🙂 The masculine is the default gender for any group of people as long as at least one man is present. So, without any context, you could translate “Os teus tios” as 1) “your aunt and uncle”, 2) “your aunts and uncle”, 3) “your aunt and uncles” or 4) “your uncles”. The chosen translation here is simply based on what might be the most common scenario. If you want to be absolutely clear, you could always say “A tua tia e o teu tio”.

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