possessive pronouns in portuguese

Introduction to Possessives

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.

Portuguese Possessives

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.

Person Determiner/Pronoun English Translation
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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio That was my cat.
A minha tia deu-me uma prenda. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio My aunt gave me a present.
Os meus cachorrinhos são tão giros! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio My puppies are so cute!
Viste as minhas chaves? paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Your cousin is nice.
Aquela senhora é a tua mãe? paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Is that lady your mother?
Os teus tios vêm cá jantar. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Your aunt and uncle are coming over for dinner.
Pus as tuas meias a lavar. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Her sofa is very comfortable.
A sua caldeirada de marisco é de morrer. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio His seafood stew is to die for.
Os seus sapatos são feitos à mão. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Her shoes are handmade.
As suas encomendas foram enviadas para trás. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Our brother is sad.
A nossa casa é fria no Inverno. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Our house is cold in the winter.
Os nossos carros precisam de ser reparados. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Our cars need to be repaired.
As nossas primas foram à Suécia. paused audio playing audio 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! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Clean your room!
A vossa tia vai ao cinema. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Your aunt is going to the cinema.
Os vossos casacos estão na sala. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Your jackets are in the living room.
Pus tudo nas vossas malas. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their car wasn’t parked well.
A sua casa é muito acolhedora. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their house is very cosy.
Os seus filhos são adolescentes. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Their children are teenagers.
As suas primas eram de Aljezur. paused audio playing audio 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.

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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I lost my keys.
Este é o seu livro. O meu livro ficou ali. paused audio playing audio 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.)
    • Meu amigo, é preciso calma! paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio My friend, stay calm!
  • 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.)
    • Pedro, seu irmão, chamou-o. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio 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 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. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio This house of mine is old. The definite article is not required here.
Esta casa é a minha. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio 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. paused audio playing audio 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.

Learning More

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:

Comments:

    • 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: http://www.practiceportuguese.com/learning-notes/deles-and-delas-vs-seus-and-suas/

  • 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”.

  • When it comes to the 3rd person singular is it also OK to say “a sofá dela é muito comfortável” instead of “O sue sofá…..” ? Is this the same?
    Obrigada,
    Susan

  • If I understand correctly, the sentence, “O seu carro ficou mal estacionado.” Could be interpreted as “His/her/their car wasn’t parked well.”
    Is that correct?

  • Hi, I had to check it out but ficou is translated in the wrong tense, or is there a reason that it means ‘is’ in this context?

    Este é o seu livro. O meu livro ficou ali

    • Grammatically speaking, the closest translation to “O meu livro ficou ali” would be “My book stayed over there”. But people are more likely to say something like “I left my book over there” or just “My book is over there”, which is why the English translation doesn’t perfectly match what you see in Portuguese, even though the idea is indeed the same 🙂

  • 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.)

    Would this be an example:
    Esta é minha mae.

    • Olá, Mario. That’s not an appositive, so we would still say “Esta é a minha mãe” in European Portuguese. But these could be:
      – A minha mãe, tua avó, chama-se Fernanda.
      – O Pedro e o Tiago, meus colegas, são muito competentes.

  • Hello! I was wondering, in the example “Os seus sapatos são feitos à mão” can it also be interpreted as “their(elas) shoes”?

    • Hi Batul, Yes! It could mean His shoes, Her shoes, Your(formal) shoes, or Their(eles or elas) shoes. The form you use matches the gender and number of the noun, not the subject, so you would need context to know for sure. (Luckily there is also a less ambiguous way to talk about possession in the 3rd person that you will learn about later in this unit, i.e. using dele / deles / dela / delas)

  • I found this lesson most confusing. I understand that o seu and a sua have to agree with the following noun, but you just have to guess whether it is “his” or “hers”?

    • Yes, it could actually mean his, hers, yours (formal), or theirs. You wouldn’t know for sure without more context. Seems crazy at first, right? Luckily, people usually don’t use seu/sua/seus/suas unless the context is clear. For example, if you tell someone you got a new car and then they immediately say something about “o seu carro”, you could easily assume they mean “your car”. As you continue in this possessives unit, it will explain each of the possessives in more detail, including some learning notes on a much more common way to talk about possession in the 3rd person, which is using dele and dela. This will help A LOT to avoid the ambiguity. (But it’s still important to learn all the types because you will hear all of them.)

  • The introduction is too long. Would be better to break it up with relevant exercises as it goes along.

    • Thanks, John! These grammar topics are already dense per se, so we appreciate everyone’s feedback to help us optimize the way we present them.

  • Hi, i have a question 🙂
    When do you say “a sua” or “as suas” when you refer to “ele”? I find it weird that it is feminine while “ele” is masculine.
    I would appreciate it so much if you could explain this. The learning notes are so helpful by the way!

    • Hi, good question! Basically, if you are using seu (or its variations) it matches the gender and number of the item being possessed, not the person who possesses the item. So without further context, you don’t know whether seu/sua/seus/suas means his, her, your(formal), or their. You’ll find a much more detailed explanation in the other learning notes from this unit: Possessives. In particular, check out the two mentioning 3rd person possessives and the one about dele/dela vs seu/sua.

  • Hey, I think y’all might have bolded a different word than you meant to, above? A formatting ‘typo’ – Where you have …. Esta casa é a minha…. This house is *mine*. “Mine“ is bolded, again as it is in the first example (“ Esta casa é minha.”) but I think “This” is the word that s/b in bold, as per the explanation that follows it.

    • The main focus for that section is on whether or not a definite article is used, so I think we wanted to highlight the possessive word in the sentence (minha, a minha, meus, etc). But I see what you’re saying — in that example, you would be saying “this” with more emphasis, so it makes sense to make it bold as well to show why that sentence is different. Just changed it! Thanks for pointing that out!

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