Simple and Compound Adjectives

Adjectives are words that describe or qualify nouns. They can be simple (simples) if they’re just one word, or compound (compostos) if formed by two or more elements, usually connected by a hyphen (-).

Simple adjectives (adjetivos simples):

O carro amareloThe yellow car
Um carro bonitoA beautiful car

Compound adjectives (adjetivos compostos):

Camisola rosa-choquebright pink sweatshirt
Homem surdo-mudodeaf mute man
Other examples:

Portuguese adjective English translation Portuguese adjective English translation
bem-disposto cheerful / happy mal-humorado ill-tempered / grumpy
bem-parecido good-looking / elegant bem-vindo welcome / appreciated
bem-educado polite mal-educado rude
castanho-escuro dark brown mal-acabado badly finished
bem-intencionado well-intentioned verde-alface lettuce green
vice-campeão runner-up afro-americano african american
anglo-americano anglo-american indo-europeu indo-european
greco-romana greco-roman hispano-americana hispanic american

Gender and Number

Although there are some that only have one gender form, also called adjetivos uniformes, for the most part, simple adjectives (adjetivo simples) must match the gender and number of the noun they’re describing.
Rapaz bonito Pretty boy
Flores bonitas Pretty flowers
Compound adjectives (adjetivos compostos), however, are a bit more complicated. The only element that can change according to number or gender is the second one.
Os jogadores latino-americanosThe Latin American players
Literatura latino-americana Latin American literature
In the first sentence, we’re talking about male players. In the second, however, we’re describing a feminine word: literatura. That’s why americana was used instead of americano.

There are a few exceptions:

  • The expression surdo-mudo deaf mute gets both words pluralized to become surdos-mudos, and changes to feminine form as surda-muda/surdas-mudas
  • Adjectives that end with a noun, which are mainly colors, don’t change at all. For example, the adjectives verde-azeitona olive green and amarelo-dourado golden yellow.
  • A few compound adjectives, despite not having a noun as its second element, are also invariable. Azul-marinho navy blue and azul-celeste sky-blue are two examples.

Compound Adjectives with no Hyphen (-)

There are many adjectives that combine two words or elements without needing to be hyphenated. Examples include maldisposto moody ~ grumpy, socioeconómico socioeconomic, sociocultural sociocultural, psicoterapêutico psychotherapeutic, among others. Even though these are compound, they form just one word, so they usually follow the same rules as simple adjectives, matching the noun in gender and number. One exception would be the adjective ultravioleta ultraviolet, which is invariable.

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