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Talking about Quantity

These are three of the simplest, most common words used to talk about quantity in Portuguese:
muitomany, much, a lot
poucofew, a little
algumsome, a few

Countable Nouns

When talking about countable quantities (which usually end in “-s” in English as well as Portuguese), muito, pouco and algum all change according to gender and number:
Eu tenho muitos amigos.I have many friends.
Poucas pessoas sabem o segredo.Few people know the secret.
Eles compraram algumas prendas.They bought some gifts.

Uncountable Nouns

With uncountable nouns (such as virtues, qualities, or time, which usually don’t end in “-s” in either language), muito, pouco and algum stay in their singular form, while maintaining gender agreement:
A família não tem muito dinheiro, mas tem muita coragem.The family doesn't have much money, but has a lot of courage.
Ele tem pouca paciência para festas.He has little patience for parties.
Tens algum tempo livre?Do you have some free time?
Note: When muito means something like very (i.e. when it’s related to the degree of an adjective/verb rather than the quantity of a noun) it doesn’t change to match the gender. It will always be muito, as in Muito obrigado and Muito obrigada.

Additional Expressions of Quantity

To emphasize how small a quantity is, you can actually combine muito and pouco into a single expression: muito poucovery little, very few . The same rules of Portuguese gender and quantity agreement apply here, but only to the last word of the expression, pouco:
muito poucas casas aqui.There are very few houses here.
Falo muito pouco francês.I speak very little French.
Note that um poucoa little can also be used as a noun:
Só quero um pouco.I just want a little bit.
Já sei um pouco de português!I already know a little bit of Portuguese!

Learning More

As a beginner, these words are a great start for talking about quantity in Portuguese. In future units, we’ll dive deeper into this topic to help you expand your language skills when it comes to numbers and amounts. Just to give you a preview, here are some of the topics we’ll discuss later:

Units:

Learning Notes about Numbers and Quantifiers:

Comments

  • Muito pouco is a very useful phrase! Hopefully I won’t have to say that eu falo muito pouco portugués when I go to Portugal in 2020. Note: I think you may mean unquantifiable nouns, not “uncountable”, which sounds a bit weird.

    • Thanks David! We do hope to have an app in the future, but until then, we have a mobile-friendly version of the site that you can access from the browser on your phone. (I created a shortcut on my iPhone so that it’s only 1 click to get there.) Appreciate the feedback, hopefully we can make that app a reality soon!

  • I have much confusion with the word some, uns,umas , algun ,alguns, alguma, algumas, qual ou quasi,
    Tambem, qual quer ( any)? Da-me esperar! Obrigado, Alan

    • Olá, Alan! “Uns/umas” and “alguns/algumas” (these are masculine/feminine variations) both translate to “some” and are pretty much interchangeable. If in doubt, always go for “alguns/algumas”, as that usually fits well in any context, while “uns/umas” doesn’t always sound so good.

      “Qual/quais” (these are singular/plural variations) means “which” and you can learn how it’s used in this Learning Note: Determiners – Interrogative Determiners

      “Qualquer/quaisquer” (also a singular/plural pairing) means “any”, like you said. Here’s a Learning Note on that: Quantifiers – Universal Quantifiers

      If you need any additional clarification, feel free to reach out directly via our contact page and I’ll try to explain this more thoroughly 🙂

  • Is there a place on your site that explains how to know when an “s” is pronounced “s” and when it is pronounced “sh”? Thank you!

  • SO helpful; these explanations clear up a lot for me. Now I see why in “casas aqui” the second “s” in “casas” is pronounced with an “s” sound rather than an “sh” sound, because being followed by “aqui” means that the “s” comes between two vowels. Thank you!

    • You got it! You could even say the “s” is more like a “z” sound rather than an “s” sound when it’s between vowels like that. Much easier once you know the rules, huh? Happy to help!

  • Hi! 🙂 I am a complete beginner in Portuguese. Until now, every lesson was clear and easy to understand but now I am a bit confused. The expressions of quantity and the rules of gender/number (quantity) agreement are clear, but in the examples to illustrate these you use MUITO new words (btw I suspect the verb TEM is irregular) and even tenses (e.g. compraram). Maybe I have a wrong direction in trying to learn the language by working my way through the units? Anyway, I am not sure how to continue. Should I ignore the new expressions in the examples (after all there is a translation), or learn the new words and tenses from some other source, or maybe there is a section of this course that will teach me these new expressions? Thanks!

    • Hi Marina! Don’t worry about understanding all of the words in the examples. Most phrases that we chose for this learning note have very similar word order to the English translation. That way, it’s more straightforward to get the meaning of each word by matching it to the English translation below, without needing to get into the complexities of the grammar.

      For example, in the phrase “Eles compraram algumas prendas – They bought some gifts”, the focus is just on the quantity word, algumas, and showing how it agrees in gender with prendas. So don’t worry about whether or not you know how to conjugate the past tense of comprar yet (compraram), that will come later (in the Simple Past unit)! For now, you can rely heavily on the English translation and use that to help you understand the current topic of the learning note at hand. Then you’ll get to practice with the quantity words in the next lesson, without needing to know any tenses that haven’t been covered.

      We like to include new words and concepts in these notes to give you some familiarity with what’s still to come, plus provide a more real-world context, but the actual Lessons will stick to the level you’re at. Over time, there is a certain degree of picking it up as you go, but at this stage, it’s more about getting a little exposure to new concepts, but practicing one thing at a time.

      I hope that helps, but please let me know if I can clarify anything further! We really appreciate your thoughts on this. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on this one to see if we should adjust some of the examples.

    • Hey Gordon, That learning note appears in the Minimal Pairs unit, which focuses on pronunciation/listening to give you practice with distinguishing between similar-sounding words. (It’s one of the last few units in the list right now.) The lessons cover vowels and other consonants too, not just s and c. But there will also be plenty of words along the way to give you practice with s, ss, ç, z, etc!

  • It is SO useful to have the audio buttons to practise pronunciation, especially the two speeds. This is essential and really helping me. Thank you!

  • Bom dia,

    Very good lesson, but I expected this unit to be much more in the beginning of the program.

    It would have been very useful for me when I moved to Portugal to know all these adjectives properly in the beginning. And by the time this unit comes along working through the list. I already know most of them. (Be it wrongly.) Since they are very essential and basic in everyday language..

    Is it maybe an idea to do a big simple unit of adjectives in the beginning? And then later add all the future/past/ plural tenses for example..

    I know there is a small unit like that in the beginning but still it seems a bit strange. Hope the feedback is useful.

    Otherwise keep it up,

    This website is a fantastic help for me and very well designed to fit my way of learning. My brain approves;)

    • Thanks so much for the feedback! It’s definitely helpful. I just want to check — which unit are you seeing this Learning Note in? It is supposed to appear near the end of the Adjectives 1 unit, which is #19 in the series of 100+ units and comes before we get to future or past tenses. So I just want to make sure it’s showing up at the right place for you!

      • Yes I see it in the same place as well, I’m not going that fast maybe.. I thought I saw one or two sentences with future or past in the unit but mostly not.

        As I see it, it would make more sense for this unit to be number nine more or less, after plurals? Something like that. It just felt strange to learn now what is bonita, feio, bom, etc.. All these things you describe everything with during daily life.

        Thanks for the reaction!

    • Good question! We mentioned what to do with countable and uncountable nouns, but we didn’t say what to do in the case of adjectives. When it’s followed by an adjective (like obrigado / obrigada), you always used muito.

      Here’s another way to think of muito in general:

      When it means many / a lot (i.e. when it’s related to the quantity), you match both the gender and number (muito/muitos/muita/muitas)
      When it means very / much (i.e. when it’s related to degree) you only use muito. (Muito obrigada more literally translates to Much obliged or Thank you very much)

      (There are a few slang phrases where these rules don’t apply, but otherwise these should help you out in most cases.)

  • Great site to learn European Portuguese! I’ve tried Pimsleur, Memrise, and Duolingo (Brazilian Portuguese only unfortunately) and yours is by far my favorite. Money well spent here. Thank you!

  • As always, this was a great lesson. It was interesting to learn “muito pouco” but this prompts me to enquire whether my use of “poucuito” is incorrect when saying, “So falo um poucuito de Portugues” ?
    This way of modifying a word to create a “diminutive” something I picked up while working in Angola – perhaps it is Brazilian?
    Similarly, my neighbour has a habit of using “obrigadissima” – is this a way of increasing quantity, or of emphasis?
    Regards,
    Martin.

    • Thanks for your comment! “Pouquinho” and “pouquito” (note the spelling) are also absolutely fine to use in Portugal, as informal/colloquial terms 🙂 The more proper terms are “muito pouco” and “pouquíssimo”. The suffix -íssimo adds emphasis. So, when your neighbour says “Obrigadíssima”, she’s emphasizing how grateful she feels 🙂

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