The Gender of Portuguese Words

Unlike English, most Portuguese words have a gender.
Sometimes you’ll notice patterns, like the -o ending in many masculine words and the -a ending in many feminine words. There are many, many exceptions, however, so you can’t always rely on that rule. Furthermore, some words take on different forms for each gender and others only have one form. It comes down to using the patterns as a guide and memorizing the exceptions over time as you hear them in context.
We can split Portuguese words into at least four groups when it comes to gender.

Words with two forms and the same root

This is the largest group, containing words that have a different form for each gender, with both of them sharing a common root or radical. A simple example is menino boy and menina girl. These share the same root (menin-) and the -o is changed to -a to take on the feminine form. Study the charts below to learn how different words are transformed from masculine to feminine.

  • Simply changing -o to -a
Masculine Feminine
filho son filha daughter
primo cousinmale prima cousinfemale
bonito beautiful bonita beautiful
tímido shy tímida shy
  • -ão turns into , -oa or -ona
Masculine Feminine
irmão brother irmã sister
alemão German alemã German
leão lion leoa lioness
patrão bossmale patroa bossfemale
chorão whiny chorona whiny
  • -or turns into -iz
Masculine Feminine
ator actor atriz actress
embaixador ambassador embaixatriz ambassadress
imperador emperor imperatriz empress
  • Adding an -a to words ending in -or, -ês or -z
Masculine Feminine
professor teachermale professora teacherfemale
Senhor Sir Senhora Lady, Madam
português Portuguese portuguesa Portuguese
inglês English inglesa English
juiz judgemale juíza judgefemale
aprendiz apprenticemale aprendiza apprenticefemale
  • Words ending in -essa, -esa or-isa
Masculine Feminine
conde count condessa countess
abade abbot abadessa abbess
príncipe prince princesa princess
duque duke duquesa duchess
poeta poetmale poetisa poetfemale
profeta prophet profetisa prophetess
  • and some anomalous examples
Masculine Feminine
cão dogmale cadela dogfemale
rapaz boy rapariga girl
padrinho godfather madrinha godmother
frade friar freira nun
ateu atheist ateia atheist
czar tsar czarina tsarina

Words with only one form and one gender

These words, which are nouns called substantivos uniformes unisex nouns, don’t change form. They already have a defined gender which is indicated by the words before them (i.e. articles, determiners, etc.). The word preceding the noun has, of course, to match its gender.

    • A porta The door
    • O carro The car

You can’t write or say “O porta” or “A carro”, for example. Door will always be feminine and car will always be masculine.

    • A tribo The tribe – An example of a feminine word ending in -o
    • O pijama The pajama – An example of a masculine word that ends in -a

Words with only one form, but two genders

Nouns in this group can have articles of both genders before them, while the word stays the same. Most nouns that end in -e belong to this group, but not all.
Unlike the previous group, this group contains adjectives as well. The adjectives present in this group are called adjetivos uniformes unisex adjectives and they do not change form. Usually, the ones ending in -a, -e, -l, -ar, –or, -s, -z and -m fit in this category, but not all.
Below you will find a list containing some examples.

  • Nouns:
    • O chefe, A chefe The boss
    • O presidente, A presidente The president
    • O terapeuta, A terapeuta The therapist
    • O refém, A refém The hostage
  • Adjectives:
    • feliz happy
    • triste sad
    • contente happy
    • inteligente intelligent
    • homicida homicidal
    • doce sweet
    • ágil agile
    • exemplar exemplary
    • comum common

Words with two completely different forms

This group contains words whose forms have no common root between them. The masculine and feminine forms are two completely different words.

Masculine Feminine
homem man mulher woman
pai father mãe mother
cavalo horse égua mare
boi bull vaca cow
cavalheiro gentleman dama lady
zangão drone abelha bee
marido husband esposa wife

Comments:

  • Wow I like practice Portuguese with you, it’s a difficult language, but with you, I am confident one day I will get there
    Thank you guys

    • Thank you Brigitte! That’s very nice of you to say. You’re right: little by little, you’ll get there!

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