Third-Person Possessive Using the Preposition “De”

We’ve seen that in Portuguese, the possessive pronouns/determiners for the third person are the following:

Subject Possessive Pronoun/Determiner English Equivalent
Ele, Ela Seu, Sua, Seus, Suas His, Her/Hers, Your/Yours (formal)
Eles, Elas Seu, Sua, Seus, Suas Their, Theirs

As you can see, the third person singular – você, ele and ela – and the third person plural – eles and elas – share the same exact pronouns. Since the pronoun agrees with both the person and the gender of the noun that is being possessed, knowing precisely who we’re talking about is a bit of a mess. Let’s see some 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.
Confusing, right?  To make things clearer and avoid confusion, Portuguese also uses four other determiners – dele, dela, deles, delas. These are formed by contracting the preposition de of, from with the third-person subject pronouns. Let’s see what they look like:
De + ele -> Dele of + him -> his
De + ela -> Dela of + her -> her
De + eles -> Deles of + them -> their
De + elas -> Delas of + them -> their
Both forms are correct, but using “de” + the pronoun is more specific in the way it references the intended subject.
O seu casaco e a sua t-shirt. His coat and his t-shirt? Her coat? Their t-shirt? Who knows?
O casaco e a t-shirt dela. Her coat and t-shirt. With no other possibility.
Note that their placement in the sentence is different. These new determiners dele(a)/deles(as) are always placed after the noun, and instead of agreeing in gender and number with that noun, they agree with the person that owns the noun.
Because it avoids ambiguity, the third-person possessive with dele, dela, deles and delas is very convenient and more often used in everyday life compared to seu, sua, seus and suas. Let’s look at a few more examples:

Dele

Dele is used for the third person singular, referring to a masculine subject. It is equivalent to “his” in English. Example:
O cão dele é velho. His dog is old.

Dela

Dela is used for the third person singular, referring to a feminine subject. It is equivalent to “her” in English. Example:
As calças dela são azuis. Her trousers are blue.

Deles

Deles is used for the third person plural, referring to a masculine subject. It is equivalent to “their” in English. Example:
As notas deles pioraram este semestre. Their grades worsened this semester.

Delas

Delas is used for the third person plural, referring to a feminine subject. It is equivalent to “their” in English. Example:
Os carros delas são a gasóleo. Their cars run on diesel fuel.

Comments:

  • Desculpe, mas the sound files for the contracted form of the preposition ‘de’ with the third person subject pronouns: dele, dela etc. , don’t work 🙁

  • No surprise, this is confusing. In the examples, like “o cao dele”, could you not also use “o seu cao”. Likewise for the other examples.
    I can see why its important to be able to discriminate when things are ambiguous, like the t-shirt example, but not with the s-possessives and the de-le possessives. If there is no ambiguity, can you use either just as well?

    • Oh, yes, “o cão dele” is just as valid as “o seu cão”. These are all alternative ways of expressing the same with less ambiguity, but it’s not an either/or situation. You can always use the s-possessives if you know you’ll be understood 🙂

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