Identifying Brazilian Portuguese Nouns; People, Places, And Things Featured Image
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Identifying Portuguese Nouns: People, Places, And Things

In English, we define a noun as a person, place, object, or thing in general. This is the English definition, and you will be pleased to know that it is the same definition in Portuguese.

The topic of nouns in Portuguese could be quite lengthy if I were to assume that you did not have a working knowledge of what nouns are in English. However, I am writing this article with the basic assumption that you do understand the concept of nouns in English already.

Everything you know to be true about nouns in English is also true in Portuguese, so I will not be discussing all the different types of nouns, as that is really just an English grammar lesson in general. Instead, I will be discussing what is different between the two languages and what you need to know in order to master the Portuguese version of what you already know in English.

Portuguese nouns or “substantivos” follow all the same grammatical rules that English nouns follow plus many of their own.

Let’s see some examples to get this concept rolling:

Noun (Substantivo)Portuguese TranslationNoun Type
A humanUm humanoPerson
ItalyA ItáliaPlace
A BoxUma caixaObject/Thing
The color blueA cor azulAttribute
A thoughtUm pensamentoConcept


As you can see, Portuguese nouns fall into the same categories as English nouns, and they are treated the same way in speech. The major difference is that each and every noun is assigned a gender in Portuguese.

I spoke about gender in my previous post, Mastering The Concept Of Word Gender, and I taught you that the definite article, “the,” defines whether a word is masculine or feminine depending on if it takes the form, “o,” or, “a.”

Now we are going to extend this concept to include indefinite articles.
There are two indefinite articles in English, “a,” and, “an.”

For example, we say, “a pencil,” or, “an apple,” to discuss a noun that is not completely defined. “A pencil,” could be any pencil for example, and, “an apple,” could be any apple. When we say, “the pencil,” or, “the apple,” we are defining a particular pencil or a particular apple and therefore we call the word, “the,” a definite article, and we call the words, “a,” and, “an,” indefinite articles.

In Portuguese, there are four indefinite articles, just as there are four definite articles.

The indefinite articles in Portuguese are as follows: um, uma, uns and umas.
They correspond to English in the following way:

Indefinite Article in PortugueseEnglish Translation
Um (Masculine singular)A / An
Uns (Masculine plural)Some (More than one)
Uma (Feminine singular)A / An
Umas (Feminine plural)Some (More than one)


Let’s look at this in application to gain more understanding.

For example…
In order to say, “a pencil,” in Portuguese, you would say, “um lápis.”
This is different than saying, “o lapis,” which would mean, “the pencil.”

“O lapis,” refers to a particular pencil, whereas, “um lápis” refers to any pencil.

If we were to say, “some pencils,” we would use the plural form of the word, “um,” which becomes, “uns,” and would say, “uns lápis.”

That is how it works for a masculine noun. So how about a feminine one like, “apple?”

In order to say, “an apple,” in Portuguese, you would say, “uma maçã.”
This is different than saying, “a maçã,” which would mean, “the apple.”

If we were to say, “some apples,” we would use the plural form of the word, “uma,” which becomes, “umas,” and would say, “umas maçãs.”

Now that we have covered this, let’s continue on with the topic of nouns.
Nouns in Portuguese can often be preceded by a definite article, and this can be quite strange for an English speaker when trying to make word to word translations.

When talking about a person in Portuguese, for example, it can be a little different than English because you will find that Brazilians often tack on the word, “the,” before saying a noun.

An example would be:
English:
“My friend, Jane, wants to go camping with Jessica.”
Portuguese:
“Minha amiga, Jane, quer acampar com a Jéssica.”

As you can see, in that Portuguese translation, we have the definite article, “a,” before the noun, “Jessica.”

If we were to include that same, “the,” in the English version, it would be, “My friend, Jane, wants to go camping with the Jessica.”

Hopefully, you can see that this does not sound natural to you, as an English speaker. In English, we do not typically casually address each other’s names with “the.”

This is one of those funny things that no one ever taught me, and I had to just figure it out little by little. Now that you are aware of this, it should be familiar to you when you inevitably run into it.

Let’s look at another example of this in action:
English:
“São Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil.”
Portuguese:
“O São Paulo é a maior cidade do Brasil.”

As you can see, in the Portuguese translation, we see the word, “O,” appear before, “São Paulo.”  We do not see that in the English version. If we did, the English version would say, “The Sao Paulo is the biggest city in Brazil.”

Typically, you will want to put the definite article, “A,” or, “O,” before a noun when it is at the beginning of a sentence.

How about one more example for the road?
English:
“Maria is going to the mall later.”
Portuguese:
“A Maria vai ao shopping mais tarde.”

In this example, the, “A,” that appears before, “Maria,” in the Portuguese version would be like saying, “The Maria,” in English. It just isn’t natural for us to speak this way and so this is one of those things that will take some practice to get used to.

But the good news is this, if you do not include the definite article before a noun in these contexts, it is highly doubtful that any Brazilian will even notice. It’s one of those things that is done sometimes, and not others. But if you want to truly speak and sound like a native, it will behoove you to add this to your repertoire.

The other major difference between English nouns and Portuguese nouns that needs to be addressed is pluralization. In English, for almost all of our nouns, in order to use the plural version, we simply add an, “s,” to the end of the word. For example, “day,” becomes, “days,” “boot,” becomes, “boots,” and so on.

But in Portuguese, it is not always that simple. Though there are many words where this is the case, there are also a great many others where it is not. In order to continue this topic properly, we must return to the concept of word-endings, or suffixes. The way we pluralize a word in Portuguese has all to do with the suffix of the singular form of that word.

In Portuguese, we can sort the plural suffixes into 4 main categories:
 
The first are the words that end with the letter, “l,” in the singular form.
To pluralize, we simply replace the, “l,” with the letters, “is.”

Some examples would be:

Substantivo (Singular)English Noun DefinitionSubstantivo (Plural)English Noun Definition
O anelThe ringOs aneisThe rings
O animalThe animalOs animaisThe animals
Um hotelA hotelUns hotéisSome hotels
O infielThe unfaithfulOs infiéisThe unfaithfuls

Next, we have the words that end in the letters, “s,” or, “z.”
Words in Portuguese that end in these letters do not change from singular to plural.

You may have noticed this earlier when you saw, “uns lápis,” meaning, “some pencils.”

Some more examples would be:

Substantivo (Singular)English Noun DefinitionSubstantivo (Plural)English Noun Definition
 Os óculos The glasses
(one pair)
Os óculoThe glasses
(more than one pair)
Um arroz A riceUns arrozSome rices
O ônibus The busOs ônibuThe buses


Third, we will look at words that end in “ão.”

This suffix is more troublesome as there is not really a hard-and-fast rule for it. There will be times where you change the plural ending to, “ões,” others where it will be, “ães,” and still others where you will simply put an, “s,” on the end.

For this class of words, you will need to memorize which is which as you learn them. But don’t let that scare you, this is something that will happen somewhat automatically as you continue your studies.

Some examples would be:

Substantivo (Singular)English Noun DefinitionSubstantivo (Plural)English Noun Definition
Um cão A dogUns cãesSome dogs
O coração The heartOs coraçõesThe hearts
O irmãoThe brotherOs irmãosThe brothers

And finally, we have all the other words that do not end in either “l,” “s,” “z,” or “ão.” For these words, it is just like English. Just slap an, “s,” on the end and you are good to go!

Some examples would be:

Substantivo (Singular)English Noun DefinitionSubstantivo (Plural)English Noun Definition
Um minutoA minuteUns minutosSome minutes
A carneThe meatAs carnesThe meats
Un carroA carUns carrosSome cars

If you would like to continue learning at an accelerated pace,
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It is the best way for anyone who is learning Brazilian Portuguese
to hash out some of the most confusing topics in the language and
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I am sure you will find something interesting.

Until next time,

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