Mastering The Concept Of Word Gender In Brazilian Portuguese
If you have never encountered the concept of word gender before, then this
may be a pretty hefty lesson.
I will try to condense it down and make it easyto digest, but quite frankly to
this day, this is one of those things that still trips me up in Portuguese from time to time.
More so than any other topic, actually.
So, without further ado, let’s begin.
It works like this:
All nouns and adjectives in Portuguese are assigned a gender.
Meaning that they are either defined as masculine or feminine.
Real quick, just a refresher on what a noun and adjective are, in case it is
escaping you at the moment. A noun is any person, place, object, or thing
in general. An adjective is an attribute used to modify or describe a noun.
To explain how a word can have a gender is best described with examples.
So, let’s jump to it.
In order to understand this concept properly, we must first take a look at the
definite article in English; the word, “the.”
The word, “the,” can be written in 4 different ways in Portuguese:
Each of these forms of the word, “the,” tells us something about the word
that is to follow it.
If the word, “the,” takes the form, “a,” then we know that the proceeding
word is a singular feminine word.
English: “The woman”
Portuguese: “A mulher”
If the word, “the,” takes the form, “o,” then we know that the proceeding
word is a singular masculine word.
English: “The man”
Portuguese: “O homem”
If the word, “the,” takes the form, “as,” then we know that the proceeding
word is a plural feminine word.
English: “The women”
Portuguese: “As mulheres”
If the word, “the,” takes the form, “os,” then we know that the proceeding
word is a plural masculine word.
English: “The men”
Portuguese: “Os homens”
To Summarize, let’s have a look at this table:
|Form Of Definite Article, “The”||Quantity And Gender||Example||English Translation|
|A||Singular feminine||A mulher||The woman|
|O||Singular Masculine||O homem||The man|
|As||Plural feminine||As mulheres||The women|
|Os||Plural masculine||Os homens||The men|
To really hit this concept home, I am going to reiterate once more in further
The word, “Woman,” in Portuguese is, “Mulher.”
On its own, without any context, it would be impossible to know whether
this word is masculine or feminine (barring the fact that we are all raised
knowing that a woman is, by definition, a feminine concept.)
We must have some way to identify whether the Portuguese word,
“mulher,” is classified as either masculine or feminine and the way that we
do that is by the definite article, “a,” which in English translates to the word,
Meaning that if we wanted to say, “the woman,” we would say, “a mulher.”
On that same token, if we wanted to say, “the man,” we would say, “o
homem,” with the definite article, “o,” meaning, “the,” In this context.
So, with that, we can establish that the definite article, “the,” defines a word
as either masculine or feminine, and also either plural or singular based on
what form it takes, “a, o, as, os.”
Now you might be thinking, “ok great, but not every word has the word,
‘the,’ before it.” And you are right. So, how do we know if a word is
masculine or feminine if there is no, “the,” preceding it?
Well, for most nouns and adjectives that exist in Portuguese, you will find
that the word ends in either an, “a,” or an, “o.” And, as you can imagine, if it
ends in an, “a,” it is generally feminine and if it ends in an, “o,” it is generally
Here are a few examples:
|English Word||Portuguese equivalent||Word Gender|
This is true for, as I said, most nouns and adjectives.
However, there are a great many other words that do not end in either an,
“a,” or an, “o,” and they can be a little more difficult to get right.
It can be thought that the majority of words in Portuguese by default are
masculine. In order to achieve the feminine equivalent, we often just
substitute the, “o,” on the ending of the word with an, “a,” or modify the
ending of the word in some similar fashion.
|English Word||Portuguese Translation|
In Portuguese, there are many word-endings that you will encounter that are not so simple as, “a,” and, “o.” Sometimes they break the aforementioned rule of, “a,” and, “o,” corresponding to masculine and feminine gender assignment.
Some of the most common word-endings that I have encountered are as
|Word Ending In…||An Example||English Translation||Word Gender|
In order to truly understand how word gender is intertwined with every noun
and adjective in Portuguese, you will need to become familiar with each of
these word endings and be able to attribute either the definite article, “o,”
or, “a,” to each word that ends with one of these endings when you see
However, for now, it is best to simply see the word endings for what they
are and continue onward, as you could spend the next year of your life just
studying all the different words that have these endings, which words are
masculine and which are feminine, and still not be 100% correct, 100% of
There are a number of other word endings that I have not included here in
this table that we will discuss in the upcoming lessons on verb conjugation.
If I were to include them here, this list would simply grow and grow and it is
not necessarily where your focus should be at this particular moment.
What I am hoping to achieve here is to ensure that you have an active
understanding now that each noun and adjective in Portuguese inherently
is assigned a gender, either masculine or feminine, and is identified by
whether the definite article, “the,” preceding the word is either an, “o,” or an,
Before we conclude this lesson, it is important that I make a distinction
here. Adjectives are assigned their gender based on the gender of the
noun that they are attributed to. They do technically have a gender on their
own. You may have already noticed this as we were going along but let me
state it explicitly.
For example, if you were to say something like, “my phone is red,” the word
“red” would be the adjective that is modifying the noun, “phone.” Meaning
to say that it is applying an attribute to the noun, “phone,” making it red.
Therefore, in Portuguese, the adjective, “red,” would take on the gender of
the noun, “phone.”
That sentence in Portuguese would be:
“Meu telefone é vermelho.”
The adjective, “vermelho,” which means, “red,” in English ends in an, “o,”
because the noun, “telefone,” which means, “phone,” is a masculine noun.
Therefor the adjective, “vermelho,” takes the masculine form in this
If, on the other hand, you were to say, “my bag is red,” which in Portuguese
would be, “minha bolsa é vermelha,” you would see that the adjective,
“vermelho,” becomes, “vermelha,” ending in an, “a,” because the word for,
“bag,” in Portuguese which is, “bolsa,” is a feminine noun.
It’s an important distinction to make that adjectives take on the gender of
their corresponding nouns because in order to sound like a native Brazilian,
which is the goal of this course, you want to be able to describe things
properly. And mixing up gender is something you should strive not to do,
Again, don’t worry too much about this right now, as you will see this again
and again as you move forward in your studies.
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Until next time,