Quick Fix for Your Portuguese Possessive Adjectives… And Pronouns, Too
You should only move on when you grasp the Portuguese possessive adjectives correctly.
It’s like when you’re driving long distance. Your destination is working fluency. And your car’s Portuguese.
If you have a bad car, you’ll be stopping more frequently than not. If the engine is okay and the tires are new, you won’t probably face as many difficulties as you would otherwise.
And let’s face it, most people have a bad car Portuguese-wise.
And that’s perfectly fine — as long as they keep fixing and improving their vehicles.
And in this short article, you’ll discover how you can power up your Portuguese with one simple adjustment.
The Portuguese Possessive Adjectives — the Layperson’s Introduction
You probably learned that an adjective’s a modifier. And, a modifier should precede the word it modifies.
That’s also true for Portuguese possessive adjectives but we do have quite a few exceptions.
First, let’s take a look at the possessive adjectives that exist in modern Brazilian Portuguese.
|Portuguese||Noun (dele comes after)||English|
|Meu, minha (eu)||My|
|Teu, tua (tu)||Your|
|Seu, sua (você, ele, ela)||Your, his, her|
|Dele, dela (ele, ela)||His, her|
|Nosso, nossa (nós)||Our|
|Seus, suas (vocês, eles, elas)||Your, their|
|Deles, delas (eles, elas)||their|
And as much as my professorial sense urges me to give you a lengthy explanation, I’ll just give you some examples of those possessive adjectives in use:
- Este é meu telefone celular. Comprei na internet. This is my cell phone. I bought it on the Internet.
- Onde está a tua mãe? Preciso falar com ela urgente. Where is your mother? I need to speak to her urgently.
- Este aqui é o seu celular? Nossa, ele é que nem o meu celular. Is this here your cell phone? Wow, it looks like my cell phone.
- Cadê a irmã dele que não vem buscá-lo logo? Está ficando tarde e a festa já acabou. Where is his sister and why doesn’t she come pick him up? It’s getting late and the party’s already over.
- É melhor você não mexer no dinheiro dela. Ela pode dar por falta. You had better not touch her money. She might notice it’s not there.
- Nós ainda não vimos nossas notas. Estamos nervosos com os resultados dos testes. We haven’t seen our grades yet. We are nervous about the test outcomes.
- Suas notas saíram e não foram nada boas. Vocês estão ferrados. Your outcomes are up and weren’t really that good. You’re screwed.
- A casa deles é tão grande. Quero um dia ter uma casa assim. Their house is so big. I want to have a house like that someday.
- A avó delas é alemã e não entende nadica de nada de português. Their grandmother is German and doesn’t understand doodly squat of Portuguese.
First, Where do They Go? Before or After the Noun?
Usually, you can place them only before the nouns:
- Ele é meu amigo. He is my friend.
- Ei, não mexa nesse celular. Ele não é seu telefone. Hey, don’t mess with this cell. It’s not your phone.
- Por favor, não coma meu almoço. Estou com muita fome hoje. Please, don’t eat my lunch. I’m very hungry today.
But sometimes you can place them after the noun.
This happens when you choose to use the indefinite article, for example:
- Ah, o Pedro? Ele é só um amigo meu. Oh, Peter? He’s just a friend of mine.
- Esse é um telefone meu. Tenho outros. This is a phone of mine. I have others.
- Ah, ontem ligou uma amiga sua. Ah, yesterday one friend of yours called.
And you see I included “dele, dela” in my table above?
Not all textbooks do that. They usually teach you “his/her” as “seu, sua”. This causes a lot of confusion, since “seu, sua” also means “yours”.
Brazilians prefer using “dele, dela” for his/her.
And dele/dela is always (always!) placed AFTER the noun, never before it.
- O celular dele acabou pifando. His cell phone ended up breaking.
- A amiga dela é muito importante na empresa. Her friend is very important in the company.
- O avião deles não decolou. O voo teve de ser adiado. Their plane didn’t take off. The flight had to be postponed.
Do I Have to Insert the Article Before The Possessive Adjective?
That’s a good question.
Even if you have never asked that question, you’ll probably come across the following sentence:
- Meu livro está na mesa. My book is on the table.
You see that there is no definite article before the word “meu”.
But you’ve probably heard its variation:
- O meu livro está na mesa. My book is on the table.
Some people will tell you that you should never use the definite article (a, o) before possessive adjectives in Portuguese. Nah. If you probe further you’ll never get a clear answer from them.
Surprise, surprise: they don’t know why.
Using it or not using it is not wrong. It’s a matter of personal choice and style.
The folks at Ciberdúvidas da Língua Portuguesa back me up on this one.
So, the following sentences have absolutely the same meaning.
- Esse é meu pai, o bigodudo. This is my father, the one with a big mustache.
- Esse é o meu pai, o bigodudo. This is my father, the one with a big mustache.
Did He Break Your Leg? How Come?
Even though I listed above the word “seu, sua” as a translation for “his/her,” in Brazil we avoid that.
And the reason for this avoidance is compelling.
Imagine the following example.
Ricardo comes up to Maria and says:
- O João quebrou sua John broke his leg.
Surprised, Maria asks:
- Como assim? As minhas pernas estão intactas. How is that possible? My legs remain unharmed.
The disconnect here took place in that little word, “sua.”
It means “his, her.” But “your” is also a possible translation.
And “your” is usually the first meaning that comes to mind when we hear the word “seu, sua”.
And now, here’s the dialogue again but in a way Brazilians would say it.
- O João quebrou a perna dele. John broke his leg.
- E ele está bem? Poor thing. Is he okay?
And as you can see, you place dele after the noun it refers to. The other possessive adjectives go before the noun.
(well, that may change, and I suggest you read on to find out more.)
We don’t really expect John to go around breaking other people’s legs. And if you hurt a hand, chances are it’s your hand and not Jessica’s or Paolo’s…
Well, it’s just a fancy way to say that we don’t use the possessive adjectives for parts of the body as often as you do in English.
If I said, “John broke his leg,” I’d probably express it like this:
- O João quebrou a perna.
And Who Does It Agree with?
I know you must be tired of knowing that the garden is masculine but the door is feminine… It just doesn’t make sense.
Well, I agree.
And something else that should do some agreeing here is the noun and the adjectives that are attached to it.
And that is valid for possessive adjectives, too.
- Sua tia está aqui? Queria falar com ela. Is your aunt here? I’d like to speak with her?
- Não, minha tia caiu fora já faz um tempo. No, my aunt left some time ago.
You see that the possessive (sua) agrees with the noun (tia). It doesn’t matter if the person I’m speaking to is a man or a woman.
A common mistake I see is this —
I’m speaking to a man and I want to say “your aunt”. Because my interlocutor is a man, I say:
- Seu tia está aqui? (wrong)
it’s a simple mistake, sure. But it’s one that creeps up from time to time in my friends’ Portuguese.
And How About the Possessive Pronouns in Portuguese?
They look like the possessive adjectives you saw above.
The only difference lies in how you use them.
Possessive adjectives have to have a noun to refer to. My book, your friend.
Possessive pronouns in Portuguese don’t need to refer to anybody. You see, they can be either the subject or the object — or both — in a sentence.
- Eu estava procurando as suas chaves, mas acabei encontrando as minhas. I was looking for your keys, but I ended up finding mine.
- O meu celular é ruim, mas o seu é bom. My cell phone is bad, but yours is good.
- O seu filho é muito mal comportado. Your son is very badly behaved.
- Você vai me dar licença, mas o meu não é tão ruim nem tão feio quanto o seu. You will excuse me, but mind isn’t as evil nor as ugly as yours.
And you’ve probably noticed that I included the definite article before the possessive pronouns.
Here’s a writer-downer for you: we have to use the article with the possessive pronouns in Portuguese. Thus:
O meu, o seu, a minha, a sua…
You remember I said above you could use the definite article was a possessive adjective?
I’m sure you do, but just to play safe, take a look at the following example:
- Este é [o] meu dinheiro. This is my money.
What happens if you have to use “todo” (all) before it?
If you’ve read this article, you probably know that you have to use the definite article with “todo” when it comes before nouns (see more on todo and cada here).
But if you’ve heard a Brazilian saying the sentence aloud, you sure know it doesn’t sound like they’re using the article.
Why is that?
It’s because we blend the pronunciation.
It’s simple math.
The “o” blend together and should sound like one word.
Whenever you write it, you should be a good person who remembers to include the article.
But Eli, I see none of my friends use that!
“If your friends told you to jump off the cliff would you jump?”
That’s what my mom would say.
What I say is — you can do the same. Just remember it’s not strictly correct.
And here are some more examples for your benefit.
- Eu vou te amar por toda a minha vida. I’m going to love you for my entire life.
- Eu perdi todo o meu dinheiro em prostitutas e jogos de azar. I’ve lost all my money on prostitutes and gambling.
(Bad taste in examples, I know. But I want them to stick in your mind.)
Now, how do you feel after this quick visit to Uncle Eli’s car shop?
You have a much more robust Portuguese than before, one that will carry you very far.
And since you’ve been learning a bit about the Portuguese possessive adjectives, you’ll probably want to see the following article:
And if you haven’t yet, head over to our home page where you’ll find our exclusive assessment to see your level of Portuguese accurately.
And as always, if you have any questions, write them in the comments section below.
I’m always here and I’ve always been.