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Portuguese Adjective Placement and Its Meaning

portuguese adjective placement example

You may think that the Portuguese adjective placement isn’t easy. And you’re right.

But there are some tips and rules that can help.

Adjective Placement in Portuguese and The Change of Meaning

In English, one of the most glaringly clear aspects for us foreigners is the adjective placement.

I guess you have Brazilian friends or acquaintances.

In that case, you’ve probably heard them saying “This is a book good” or some variation.

To your native English ears — awkward sentence, I know — that might sound like a mistake (which it is).

But to Portuguese speakers, that makes perfect sense.

In Portuguese, you can place adjectives either before or after. Heck, if you have two of them, you can place them on both sides.

Next, we’ll look into how the meaning changes according to where the adjective is.

Intrinsic Quality

Let’s take the words “bom” e “garoto” by way of example.

If you want to say “John is a good boy,” there are two ways of doing so, each one conveying a slightly different shade of meaning.

  • João é um bom garoto. John is a good boy.

This sentence means John is a good boy because that is his intrinsic quality.

You don’t think John is a good boy only because he behaves like a baroque angel at that moment; you believe John is morally good as if that quality preceded his being.

Whenever you place an adjective before its noun, it emphasizes the adjective and gives it a “subjective” value.

Momentaneous, Temporary, Passing Quality

Let’s take a look at the next example using the same sentence.

  • João é um garoto bom. John is a good boy.

Now you think John is a good boy, possibly because of his good behavior at that moment. He isn’t essentially a good person.

After-the-noun placement is the regular order in which an adjective is placed. When in this position, the adjective takes on an “objective” value.

You may have understood the main point of adjective placement, but having extra examples and discussion has never hurt anyone.

  • Eu sou um homem simples. (I am a simple man, I don’t wear fancy clothes, I like my things simple)
  • Eu sou um simples homem. (I am merely a man, I can’t do much, I am unimportant)
  • Ana está com um amigo novo. (Her friend is young)
  • Ana está com um novo amigo. (it’s a new friend she is with, one that you probably have never met).

Does it Work for the Portuguese Possessive Adjectives?

That’s a great question 🙂

And because they demand more space to explain (since they follow some different rules), you can find all about possessive adjectives (and pronouns) here.

An Important Note About the Portuguese Adjective Order

I said above that the order of adjectives in Portuguese doesn’t matter much because you can place them on either side.

That’s true to some extent.

Some adjectives go only before the nouns and some only after.

Adjectives that go before the noun usually deal with 1) category or 2) relevant characteristics, such as color and size.

  • Animal doméstico. House pet. (category)
  • Calça azul. Blue pants. (color)
  • Governo federal. Federal government. (category)
  • Homem baixoShort man. (size)

And adjectives that go after the noun usually deal with 1) best, worst, and other superlatives, 2) some one-syllable adjectives such as bom, mau… that form a single noun in our minds, 3) the adjective simples meaning “mere, only”.

  • O maior homem do mundo. The tallest man in the world.
  • O pior investimento do século. The worst investment of the century.
  • Bom dia! Mau sinal. Good morning! bad sign.
  • Sou um simples mortal. I’m a mere mortal.

Ficou tudo claro? If you have questions, you can always send me a message or leave a comment below.

And if you want to know more, head over to our grammar section.