The goal of this Portuguese lesson is to help you understand articles in Portuguese, both definite articles and indefinite articles. I will answer common questions and clear up confusion. But you do not have to like grammar to learn this 😉
Most importantly, I will show you differences in use between English and Portuguese. These are the tricky cases when simply translating the sentence from English to Portuguese will render incorrect Portuguese.
Don’t worry if you don’t like grammar. Articles are something you use daily whether you are aware of it or not. For instance, when you say, “the door is closed” or “I am looking for a job”, you are using articles.
Furthermore, I like to teach my lessons in a language that is friendly to all.
Definite articles in Portuguese (artigos definidos)
Definite articles define what you are talking about. In English, you have the as a definite article. For example:
- The house is blue.
- The car is new.
These articles are called definite because when I say “the car” I am talking about a specific car, and not just about any car.
As you know, things have a gender in Portuguese. House is a feminine noun (or thing, if you prefer to avoid grammar) and car is a masculine noun.
Therefore, articles in Portuguese also have a gender because they need to agree in gender with the noun (object, thing, animal, person) that they refer to.
In addition, articles in Portuguese have a singular and a plural form because they also need to agree in number (singular and plural) with the noun that they refer to.
As a result, we have the following four definite articles in Portuguese:
- a: A casa é azul. = The house is blue.
- o: O carro é novo. = The car is new.
- as: As portas estão fechadas. = The doors are closed.
- os: Os gatos estão brincando. = The cats are playing.
To learn how to talk about actions in progress in Portuguese, as in the sentence above – the cats are playing – visit my lesson about the present progressive or present continuous in Portuguese.
Articles before a person’s name
It may sound strange to you, but in Portuguese we can use the definite article before a person’s name.
- A Paula é brilhante. = Paula is brilliant.
- O Antônio ligou? = Did Antônio call?
Notice that I said that we can use the definite article in front of a person’s name. It is not mandatory to use it. The Portuguese grammar says that the use of the article in front of a person’s name is optional.
In Brazil, the use of the article with people’s names is a regional habit. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro people tend to use the article. In Recife we don’t. And that’s just fine. According to the grammar, both forms are correct.
With that said, the proper form is to not use the article before a person’s name. Using the article is considered a colloquialism that is indicative of familiarity with the person you are talking about.
Articles with countries, states, cities
This part of the lesson can drive you a little crazy 😉 I apologize in advance. Please just keep in mind that I did not create this 😉
In Portuguese, countries have a gender and we use the definite article in front of a country’s name. Therefore, you need to know if the country is feminine or masculine. For example:
- O Brasil
- Os Estados Unidos
- A Argentina
There are exceptions (yes, always). We do not use the article, for instance, with Portugal.
It is different with cities. Cities do not have a gender, so we usually do not use articles with city names.
- São Paulo
There are exceptions: o Rio de Janeiro.
As for the Brazilian states, some are masculine, some are feminine, and others don’t have a gender.
I have a lesson that goes into more detail regarding the use of articles and prepositions with countries, Brazilian states, cities, and continents.
Articles before a possessive
A common question is whether the right way to say it is:
- Minha casa = my house
- A minha casa = my house
The answer is: both are correct. The definite article is optional in front of a possessive that is followed by the noun that it refers to (in other words, when it is followed by the object or thing that is owned).
- O meu nome é Luciana. / Meu nome é Luciana. = My name is Luciana.
- Como é o seu nome? / Como é seu nome? = What is your name?
- Os meus amigos vieram me visitar. / Meus amigos vieram me visitar. = My friends came to visit me.
As with the use of articles before a person’s name, you will hear Brazilians speaking mostly one way or the other in different parts of Brazil.
Other differences between Portuguese and English
There are situations in which you need the article in Portuguese when you don’t use it in English.
1. With uncountable nouns:
- A beleza está nos olhos de quem vê. = Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
- O sal é um tempero básico. = Salt is a basic seasoning.
2. With commemorative dates:
- O Natal é muito celebrado no Brasil. = Christmas is very celebrated in Brazil.
- A Páscoa é um grande feriado no Brasil. = Easter is a big holiday in Brazil.
3. With the seasons:
- A primavera é a minha estação favorita. = Spring is my favorite season.
- O inverno não é frio em Recife. = Winter is not cold in Recife.
4. With meals
- O almoço vai sair mais tarde hoje. = Lunch will be served later today.
- O jantar está servido. = Dinner is served.
5. When a noun refers to a general category and not to a specific item:
- As pessoas aqui são muito simpáticas. = People here are very friendly.
- Os brasileiros falam português. = Brazilians speak Portuguese.
6. After the word both when it is followed by the noun it refers to:
- Sampa e Rio. Adoro ambas as cidades. = Sampa and Rio. I love both cities.
- O jogo vai ser difícil porque ambos os times são bons. = The game will be tough because both teams are good.
Indefinite articles in Portuguese (artigos indefinidos)
When I say “I am looking for a house”, I am not referring to a specific house. Therefore that “a” before “house” is an indefinite article.
The indefinite articles also must agree in gender and number with the noun that they refer to.
As a result, we have the following four indefinite articles in Portuguese:
- uma: Eu comprei uma cama nova. = I bought a new bed.
- um: Eu tenho um gato. = I have a cat.
- umas: Convidei umas amigas para o chá de bebê. = I invited some girlfriends to the baby shower.
- uns: Convidei uns amigos para a festa. = I invited some friends to the party.
The indefinite article with numbers
We use the indefinite article with numbers in Portuguese to indicate an approximate number:
- Acho que ele tem uns 60 anos. = I think he is around 60 years old.
- Umas 30 pessoas virão para a festa. = About 30 people will come to the party.
- Esse cinto custou uns R$ 200. = This belt cost around R$ 200.
Do not use the indefinite article when saying your profession
An important difference in the use of the indefinite article in Portuguese and in English is this: In Portuguese, we do not use the article when we say our profession or someone else’s profession.
Here are examples:
- Eu sou professora. = I am a teacher.
- Antônio é médico. = Antônio is a physician.
Check out my Portuguese lesson with 55 professions in Portuguese.
I hope this Portuguese lesson has clarified a few things for you. Now you need to practice to put all of this in auto-pilot and also to come across different situations that may raise new questions for you. That’s how we learn.
Street Smart Brazil offers Portuguese lessons via video meetings. We have been teaching Portuguese online since 2008. With one-on-one lessons you:
- learn what you want
- learn at your pace
- control your schedule
- get a lot more practice
- get to listen to a native speaker during the whole lesson