Feel Comfortable with the Gender of Words in Portuguese

Portuguese lesson to learn the gender of words in Portuguese

The goal of this Portuguese lesson is to show you the main rules to identify the gender of words in Portuguese.

If you have been learning Portuguese, you already know that objects have a gender in my beautiful language. A house, for instance, is feminine. A computer, on the other hand, is masculine. And cars are masculine too, although in English you tend to refer to your car as she.

You also probably know that, in general, words that end in “a” are feminine in Portuguese and words that end in “o” are masculine. However, there are additional rules and there are common exceptions to this rule.  

In this Portuguese lesson you will learn:

  1. The main rules to identify masculine and feminine words in Portuguese. This lesson focuses on nouns. I have a different Portuguese lesson about the gender of adjectives.
  2. Commonly used words that are exceptions to the rules.
  3. A list of common words that are masculine in Portuguese and feminine in Spanish, and vice-versa.

Nouns that are usually feminine in Portuguese

A noun is the name of a thing, such as an object, a place, or a person. Below are the main rules to identify the gender of nouns in Portuguese.

1. Nouns ending in A

  • a cama = bed
  • a cadeira = chair
  • a mesa = table

Learn parts of the house in Portuguese.

A couple of very common exceptions to this rule:

  • o dia = day
  • o mapa = map

2. Nouns ending in Ã

  • a manhã = morning
  • a maçã = apple
  • a hortelã = mint

There are exceptions, of course:

  • o ímã = magnet
  • o talismã = talisman

3. Nouns ending in AÇÃO

  • a ação = action
  • a nação = nation
  • a confirmação = confirmation

Easily learn 90 Portuguese words that end in -ação

4. Nouns ending in DADE

  • a universidade = university
  • a cidade = city
  • a tempestade = storm

5. Nouns ending in AGEM

  • a garagem = garage (not parking)
  • a viagem = trip
  • a massagem = massage

Nouns that are usually masculine in Portuguese

1. Nouns ending in O

  • o barco = boat
  • o jogo = game
  • o prato = plate

Here is a common exception:

  • a tribo = tribe

2. Nouns ending in a consonant

  • o hotel = hotel
  • o papel = paper
  • o cristal = crystal
  • o amor = love
  • o mar = sea
  • o lápis = pencil
  • o país = country

There are exceptions. Some nouns ending in “or” are feminine:

  • a cor = the color
  • a dor = the pain
  • a flor = the flower

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3. Nouns ending in I or U

  • o abacaxi = pineapple
  • o bisturi = scalpel
  • o caju = cashew
  • o baú = trunk

4. Nouns ending in EMA

This might be counter intuitive because of the “a” at the end:

  • o problema = problem
  • o telefonema = phone call
  • o cinema = cinema

Some nouns have a single form for masculine and feminine

1. Nouns ending in ANTE

  • o/a estudante = student
  • o/a fumante = smoker
  • o/a ajudante = helper

2. Nouns ending in ENTE

  • o/a cliente = client
  • o/a paciente = patient
  • o/a parente = relative (family member)

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3. Nouns ending in ISTA

  • o/a dentista = dentist
  • o/a turista = tourist
  • o/a massagista = masseur

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For fun: a bola vs. o bolo

These two nouns are a great source of confusion for learners:

  • a bola de futebol = the soccer ball
  • o bolo de chocolate = the chocolate cake

Avoid getting in trouble: Watch this fun Portuguese lesson on similar words that can get you into trouble :)

Is it the same as in Spanish?

It is almost the same as in Spanish.

However, some nouns are masculine in Portuguese, but feminine in Spanish. Here are some commonly used examples:

Portuguese (masculine)Spanish (feminine)English
O computadorLa computadoraComputer
O costumeLa costumbreHabit
O cremeLa cremaCream
O legumeLa legumbreLegume
O melLa mielHoney
O narizLa narizNose
O risoLa risaLaughter

And some nouns are feminine in Portuguese and masculine in Spanish. Some common words:

Portuguese (masculine)Spanish (feminine)English
A árvoreEl árbolTree
A corEl colorColor
A dorEl dolorPain
A equipeEl equipoTeam
A origemEl origenOrigin
A pétalaEl pétaloPetal
A ponteEl puenteBridge

The book Ponto de Encontro brings a longer list of these words. It is a great book.  I’ve written a review of Ponto de Encontro and other books to learn Portuguese if you wish to know more about these textbooks.

If you are a Spanish speaker, you can also check out the book Pois Não: Brazilian Portuguese Course for Spanish Speakers. It is pretty dense and not very easy to read (small font, not many pictures), but it is very informative.

Final thoughts on the gender of words in Portuguese

My main advice to you: Learn the rules. Practice them. But do not sweat it.

I know that your Brazilian friends probably correct any mix up of masculine and feminine words, and that probably makes you feel frustrated.

However, for those who do not have this gender distinction for nouns in their own languages, there will likely always be a word here and there that you mix up even when you are completely fluent in Portuguese.

When you are in a spontaneous conversation, your brain is processing so many things at once that it might mix up masculine and feminine nouns, adjectives, articles, pronouns etc. even when you know the rules.

And that if just fine. You will get better with practice. And your ability to communicate well does not depend on the gender of the words in Portuguese.

The trick to speaking Portuguese comfortably is practice.

There is no practice more effective than one-on-one lessons with instructors who are trained to help you learn Portuguese well at any level of your language journey.

Street Smart Brazil has been helping learners around the globe speak Portuguese with confidence for over a decade.

Book a Trial Lesson with us to see the difference it makes when you learn with the right professionals.

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