I often see confusion in the use of ‘tão’ and ‘tanto’. With this post I hope to show you that it is easy to use ‘tão’ and ‘tanto’ correctly. Even if you do not feel comfortable with grammatical terms such as adverb and adjective, you can benefit from this lesson: Just focus your attention on the examples and on the translation of ‘tão’ and ‘tanto’ into English.
I will divide this explanation in four parts: 1) the use of ‘tão’; 2) the use of ‘tanto’; 3) the use of ‘tanto/tanta’ & ‘tantos/tantas’; 4) examples contrasting the use of ‘tão’ & ‘tanto/tanta’. At the end, I will add a few useful colloquial uses of ‘tanto(s)’ and ‘tanta(s)’.
1. Tão = so
- João é tão alto! = João is so tall!
‘Tão’ is an adverb. It is used with adjectives and other adverbs. ‘Tão’ is always placed before the word that it modifies.
- Este café está tão bom! = This coffee is so good! (modifies the adjective “bom”)
- Ana fala tão rápido! = Ana speaks so fast! (modifies the adverb “rápido”)
- Eu acordei tão cedo hoje = I woke up so early today (modifies the adverb “cedo”)
2. Tanto = so much
- Ana fala tanto = Ana speaks so much
‘Tanto’ also is an adverb. It is used with verbs and is usually placed after the verb. Sometimes we place it before the verb inverting the direct order of the sentence. Do not worry about it for now.
- Joana estuda tanto! = Joana stydies so much! (modifies the verb “estudar”)
- Léo comeu tanto na festa! = Léo ate so much at the party (modifies the verb “comer”)
- Eu ri tanto que minha barriga doeu = I laughed so much that my belly hurt (modifies the verb “rir”)
3. Tanto/Tanta = so much
Tantos/Tantas = so many
Here ‘tanto/tanta’ and ‘tantos/tantas’ are indefinite pronouns. They are used with nouns to indicate quantity, and they agree in gender (masculine and feminine) and number (singular and plural) with the noun that they refer to. Use ‘tanto/tanta’ in the singular with uncountable nouns, and in the plural with countable nouns. Place them under the word that they refer too.
- Eu coloquei tanto açúcar no café! = I put so much sugar in the coffee (modifies the noun “açúcar”)
- Carina tem tanta paciência com todo mundo! = Carina has so much patience with everyone (modifies the noun “paciência”)
- Clara tem tantos livros! = Clara has so many books! (modifies the noun “livros”)
- Maria tem tantas roupas! = Maria has so many clothes! (modifies the noun “clothes”)
Let’s see a few more examples contrasting the use of ‘tanto’ and ‘tão’:
- Mariana tem tanta sorte! = Mariana has so much luck. (‘tanta’ modifies the noun “sorte)
- Mariana é tão sortuda! = Mariana is so lucky. (‘tão’ modifies the adjective “sortuda”)
- Marta tem tanta paciência! = Marta has so much patience (‘tanta’ modifies the noun “paciência”)
- Marta é tão paciente! = Marta is so patient (‘tão’ modifies the adjective “paciente”)
- Tiago tem tanto talento! = Tiago has so much talent (‘tanto’ modifies the noun “talento”)
- Tiago é tão talentoso. = Tiago is so talented (‘tão’ modifies the adjective “talentoso”)
- Ana fala tanto = Ana talks so much (‘tanto’ modifies the verb “falar”)
- Ana fala tão alto = Ana talks so loud (‘tão’ modifies the adjective “alto”)
Here are a few more useful sentences/expressions:
- Tem tanta gente aqui! = There are so many people here
- Ela tem trinta e tantos anos = She is thirty something (probably 35+)
- Quarenta e tantas pessoas vieram para nossa festa ontem à noite = Forty something people came to our party last night
- O almoço foi servido lá pelas tantas da tarde = Lunch was served sometime late in the afternoon
- Ontem eu vi um filme muito chato. Lá pelas tantas, as pessoas começaram a levantar e ir embora. = Yesterday I saw a very boring movie. At some point, people started to get up and leave.
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