Possessive pronouns are a crucial component of everyday speech, used whenever we need to describe an object or person as either belonging to, or being related to, ourselves. Portuguese possessive pronouns are somewhat more complex than their English equivalents, for two reasons. Firstly, there are more personal pronouns in Portuguese than in English, and the quantity of derived possessives increases proportionally. Secondly, in Portuguese there is the additional question of pronouns inflecting depending on the noun to which they refer. However, it is not an especially challenging area, relatively speaking; if you practice with a tutor you should be able to master it quickly.
Inflecting for Gender
Like adjectives and articles, Portuguese possessive pronouns inflect for the gender of the noun to which they refer (the possessed object). How this works for the various different pronouns is described below.
Eu (English: I)
Meu (m) / Minha (f) (English: my)
Tu (English: You)
Teu (m) / Tua (f) (English: your)
Ele/Ela (English: He/She)
Seu (m) / Sua (f) (English: his/her)
Please note that seu is not equivalent to “his” and sua is not equivalent to “her.” The use of seu or sua depends on the gender of the possessed object, not the possessor; seu can mean either “his” or “her,” as can sua. For example, a sua esposa means “his wife.”
Nós (English: We)
Nosso (m) / Nossa (f) (English: our)
Vós (English: You, plural/formal, antiquated)
Vosso (m) / Vossa (f) (English: your)
Although the pronoun vós itself has largely fallen out of use (except in parts of northern Portugal), its possessive forms, vosso and vossa, are still sometimes used in European Portuguese for addressing groups of people or in formal situations. In Brazilian Portuguese this is very rare (you might find them used to address a deity in a prayer, or a member of royalty in literature).
Eles/Elas (English: They)
Seu (m) / Sua (f) (English: Their)
Eles and elas have exactly the same possessive forms as ele and ela.
Portuguese possessive pronouns also inflect for plurality. In all cases, this is simply a case of adding an “s” to the end of the pronoun, as shown below.
Eu: Meus (m) / Minhas (f)
Tu: Teus (m) / Tuas (f)
Ele/Ela: Seus (m) / Suas (f)
Nós: Nossos (m) / Nossas (f)
Vós: Vossos (m) / Vossas (f)
Eles/Elas: Seus (m) / Suas (f)
The Definite Article
Unlike in English, when using Portuguese possessive pronouns with nouns, it is usual to precede them with the definite article. For example, “my coat” is correctly rendered in Portuguese as o meu casaco, literally “the my coat,” and “our coats” is os nossos casacos, “the our coats.” In conversation, the definite article is sometimes dropped; this is particularly common in Brazil, where the definite article is even omitted in less formal texts.
This relatively simple grammatical scheme has been complicated in modern Portuguese by the introduction of the second person personal pronouns você and vocês. These evolved from third person forms of address and do not have their own possessive forms. Instead, they use third person possessive forms, that is, seu(s) and sua(s). This has the unfortunate effect of creating linguistic ambiguity: for example, the phrase o seu casaco can now mean either “his coat” or “your coat.” You can usually tell which one is intended from context, but sometimes it can be very confusing.
“The Coat of Him”
To get around the problems created by the irregularity of você, modern Portuguese has developed a workaround. Instead of saying “his coat,” o seu casaco, you can instead say “the coat of him,” o casaco dele. As the third person pronoun ele is clearly visible in the sentence, this eliminates any ambiguity. Instead of inflecting for the gender or plurality of the possessed object, this type of Portuguese personal pronoun inflects for the gender and plurality of the possessor, as shown below.
His coat: o casaco dele
Her coat: o casaco dela
Their coat (all male or mixed gender group): o casaco deles
Their coat (all female group): o casaco delas
Of course, it’s improbable that a group of people would collectively own a single coat! This is just an example to show that the pronoun is inflecting for the possessor rather than the possessed object. Similar expressions are also sometimes used for other personal pronouns, as in the examples below.
Your coat: o casaco do senhor/da senhora
Our coat: o casaco da gente
However, in these cases, conventional Portuguese possessive pronouns are much more common. The usual translation of “your coat” is o seu casaco or o teu casaco, and the usual translation of “our coat” is o nosso casaco.
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