Portuguese Adjectives: The Beginner’s Guide to Amazing Adjective Usage
I’ve done it and so will you.
In fact, nearly every Portuguese learner will do this at some point in their learning journey: You’re going to get your Portuguese adjectives wrong.
You might stick an adjective in the wrong spot or maybe you’ll forget to make sure it agrees with the noun it modifies.
Whatever mistake you’ll make, it’s pretty much unavoidable.
This isn’t a problem or something to dread. Making mistakes is part of learning.
But don’t worry! As you learn and practice, your mind will start to internalize the rules and before long, you won’t even have to give them a second thought.
Let’s get right down to it by learning all you need to know about Portuguese adjectives!
How to Learn Portuguese Adjectives
What’s an adjective, anyway? An adjective is a word or phrase that modifies or gives an attribute to a noun (a person, place or thing). Some examples of adjectives in English are the words “beautiful,” “loud,” “red” and “funny.”
There are a few basic differences between Portuguese and English adjectives, like the use of gender and their placement in a sentence. It can seem like a lot to keep track of but once you learn the basics of grammar, you can start implementing them and learn through using them!
And if this post isn’t enough for you, try looking into some other Portuguese grammar resources, like a good textbook.
One of the best ways to memorize these adjective rules isn’t only through practice but also through exposure. With that in mind, here are some of the best ways to learn Portuguese adjectives:
When you watch real-world videos of people and hear how they use the language, you get a much better understanding of it—including these tricky Portuguese adjective rules.
One place to learn about Portuguese adjectives is on YouTube. There are lots of resources and videos here for you to choose from!
Speaking out loud can help you get accustomed to actually using the words. Use recording software when you practice so you can play your own words back and check for pronunciation problems and other issues.
You can also record yourself saying the rules themselves, along with some examples. If you learn best by listening, this might be a great strategy for you.
Write it down
If you’re a visual or tactile learner, writing down adjectives in a sentence (practicing the gender and placement, as well as irregularities) can help you remember these rules better when you’re speaking. So pull out a notebook and pen and jot down some examples!
You can go old school and use paper flashcards or you can hop online and create virtual flashcards to help you remember the rules of Portuguese adjectives.
I suggest making flashcards about the grammar as well as some examples. Try writing down a sentence in English on one side with the Portuguese translation on the other. Then test yourself to see if you can translate the English into Portuguese while following the Portuguese adjective rules.
Download an app
There are plenty of apps out there to help you learn Portuguese and many of them include adjective rules and vocabulary to help you learn. Some will even have you create simple sentences and quiz you on your understanding.
Remember to search around for the best option for you, because not all apps are created equal.
Put up sticky notes
If you learn languages best when you can associate the words with images, you might want to try this method. Use sticky notes to write down the noun and the adjective. Try to write a few for each of the various rules.
For example, if you have two blue couches, put as sofás azuis (the blue couches) on a sticky note and attach it to a couch. Then, when you see the sticky note, you’ll be reminded of how to form irregular plural adjectives.
Bem Bom: Regional Differences in Portuguese Adjectives
When I first got to Brazil, I went to São Paolo, which is known for having “standard” Brazilian Portuguese. In my Portuguese lessons there, I learned the difference between the adjectives bem (well) and bom (good).
And just as in English, the two adjectives get mixed up occasionally. You know, when someone asks you how you’re doing, and you answer, “Good,” but then some smart aleck says, “Don’t you mean you’re doing ‘well’?” And then you fake laugh like, “Oh, you showed me.”
Well, in Portuguese, when someone asks you, “Cómo você está?” (“How are you?”), your response should be “Bem, e voice?” (“Well, and you?”). It’s bad grammar to say you’re doing “Bom” (“Good”).
So you can imagine my surprise when I got to southern Brazil and people responded, “Bem bom.”
I didn’t even know you could say that!
The point is, every Portuguese-speaking region has different nuances and variations in its language usage, so don’t get too hung up on holding people to these standard Portuguese adjective rules. (You’ll learn later what they mean in the south when they say, “Bem bom.”)
Adjective uses might be a tad different depending on where you go in Brazil, Portugal or Africa.
But in general, rules are rules, meaning you’ll have a better chance of people understanding you if you stick to learning the proper adjective and grammar rules.
Portuguese Adjectives: The Beginner’s Guide to Amazing Adjective Usage
Now that you’ve gotten a taste of Portuguese adjectives, let’s get down to hashing out the details.
Portuguese Adjective Placement
In English, the adjective proceeds the noun. In Portuguese, the noun comes first. So instead of saying, “the fat cat is sleeping,” you’d say, o gato gordo está dormindo (Lit.: “the cat fat is sleeping”).
I’ve broken this down for you below:
O gato (cat) gordo (fat) — The fat cat
A pessoa (person) engraçada (funny) — The funny person
Matching Adjective Gender
The Portuguese language matches the gender of the adjective to the gender of the noun.
If the noun is masculine (usually ending in the letter o), then the adjective will probably end in an -o. If the noun is feminine (usually ending in the letter a), then the adjective will probably end in an -a.
Ele é alto. (He’s tall.)
Ela é alta. (She’s tall.)
O carro é amarelo. (The car is yellow.)
A casa é amarela. (The house is yellow.)
Some nouns don’t end in either -o or -a, so you’ll have to memorize the gender of those nouns in order to match the gender of the adjective accordingly.
A trick to remembering gender is to memorize the article along with the noun. For example, learn o refrigerador (the refrigerator) and the article o (the) will remind you that the word is masculine.
So what do you do when an adjective ends in an -e or -l or -r? Well, you just tack it on how it is—no need to change anything!
A prova foi fácil. (The test was easy.)
O cachorro marrom (The brown dog)
Pluralizing Portuguese Adjectives
Plural endings are easy: All you have to do is put an -s at the end of the adjective.
As calças baratas (The inexpensive pants)
Comprei brinquedos divertidos. (I bought fun toys.)
And because we can’t make things too easy for you, there are some adjectives that act irregularly when they’re made plural. These are usually the adjectives that don’t end in just -o or -a.
Here are a few examples:
azul (blue) → azuis
fácil (easy) → fáceis
mau (bad) → maus (masculine)/más (feminine)
Using Diminutive and Augmentative Adjectives
Often, people will add a diminutive or augmentative to the end of an adjective.
The diminutive means you’re making something seem cutesy or just saying it’s a little bit of something. For example, É rosinha means “It’s a bit red.”
The augmentative means something is a more extreme version of the adjective.
Basically, to create a diminutive, you replace the -o or the -a at the end of the adjective with -inho or -inha. To create an augmentative, you add -íssimo or -íssima at the end, instead. For example:
Bonito (pretty) in the diminutive is bonitinho, which translates literally as “little pretty” but has the connotation of “super cute.”
Agradável (pleasant/enjoyable) in the augmentative is agradabilíssimo, which means “very enjoyable.”
Modifying the Modifiers: Adding Details to Adjectives
Another way to indicate the augmentative is using the word “very,” which in Portuguese is either muito or bem. When using these words, though, place them before the adjective.
A noite é bem frio. (The night is very cold.)
O céu é muito bonito. (The sky is very pretty.)
And now you know how they can say bem bom in southern Brazil: It’s because they’re using bem as “very” to say “very good.”
You can also use words that mean “more” or “less” (and variations of the two terms) to say something’s the “most” of something, whether good or bad. Some words you can use are: maior (greater), mais (most), minor (least), superior (superior), inferior (lowest).
Just plug them into this formula: article (o or a) + adjective word + noun.
A pessoa superior (The superior person)
O mais bonito de todos (The prettiest of all)
Bonus: Portuguese Adverbs
This is worth a quick note: You’ll often hear adjectives with -mente tacked on the end. In these cases, you’re actually hearing an adverb. We won’t get into it too much in this post, but here are a few examples:
Fácil (easy) → facilmente (easily)
Rápido (fast) → rapidamente (quickly)
List of Basic Portuguese Adjectives to Learn
If you want to build your adjective vocabulary, you can find some basic adjectives lists online. Any lists you’ll find aren’t comprehensive, of course, but they’re a start.
For your convenience, here are a couple of adjectives to get you started:
Try making your own sentences using these words and the rules you’ve learned in this post!
Now all you have to do is put these rules into practice! With some effort and time, Portuguese adjectives will become second nature for you.