How to Properly Use Portuguese Personal Pronouns
“Moça, você pode me ajudar?” (Young woman, can you help me?)
I turned to my friend in disbelief.
Did she just address an elderly woman as “girl”?
More alarmingly, did she just use the informal form of the pronoun for her elder?
I was told that was disrespectful—and it is—but I later found out it was my friend’s way of buttering someone up by calling them younger than they were. What a sweet talker…
Needless to say, she didn’t care so much about getting her pronouns right.
You, however, should! Using the wrong pronoun can lead to misunderstandings or worse, offend someone.
So here’s everything you need to know about Portuguese personal pronouns and how to use them properly in conversation!
Introduction to Portuguese Pronouns
If you’re a foreigner, people will probably forgive you for using the wrong pronoun—but that doesn’t always mean they’ll understand you. If you’re trying to get someone’s attention and mean to say “Hey, you!” but instead say “Hey, we!” I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t get that person’s attention—except, of course, to check why someone’s screaming strange pronouns.
The bottom line is this: You need to know your basic personal pronouns to communicate effectively.
But what’s a pronoun, you ask? A pronoun is a word that you use to substitute for a noun. The English personal pronouns are “I,” “you,” “he,” “she,” “we” and “they.”
And why are pronouns necessary, you ask? Pronouns help us avoid repeating the noun a million times, which can get pretty clunky.
Pronouns are one of the most important parts of learning grammar. They describe the noun you’re substituting just through their existence. A pronoun can denote the number of the noun being replaced, showing whether it’s singular or plural. In English, for example, the singular pronouns are “I,” “you,” “she” and “he,” while the plural ones are “we” and “they.”
A pronoun also shows the gender of the noun. In English, the only examples of this are “he” and “she.” There’s also the neuter pronoun “it,” but we’ll talk more about it later in this post.
And finally, the pronoun shows the case, which is whether you’re referring to the pronoun as the subject or the object in the sentence.
In this post, we’re only going to cover the basics and leave the other forms personal pronouns can take for another lesson.
Instead, we’ll focus on the subject case of personal pronouns for this lesson.
In Portuguese, there are a couple more pronouns to learn than in English. Luckily, they’re pretty straightforward, for the most part!
Portuguese Personal Pronouns for Absolute Beginners
The first thing you need to know about personal pronouns in Portuguese is that they work pretty much the same as English ones. Now, all you need to do is learn what they are!
Portuguese Personal Pronouns
Before you get into the details, here are the Portuguese personal pronouns:
I — eu
You — tu, você, senhor, senhora
He — ele
She — ela
Us — nós
You (plural) — vós, vocês
They — eles, elas
Now, let’s break down each of these pronouns.
Because using the word “you” in Portuguese is a little more complicated, we skip over it here and cover it in the next section.
Eu is the only word you use to say “I” in Portuguese. It’s the same for both a man and a woman and is in the first person. Here’s an example of how you’d use it:
Eu tenho fome. (I’m hungry.)
Ele/s and ela/s
If you’re referencing a masculine noun, you can use the word ele and if you’re referring to a feminine one, use ela. These are singular.
To refer to a group of women or a plural noun that’s feminine, you use elas. When referring to a plural number of a masculine noun, use eles. If you’re referring to a group of both men and women, use eles as well.
Here are some examples of these pronouns in use:
Ele é alto. (He’s tall.)
Ela pensou que a festa ía ser hoje. (She thought the party would be today.)
Eles estão correndo bem rápido. (They’re [mas. or mixed] running very fast.)
Elas querem festejar! (They [fem.] want to party!)
Nós and a gente
The equivalent to “we” is pretty simple! Just use nós.
If you want to get into the colloquial and sound like a native, you can say a gente instead of nós. Literally, a gente means “the people,” but it’s used with the third-person plural of the verb. For example:
Nós vamos? (Are we going?)
A gente vai? (Are we going?)
How to Say “You” in Portuguese
Here’s the slightly more complicated explanation of all the ways to say “you.” Since English doesn’t differentiate between forms of “you” in the same way as Portuguese, it might be difficult to understand at first. You’ll get the hang of it!
Tu is one of two main ways to say “you” in Portuguese.
How and how often tu is used depends on where you are. In Brazil, tu is viewed as formal by some people, but in areas in northeastern and southern Brazil, it’s used casually.
In Portugal, people are more likely to use tu when speaking to a younger person or someone they’re more familiar with.
So, wherever you go, I’d advise you to ask around about whether they use tu, and in what circumstances!
The other common way to say “you” is você, or its plural equivalent vocês. Again, where you are in the world affects how você is used.
In Brazil, this form is extremely common and is used in everyday conversation.
In Portugal, você is used more formally, such as when you speak to someone who’s older than you. And while você means “you,” it’s used with the third-person singular form of the verb. So instead of saying, você tens (you have) with the second-person singular form of the verb, which is incorrect, you’d say, você tem (you have).
O senhor and a senhora
If you want to take it a step further and show respect for your elders, you can use o senhor (sir) or a senhora (miss). You use these words in place of “you,” but pair them with the third-person singular verb. For example:
A senhora gostaria de sentar aqui? (Would you [formal] like to sit here?)
The pronoun vós isn’t used very much these days, but it’s still important to know. It’s considered more formal and archaic, but there are people in northern Portugal and northeastern Brazil that might use it in everyday speech.
However, you’re more likely to read vós in old texts or historical fiction.
Here’s a quick rundown of which pronouns to use in what occasions and places:
Informal: você, vocês
Formal: tu, vós, o senhor, a senhora
Formal: você, vocês, vós, o senhor, a senhora
Differences Between English and Portuguese Pronouns
While the main principles of pronouns are the same in English and Portuguese, Portuguese pronouns function more similarly to Spanish pronouns. So, if you know Spanish, you’re just a little closer to getting those pronouns right.
But don’t worry! everything you need to know about Portuguese personal pronouns is right in this post. Let’s start with some differences between English and Portuguese pronouns.
You don’t always need to use the pronoun
If it’s clear who you’re talking to or about, you can omit the pronoun.
This is usually the case when the conjugated verb can indicate who’s being talked about. For example, you can say either of these variations:
Eu estou escutando. (I’m listening.)
Estou escutando. (I’m listening.)
Even though you don’t say the pronoun in the second example, the verb tells the listener that you’re referring to yourself since it’s in the first-person singular form.
At first, it might be hard to get this when you’re listening to people talk, but once you get your verb conjugations down, you’ll be a pro at understanding what people are saying even without the pronouns.
Third-person pronouns are dummy pronouns
A dummy pronoun is a pronoun that doesn’t refer to a specific gender, such as “it” in English. In Portuguese, there’s no special word for this; rather, you use ele or ela or the plural.
For example, if you’re talking about a dog in English, you might say:
“It ate my homework!”
In Portuguese, you’d say:
Ele comeu minha lição de casa!
Just determine if the noun “it” refers to is feminine or masculine. If it’s feminine, use ela and if it’s masculine, use ele.
You can replace a second-person pronoun with a noun
Remember before when we talked about using o senhor or a senhora to mean “you”? In a similar vein, you can replace a second-person pronoun with a noun. This is only the case when you’re actually talking to that person and it implies the tu or você. It’ll be easier to understand once you see some examples:
Oi! Colega, pode me ajudar? (Hey! Classmate, can you help me?)
Pai, quer comida? (Dad, do you want food?)
Let’s Practice Portuguese Personal Pronouns!
It’s time to put all that information into practice!
Fill in the blanks with the personal pronoun that fits the sentence. Be aware that there may be more than one right answer. Hint: Look at the form of the verb!
1. _____ sou a pessoa mais linda aqui. ( _____ am the most beautiful person here.)
2. _____ quer jantar comigo? (Do _____ want to eat dinner with me?)
3. _____ comprou cinco livros? ( _____ bought five books?)
4. _____ comeram muito hoje. ( _____ ate a lot today.)
5. _____ dormimos na casa da mãe. ( _____ slept in mom’s house.)
Don’t scroll down yet! Give it your best shot!
Here are the answers:
Tips for Learning Portuguese Pronouns
After reading all that, I’m sure you’re close to getting the hang of Portuguese personal pronouns. If you want to keep practicing, here are some ways you can do so!
- Online courses: There are a bunch of online courses with pronoun practice out there. You’ll probably have to search for the section on pronouns, but it’ll give you some extra practice!
- Grammar Apps: There are a number of Portuguese learning apps you can try that would help you learn your pronouns in a slower, more step-by-step process.
- Speaking practice: And, of course, there’s no better way to learn a language than by speaking. You might get it wrong a few times, but that’ll help you get it right eventually!
You can always make a cheat-sheet with the basics written on it, and refer to it when you need it. After a few attempts, you can trash that sheet and do it on your own. You’ll be surprised at how much you know!
Now that you know how to get personal with Portuguese personal pronouns, get out there and wow everyone with your knowledge!