The words the and a are translated in Portuguese as o, a, os, as and um, uma, uns, umas respectively. Language experts call these words articles which are words that come before the nouns and are used to define their gender.
In Portuguese just as in English, there are two types of articles: the definite article – o, a, os, as (the) and the indefinite article um, uma, uns, umas (a, an). The reason that there are four representations of both types of articles in Portuguese it’s because there is a distinction between the masculine and feminine words. So, there are two words for the feminine – singular and plural, and two words for the masculine -singular and plural.
The Definite Article
The definite article implies that something is the one or specific thing or the ones specific things. In Portuguese the word o corresponds to a masculine, singular noun and the word os corresponds to a masculine, plural noun.
- o bolo de aniversário – the birthday cake – It refers to the specific cake.
- os bolos de aniversário – the birthday cakes
The word a corresponds to a feminine, singular noun, and the word as corresponds to a feminine plural noun.
- a bola de futebol – the soccer ball
- as bolas – the soccer balls
The Indefinite Article
The indefinite article implies that something is one or some among others of the same kind. The word um corresponds to a masculine, singular noun and the word uns corresponds to a masculine, plural noun.
- um bolo de aniversário – a birthday cake – It refers to any cake among other cakes.
- uns* bolos de aniversário – some birthday cakes
Note: that the word um in the plural is uns. So, you have to change the m into n and add an s to make it plural.
The word uma corresponds to a feminine, singular noun and the word umas corresponds to a feminine, plural noun.
uma bola de futebol – any ball among other soccer balls
umas bolas de futebol – some soccer balls
As you can see these words change in Portuguese because they have to match both the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number (plural or singular) of the nouns they refer to.
So, usually if a word in Portuguese ends in an o, it’s masculine singular (bolo) , and if it ends in an a, it’s feminine singular (bola). If a word ends in os, it’s masculine plural (bolos). If it ends as, it’s feminine plural (bolas). Obviously, the s is an indicator of the plural in Portuguese.
Now, to decide which kind of article you want to use before the nouns will depend on the meaning you want the word to convey. If you want to say that it’s the one – the ones specifically, you use one of these o, a, os, as. If you want to say that it’s one or some among others, you use one of these um, uma, uns, umas.
Note: It’s a good idea to learn each noun with its corresponding definite article before it. That way, you will be able to easily recognize when a noun is masculine or feminine in the future.
I’m so glad you’re here! If you’re just starting on your journey of Portuguese learning, be sure to check out the Starter Guide.