English is all about convenience. Everyone can be addressed as “you”, regardless of status, profession, age, etc. In Portuguese, however, who you are talking to will affect several parts of the sentence.

Most teachers and textbooks will tell you it’s simple: you use “tu” in informal and casual situations, like when speaking to friends and family, and “você” the rest of the time. But it’s never that simple, is it?

Here is how to use the formal and informal speeches in European Portuguese correctly.


Informal – Tu

This one is quite straightforward.


    • You know someone well

    • You are both around the same age

    • They are younger

    • They are your close family

You can safely use tu without fearing the person’s reaction. Just conjugate the verb to the 2nd person, and you’re good to go.

Teacher tip: Tu and the letter “s” are besties. When you are conjugating in most tenses (careful, not the PPS! – past simple), you should add an “s” when conjugating a verb to the 2nd person tu.

Queres almoçar comigo?
Do you want to have lunch with me?

Estavas bem no outro dia? Parecias cansado. 
Were you okay the other day? You seemed tired.

My general rule is better too formal than not enough. If you went too strong on the formalities, rather than offending someone, you might just hear:
Podes me tratar por tu.
Trata-me por tu. 

Use the "tu" with me.
But if you use tu with the wrong person, you might hear:
Não é "tu", é "senhora". Quem a educou?
It's not "tu", it's "senhora". Who raised you?

Formal – Você… kind of?

This is where things get tricky.

Technically, “você” is used to talk to someone formally.

Você quer almoçar comigo?
Do you want to have lunch with me?

However, many of us are raised not to use the word você, as it might come across as aggressive or impolite, not formal enough.

Note: Portuguese people looooove formalities (sometimes unnecessarily, I have to admit).

Instead, you can either not say the word, and instead stick to the conjugated verb only (but make sure not to add an s! Otherwise you would be using the tu form, even more impolite).

Quer almoçar comigo?
Do you want to have lunch with me?

There are also several titles and formalities depending on how formal you wish to be. Addressing the person by their first name as a polite form (rather than saying you) is also common practice.

A Maria quer almoçar comigo?
Do you (Maria) want to have lunch with me?

For a more serious approach, or if you don’t know the person’s name, it is common to use Senhor, or Senhora.

Desculpe, senhor, está na fila para pedir?
Excuse me, sir, are you in line? (at a café for example)
In Portugal, there’s a lot of doctors? 

If you’ve been to Portugal, you might have heard many people address others by “Doutor(a)”. But this title doesn’t have the meaning that it holds in English. When addressing a superior, whether or not they hold a Doctorate degree, it is common to use “Doutor(a)” as a title. It will usually be followed by their first name. 

Doutora Inês, já recebeu os documentos que lhe enviei?
Ms Ines, have you received the documents I have sent you?

Vocês : The Portuguese Plural “Pronoun “You”.

Although this one doesn’t quite fall under the category of formal and informal, it is still another pronoun that translates to “You” in English, which is why it needed to be added.

If you are addressing more than one person, regardless of formalities, you should always use vocês.

Vocês querem almoçar comigo? 
Querem almoçar comigo? 

Do you (guys) want to have lunch with me?





Remember that learning how to address people, knowing exactly when to use a formal or informal speech, and choose the right title at the right time, takes time and effort. Don’t blame yourself for getting it wrong once or twice (or a 1000 times). Learning Portuguese is tricky and requires to understand social queues that are not obvious. If you need extra help, don’t hesitate to book a class with me. Start learning Portuguese online today!

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