Masculine, Feminine, and Grammatical Gender in European Portuguese

In European Portuguese, like in many Romance languages, gender plays a significant role in the language structure. My students all hate it, and you probably do too, especially if you don’t know any other language that uses grammatical gender. 

Nouns, adjectives, and even articles are classified as either masculine or feminine, and this grammatical feature is deeply ingrained in the language. Now, it’s important to understand that feminine doesn’t mean female and masculine doesn’t mean male. Meaning a table is not actually a girl, and we don’t see it as one, it’s just a grammatical structure without much use. 

Let’s explore the concept of gender in European Portuguese, both feminine and masculine, and how it influences the language.

Note: There are only two genders in Portuguese: feminine and masculine. Unlike other languages such as German for example, there is no neutral gender.

Feminine Gender (Género Feminino):

In European Portuguese, nouns that refer to women, girls, or feminine roles are feminine. 

    • A menina (the girl)

    • A mulher (the woman)

    • A enfermeira (the female nurse)

    • A doutora (the female doctor)

Notice that in this case, we use the definite article “a” (the) before each feminine noun. 

However, and this is where it gets tricky, there are many nouns that are feminine just because. 

    • A casa (the house)

    • A mesa (the table)

    • A pessoa (the person)

    • A maioria (the majority)

    • A liberdade (freedom)

Teacher tip: The noun is king. Its gender does not change, adjectives and articles around it do. 

Adjectives also need to agree in gender with the nouns they modify. By default, you will learn adjectives in their masculine singular form. For example:

    • Simpático (nice)

    • Cansado (tired)

    • Branco (white)

However, when combined with a feminine noun, they will most often than not change as follows:

    • A menina simpática (the nice girl)

    • A pessoa cansada (the tired person)

    • A casa branca (the white house)

Keep in mind that, usually, only adjectives that finish with an “o” will agree in gender. 

    • A casa grande (the big house)

  • A planta verde (the green plant) 
 

Masculine Gender (Género Masculino):

When it comes to the masculine gender, things are usually easier because learners tend to learn adjectives in that version. 

Of course, nouns associated with men will be masculine: 

    • O rapaz (the boy)

    • O homem (the man)

    • O professor (the male teacher)

    • O advogado (the male lawyer) 

But many others are as well: 

    • O carro (the car)

    • O computador (the computer)

    • O gelo (the ice) 

    • O conhecimento (knowledge)

Here, the definite article used is “o” (the) before each masculine noun.

Again, adjectives must match the gender of the nouns they modify when they are masculine:

    • O rapaz simpático (the nice boy)

    • O carro rápido (the fast car)

    • O conhecimento profundo (deep knowledge)

Important rules, Exceptions and Special Cases:

It’s not because a noun finishes with an “o” that it is masculine and with an “a” that it is feminine. The article in front of the noun determines its gender.

O pijama The pijama
O problema The problem
O cinema The cinema
O sofá The couch/sofa
A mão The hand
A rádio The radio
A foto The photo
A acção The action

While many words follow the rule of gender based on biological or grammatical gender, there are exceptions and special cases in European Portuguese. Some nouns have the same form in both genders, and others change their meaning or are used with different articles depending on their gender.

Masculine version Feminine version
O artista A artista
O jornalista A jornalista

Understanding gender is essential for correct sentence construction in European Portuguese, as it influences not only the choice of articles and adjectives but also verb conjugations and other grammatical aspects.

In conclusion, gender plays a fundamental role in European Portuguese, with nouns, adjectives, and articles classified as either feminine or masculine. While this aspect of the language may seem complex, it is a key element of Portuguese grammar, and mastering it is essential for effective communication in this beautiful language.

Translation exercises – comment below the translation:

Is your car grey?

My mother is happy to see me. 

This table is too small.

 

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