Articles in Different Languages

Notes for Portuguese speaking learners of English and English learners of Portuguese

Where English has only the words a, an or the, Portuguese has many words:

a/an    um (masculine)
           uma (feminine)

the      o (masculine singular)
           a (feminine singular)
           os (masculine plural)
           as (feminine plural)

The main difference between English and Portuguese is the use of the definite article. In Portuguese, the definite article is used:

  • in a general sense, meaning all or almost all
    Os Brasileiros falam português. (=Brazilians speak Portuguese.)
    Os carros têm rodas. (=Cars have wheels.)
  • with the names of many countries, cities and towns
    a Franca, o Japão, a Austrália, o Rio de Janeiro, a Guarda, a Covilhã, o Porto (=France, Japan, Australia, Rio de Janeiro, Guarda, Covilhã, Porto)
  • with parts of the body
    Acenaram com a cabeça.(=They nodded their heads.)
    Tem os cabelos pretos. (=He/She has black hair.)
  • with institutions
    Fica na escola. (=She/He is at school.)
    Vou à universidade. (=I go to university.) (N.B. à is a combination of a meaning to and the feminine definite article a.)

This information was compiled by Julia Miller but is closely based on Willis, R.C. (1971). An essential course in modern Portuguese. Nelson: Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, UK.