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5 Easy Rules to Understand the Gender and Variability of Words in Brazilian Portuguese

Different from the English language, most Brazilian Portuguese words have a gender: masculine or feminine. In general, words ending in -o are masculine and words ending in -a are feminine, but there are some exceptions that make every Brazilian Portuguese student go crazy! But today, this problem will be solved. We will teach you gender and variability of words in Brazilian Portuguese, for once and all! Let’s go!

Gender and Variability of Words: Masculine or Feminine?

As mentioned above, most Brazilian Portuguese words have a gender: masculine or feminine. In general, words ending in -o are masculine and words ending with -a are feminine, but there are some exceptions (see below). Also, the masculine form can be considered as the Brazilian Portuguese default form, once it can refer to both man and woman, as in “eles”.

In the phrase: Eles são brasileiros, the subject “eles” can refer to a group of men, and it can also refer to a group of both men and women. On the other hand, the phrase “Elas são brasileiras” is only used to refer to a group of women.

That points to the fact that the ending -a is always used to refer to groups composed only of women, while the ending -o is neutral, and refers to groups composed only of men, and to groups composed of both men and women. This is the basic rule of gender and variability of words in Brazilian Portuguese.

Variability of Words – Gender and Number

However, the Brazilian Portuguese language is not very easy, am I right? The structure of the words is composed of a root – that is the part of the word that does not change -, and of a variable part, that changes the form of the word depending on gender (masculine or feminine) and number (singular or plural). But attention! Not all words change their form. Adjectives are variable just like nouns, while adverbs are invariable. For example:

a) Elas são brasileiras.

They are Brazilian.

In this example, “elas” is the noun, that indicates a group of women. And “brasileiras” is the adjective that varies its form to correctly refer to the noun.

b) Elas chegarão em breve.

They will arrive soon.

On the other hand, this example shows that the adverb “em breve” (that means “soon”) is a fixed form and does not change/vary according to the noun or the verb.

Root Words

Now, let’s try to understand how the words vary and which rules and exceptions we have in the Brazilian Portuguese language!

The most common group of words that change according to gender and number is the group of words that have the same root, or radical, modified in a different form for each gender.

As an example, the words “menino” and “menina” (meaning boy and girl) have the same root, but they have different letters at the end of the word (-o or -a) in accordance with the masculine and the feminine forms.

As mentioned before, there are different ways to change the words from the masculine form to the feminine form. Let’s see some examples to better understand it!

1. Changing -o to -a

This is the most basic form of modifying a word from the masculine (or default) form to the feminine form. As examples we have the words:

MASCULINEFEMININE
filho (son)filha (daughter)
tio (uncle)tia (aunt)
primo (cousin)prima (cousin)
bonito (beautiful, handsome)bonita (beautiful, pretty)

2. -ão turning into -ã, -oa or -ona

This type of change is very common, especially when it comes to nouns that refer to living things, like people or animals, as well as to adjectives.

MASCULINEFEMININE
irmão (brother)irmã (sister)
leão (lion)leoa (lioness)
lindão (very handsome)lindona (very pretty)

3. -or turning into -iz

This one is more common in nouns, but there aren’t many words that change under this rule.

MASCULINEFEMININE
ator (actor)atriz (actress)
imperador (emperor)imperatriz (empress)
embaixador (ambassador)embaixatriz (ambassadress)

4. Adding an -a to words ending in -or, -ês or -z

It is a rule that frequently applies to nouns that refer to nationalities and professions.

MASCULINEFEMININE
professor (teacher, professor)professora (teacher, professor)
japonês (Japanese)japonesa (Japanese)
juiz (judge)juíza (judge)

5. Word change into ending in -essa, -esa or -isa

This kind of change is usually made by nouns that refer to professions.

MASCULINEFEMININE
conde (count)condessa (countess)
príncipe (prince)princesa (princess)
poeta (poet)poetisa (poet)

Exception: Anomalous Words

Anomalous words are the words that refer to the masculine and feminine form of a certain meaning, but don’t have the same root and just change the ending. Anomalous words are two totally different words that differ in their form. As an example we have:

MASCULINEFEMININE
cão (male dog)cadela (female dog)
padrinho (godfather)madrinha (godmother)
frade (friar)freira (nun)
ateu (atheist)ateia (atheist)
gender and variability of words

How did you like this explanation about gender and variability of words in Brazilian Portuguese? Let us know if it helped you in the comments below and check our other posts about Portuguese Grammar and Portuguese Basics! And don’t forget to check out our TikTok account and our Instagram profile for more content about the Brazilian Portuguese language! 😉

Tchau! Até a próxima! 🙂

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Milena Abreu
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