Grammar Tips (#9): “O valor de parte da fortuna do dono da loja de desportos de inverno de Vila Real de Trás-os-Montes”: untangling nested possessives

Hello, everyone! I’m sorry if you got bamboozled just trying to come to grips with the vocabulary in this freakingly long sentence, but that was part of the point. And in case you didn’t notice, this isn’t even a full sentence in the grammatical sense since it lacks a predicate; in fact, this is just a very long noun filled with nested possessives, that is, nouns that are related to each other by a relationship of ownership, possession, or a partitive quality (being a part of a larger whole).

While English conveniently uses the preposition of or the possessive suffix ‘s to mark them, in Portuguese only de suffices, leaving us with potentially a very long stack of nouns followed by de until oblivion; the extreme example I’ve shown above is obviously rare, but the rules I’ll write below may help you guide yourselves even in the event of having four or five nouns bound together in this weird knot, and hopefully untangle it better.

#1: Always start by reading the first noun of the string and try to parse its meaning.

Here, the first word is [o] valor, meaning value/worth, so it’s natural for us to make questions like: “The value/worth of what/whom”? “What kind of value/worth are we talking about? Is it money? Character? Something else?”

The answers to at least the first of those questions (of what/whom?) will be provided by the following words on the string.

#2: Try stacking the subsequent nouns until you have a finite noun that makes sense to you as a whole, regardless of the rest of the string.

If you do this addition on a one-by-one basis, you’ll gradually get a better sense of how the noun was structured in the first place:

Added segments underlined

  • O valor de parte: The value of part…  – this tells us that we’re talking about a share of a bigger whole; at least to me, this would directly send me on the path of thinking atout money, since it’s something that has value and can still be divided using the partitive.
  • O valor de parte da fortuna [do dono]The value of part of the fortune… – and, soon enough, we receive a confirmation (or rebuttal) of the assumptions we made earlier. This seems like a good place to stop, because the noun that comes afterwards, [o] dono, clearly specifies that we’re done adding elements to this first block (the what?) and starting with a second (which introduces who? and its attributes).

#3: Perform the same process as explained in rules #1-2 for the other stacks, until the whole thing (finally) makes sense.

  • […] do dono da loja: […] the owner of the store; the information that follows is probably either about the products sold (which store?) or its location (of which place?);
  • […] do dono da loja de desportos [de inverno]the owner of the wintersports store: unlike English, Portuguese has a much more limited role for nouns remodelled as adjectives, so de does the trick for that too; that said, if the string goes on, then we have to assume all that’s left is (probably) location, location, location;
  • […] do dono da loja de desportos de inverno de Vila Real [de Trás-os-Montes]the owner of the wintersports store of Vila Real [of Trás-os-Montes]. I did say this was an extreme example: using de for location implies that’s the only store in town (it’s a more definite statement: “that’s [location’s] store” so we have to assume there’s just the one, not “a store in [location]”;
    • Vila Real de Trás-os-Montes is a long name commonly used to distinguish this Vila Real (in the former/historical region of Trás-os-Montes, in the north/northeast of the country) from Vila Real de Santo António, a seaside city in the far southeast of the country (and of the Algarve), close to the border with SpainWhile they’re far apart (and the northern Vila Real is officially known as just Vila Real, therefore being distinguishable as is), the attribute de Trás-os-Montes is sometimes used to make a clear, definite statement about its location (and this happens with many other locations, sometimes officially, others informally); in any case it’s important you prepare yourself for all possibilities when disentangling a nested possessive string, so that’s why I decided to include this one for the purposes of this exercise.

#4: Last but not least, try to make sense of the whole string!

So, this whole segment means, in an English sentence filled with of and ‘sThe value of the fortune of Vila Real’s wintersports store owner, which is still quite a mouthful; worse still, the value of Vila Real’s wintersports store owner’s fortune, which is just as confusing as the Portuguese sentence may seem at first; I won’t even try to place value at the end as well, but would be total and utter chaos (:

Translation note: I’ve decided to stick with value instead of worth because the sentence doesn’t give us a 100% clear idea about what kind of value we’re talking about here; we instantly think of net worth (in €), but it could be sentimental value ([o] valor sentimental) the man attached to part of his fortune (for example, an inheritance from his parents, or a few trinkets from his childhood).


Closing remarks:

In time, this will all come naturally to you; you could start testing yourselves by searching for specific markers (like the first, more finite/encapsulating noun – here [a] fortuna; or the expected owner of the whole string – here [o] dono) and retracing your steps from them. But to me, adding the elements in the way I’ve shown – starting with the first of the line and moving forward until a new possessor comes along – is probably the easiest way of apprehending the whole idea (if anything, because the movement of new information follows the writing, something which English’s noun adjectives and ‘s don’t always allow).

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One thought on “Grammar Tips (#9): “O valor de parte da fortuna do dono da loja de desportos de inverno de Vila Real de Trás-os-Montes”: untangling nested possessives

  1. edmeyr June 8, 2016 / 1:29 pm

    Levou tempo demais para eu comprehender a diferença entre “do/da” e “de” – estranho, né? Mas era só hoje que comprehendi que algo como “de inverno” é, de fato, funciona como adjetivo! (Aprendi, também, que não vou mais escrever “muito agradecido”- “much obliged”.) Thanks, Luís!

    Liked by 1 person

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