Grammar Tips (#20): Possessives in EP

The full range of possessive adjectives and pronouns in EP is as follows:

Referent subject pronoun Possessive adjectives (prepositioned) / pronouns Special cases (postpositioned)
Eu meu[s] / minha[s]
Tu teu[s] / tua[s]
Você seu[s] / sua[s]
Ele dele
Ela dela
Nós nosso[s] / nossa[s]
Vocês vosso[s] / vossa[s]¹
Eles seu[s] / sua[s] deles
Elas delas

Note: on the middle column, masculine adjectives/pronouns are to the left of the slash, with their feminine counterparts to the right

¹ If you found this website via Duolingo or another BP language learning software, please take note of how vosso[s]/vossa[s] is used as the possessive of vocês in EP (in BP, the third person seu[s]/sua[s] is used).

#1: On the middle column, you’ll find the grammatically-mandated possessiveswhen they’re used as adjectives (i.e. when they follow a noun, instead of substituting one), they’re placed before the noun; they are always agree in gender and number with the noun being possessed, with the base form of the noun giving us the information about the grammatical person who owns it (the possessor).

This means that – just to give an example – your (pl.) can be written vossovossos vossavossas depending on whether the gender of the noun being possessed by you (pl.) is masculine (first two options) or feminine (last two options), and on whether the noun is singular (options without final -s) or plural (options with final -s).

  • O vosso cão – Your dog
  • Os vossos cães – Your dogs
  • A vossa família – Your family
  • As vossas famílias – Your families

Since [o] cão is masculine singular, it could only take the masculine singular possessive vosso; since [as] famílias is a feminine plural noun, it could only take the feminine plural possessive vossas… If you think of these as any other adjectives, you shouldn’t have much trouble getting the hang of it.

As you can see from the above examples, EP places a definite article matching the gender/number of the possessive adjective (and therefore the referent noun) before it; this is another important difference vis-a-vis BP, and one of the most easily noticeable (since possessives come up a lot).

Also of note is the fact that possessive adjectives should be placed before (i.e. to the left) of any other regular adjectives placed before the noun:

  • Os vossos dois cães – Your two dogs
  • As vossas felizes vidas – Your happy lives

As explained on that earlier Grammar Tips post, a noun like feliz doesn’t necessarily need appear before the noun, but when it does (for emphasis/poetry/euphony, or to show a subjective/figurative train of thought) you’ll know where to place the possessive.

#2: The same gender/number matching rule extends to possessive pronouns; i.e. when the noun is itself replaced by the possessive or the pronoun is separated from the noun by a linking verb.

Possessive pronouns take the same form as the possessive adjectives, and are also included by the special cases scenario (see below, rule #3). The major difference is the relationship between pronoun and referent (replacement or separation by linking verbs, never immediately before a noun) and the fact that it doesn’t usually take an article before it:

  • – De quem é este vaso? – [É] nosso. – Whose vase is this? It’s ours.
  • Comprei-te um carro pelos anos. Agora o carro é teuI bought you a car for your birthday. Now the car is yours.

Unlike possessive adjectives, possessive pronouns only take the definite article when there’s a need to disambiguate between different items of the same referent noun:

  • O vosso carro é azul, mas o meu é vermelho. Your car is blue, but mine is red.
  • Esta caneta é a minha. This pen is mine. [implies a number of other pens that are not yours, with you categorically separating this one and only this one from the rest.]

compare with

  • Esta caneta é minha. This pen is mine. [simply stating a fact; this pen I’m holding/pointing at is my own possession, no relationship to or state of separation vs. other pens is implied].

#3: The special cases column is used to disambiguate seu[s]/sua[s], which can be applied to a referent subject pronoun você/ele/ela/eles/elas without clearly stating which of the five is the possessor.

These four forms are contractions between preposition de (“of”) and the pronouns ele/ela/eles/elas; since they’re associated with a specific subject pronoun, they are used in accordance to the possessor and not the noun being possessed.

  • O cão dele – His dog
  • O cão dela – Her dog
  • O cão deles – Their dog (with they being either a generic group of people, all male or mixed)
  • O cão delas – Their dog (they being a group of more than one woman)

And what about você? Since it doesn’t have a special case, it gets to keep the middle column forms all for itself! This means that without prior knowledge, it’s usually assumed that using the middle forms seu[s]/ sua[s] is in reference to você, the formal you. Don’t forget these agree in gender and number with the noun being possessed:

  • O seu carro está sujo, mas o dele está limpo. Your car is all dirty, but his is clean.
  • O carro dele é mesmo giro. His car is really nice/cute.

Keep in mind that because você is used in reference to the second person (that is, someone who’s directly talking to you), you’d probably still be able to distinguish seu[s]/sua[s] as a reference to você from a reference to his/her/theirs via contextual clues (the listener’s body language, previous references to a different third person, etc.).

P.S. Dele/dela/deles/delas are quite informal, so seu[s]/sua[s] is commonly used in more formal registers (think newspapers, press releases, official statements, newscasts) when applied to third person referents. Again, this is no big deal because 1) The possessive adjectives/pronouns are not as common when you’re just relaying information (these media strive for efficiency and effectiveness, so names and proper nouns are used instead); 2) The second person only occurs in interviews, so any reference to seu[s]/sua[s] in a regular newspiece/press release/statement has to have a third-person referent in mind; 3) There are always many contextual clues to gather which third person pronoun someone’s referring to at a given time.






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