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This article teaches you how to form plurals in Portuguese. Learning the main singular-to-plural spelling conversion patterns is very helpful, more than you might think.
In Portuguese, words belonging to several word classes are spelled differently depending on whether the nouns they refer to are in their singular or plural forms.
For instance, adjectives, articles, demonstratives, and possessive determiners change their endings to conform to the number of the noun they refer to.
Consider the following sentence written in the singular and plural. The words marked in blue are those agreeing in number, in reference to a noun. The words marked in red, on the other hand, are the nouns themselves:
A minha querida prima foi com a minha adorada tia ao café e comeu aquele delicioso gelado.
My dear cousin went with my adored aunt to the café and ate that delicious ice cream.
As minhas queridas primas foram com as minhas adoradas tias ao café e comeram aqueles deliciosos gelados.
My dear cousins went with my adored aunts to the café and ate those delicious ice creams.
As it clearly stands out in the example above, there are significantly more Portuguese blue words than English. In other words, singular-to-plural word inflection is way more prevalent in Portuguese than in English.
Luckily, you’ll only need to learn a handful of singular-to-plural conversion patterns to be able to keep everything number-aligned.
Let’s get started.
- Nouns – singular-to-plural conversion patterns
- Extending the conversion patterns beyond nouns
Tips! Gender and number go hand-in-hand and you may want to give this article a read as well: Gender of Portuguese Words: A Guide to Masculine-to-Feminine Spelling Patterns.
Nouns – singular-to-plural conversion patterns
In Portuguese, just as in English, the s-plural is dominant. Accordingly, nouns ending in any vowel – -a, -e, -i, -o, -u (the nasal vowel -ã included) – form their plural by adding an -s at the end. A few examples:
|o cabelo (hair)||os cabelos (hairs)|
|a perna (leg)||as pernas (legs)|
|a maçã (apple)||as maçãs (apples)|
|o dente (tooth)||os dentes (teeth)|
|o rei (king)||os reis (kings / king and queen)|
|o pau (stick)||os paus (sticks)|
|. . .|
This is a variation of the s-plural. Nouns ending with the consonants -n, -r, -s, and -z form their plural with -es. A few examples:
|o líquen (lichen)||os líquenes (lichens)|
|o cantor (singer)||os cantores (singers)|
|o gás (gas)||os gases (gases)|
|a raíz (root)||as raízes (roots)|
|. . .|
The reason for that extra e is that, in Portuguese, words don’t normally end in consonant clusters. There is, however, an exception to this, namely the plural-ending -ns that we’ll look at next.
Nouns ending in -m
Portuguese nouns ending in -m build their plural with -ns, that is, by replacing -m* with -n and adding an -s at the end:
|a viagem (travel)||as viagens (travels)|
|a ordem (order)||as ordens (orders)|
|o jovem (juvenile)||os jovens (juveniles)|
|. . .|
*Note that both -m and -ns at the end of words produce a nasal sound. Portuguese is replete with these and other nasal sounds, for instance, nasal diphthongs (see the noun-group below). Learn more about Portuguese pronunciation: Portuguese pronunciation: a helpful guide to Portuguese basic sounds and spelling patterns.
Nouns ending in -ão
The majority of nouns ending in -ão form their plural with -ões (virtually all nouns referring to abstract concepts follow this pattern). However, some nouns ending in -ão will form their plural with -ães and -ãos:
|a divisão (division)||as divisões (divisions)|
|a razão (reason)||as razões (reasons)|
|o coração (heart)||os corações (hearts)|
|o pão (bread)||os pães (breads)|
|a mão (hand)||as mãos (hands)|
|. . .|
! Have you noticed that Portuguese nouns ending in -ão and referring to abstract concepts often have English cognates? For instance, the word atenção (attention) or conclusão (conclusion).
See, there is a wealth of English-Portuguese cognates that can exponentially increase your Portuguese vocabulary, in no time. Read the following article if you want to unleash these cognate-superpowers: English-Portuguese cognates – the words you already know (without knowing it).
Nouns ending in -l
Nouns ending in -al, -el, -ol, and -ul form their plural by replacing those endings with -ais, -eis, -ois, and -uis respectively.
|o animal (animal)||os animais (animals)|
|o automóvel (automobile)||os automóveis (automobiles)|
|o rouxinol (nightingale)||os rouxinóis (nightingales)|
|o azul (blue)||os azuis (blues)|
|. . .|
However, the plural-forming pattern is slightly different for nouns ending in -il, that is, they form the plural with either -is or -eis depending if the word is stressed on the last or next-to-last syllable respectively*:
|o imbecil (imbecile)||os imbecis (imbeciles)|
|o portátil (laptop)||os portáteis (laptops)|
|. . .|
* Speaking of word stress, here’s a short article to help you master this topic: Portuguese word stress and accent marks.
Nouns ending in -s
Nouns ending in -s (there are only a few of these) share the same form in singular and plural. Here’re a couple of examples:
|o lápis (pencil)||os lápis (pencils)|
|o cais (quay)||os cais (quays)|
|. . .|
Extending the conversion patterns beyond nouns
In Portuguese, word classes such as adjectives, determiners (articles, possessives, demonstratives), pronouns and verbs are subject to plural-inflection. Accordingly, their endings change form to conform to the number in relation to the nouns they refer to.
Apart from verbs and personal pronouns, these variable word classes follow, as we shall see below, the same plural-forming patterns we’ve gone through above.
In Portuguese, unlike in English, adjectives adjust their endings to agree with the number of the noun they refer to. Again, they basically follow the same patterns as nouns do:
|vowel > s-plural|
|bonito (handsome)||bonitos (handsome)|
|cara (expensive)||idiotas (expensive)|
|grande (big)||grandes (big)|
|r, s, z > es-plural|
|trabalhador (hard-working)||trabalhadores (hard-working)|
|francês (French)||franceses (French)|
|capaz (capable)||capazes (capable)|
|ão > ões/ães|
|trapalhão (clumsy)||trapalhões (clumsy)|
|alemão (German)||alemães (German)|
|m > m|
|selvagem (wild)||selvagens (wild)|
|l > is|
|essencial (essential)||essenciais (essential)|
|cruel (cruel)||crueis (cruel)|
|gentil (kind)||gentis (kind)|
|ágil (agile)||ágeis (agile)|
|azul (blue)||azuis (blue)|
|s > s|
|simples (simple)||simples (simple)|
|. . .|
Determiners are those words introducing nouns. For instance, in the phrases the girl and those people, the article the and the demonstrative those are determiners.
There are different types of determiners such as articles, demonstratives, possessives, and so on. In Portuguese, unlike in English, all determiners agree with the number of the noun they refer to.
For the sake of clarity, note that the demonstratives and possessives listed below are considered pronouns if standing alone. Whether they show up in the quality of determiners or pronouns, demonstratives and possessives shall conform to number.
Besides conforming to gender (masculine/feminine), Portuguese articles also agree with the number:
|definite articles, the||o/a (m/f)|
o livro (the book)
os livros (the books)
|indefinite articles, a||um/uma (m/f)|
uma rua (a street)
Demonstrative determiners are those words pointing out things and objects:
este prédio (this building)
estes prédios (these buildings)
esse problema (that problem)
esses problemas (those problems)
|that over there / those over there||aquele/aquela (m/f)|
aquela árvore (that tree over there)
aquelas árvores (those trees over there)
These determiners imply possession. Note that in Portuguese (especially in the European standard), you normally have a definite article accompanying the possessive:
o meu amor (my love)
os meus amores (my loves)
a tua carteira (your purse)
as tuas carteiras (your purses)
|his / her||seu/sua (m/f)|
more often dele/dela
a sua filha or a filha dele/dela (his/her daughter)
more often dele/dela
as suas filhas or as filhas dele/dela (his/her daughters)
a nossa casa (our home)
as nossas casas (our homes)
o vosso primo (your cousin)
os vossos primos (your cousins)
|their||seu/sua (m/f)more often deles/delas|
o seu carro or o carro deles/delas (their car)
|seus/suasmore often deles/delas|
os seus carro or os carros deles/delas (their car)
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