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Demonstratives are those words that help with pointing out a person or object as well as their location in relation to both speaker and hearer.
Portuguese demonstratives work along the same lines as the English, that is, they indicate whether something is closer or further away, either in time or space:
|Esta mesa aqui é de vidro, essa aí é de madeira.|
This table here is made of glass; that one is made of wood.
Estes tempos de agora são complicados do que aqueles de outrora.
These present times are more complicated than those from before.
Now, Portuguese demonstratives are more nuanced than the English. This is partly because they also agree with the noun’s gender, and partly because there is a neuter form that disregards both number and gender.
Also, there is a third variant of demonstratives encoding a specific spatial relationship between speaker, hearer, and object that English misses altogether.
Finally, let’s not forget that Portuguese demonstratives merge with a few prepositions, meaning that you have to keep track of a more varied word morphology compared to English.
We’ll soon look into all that in more detail. But for now, here are the Portuguese demonstratives in a nutshell:
(more specific; agree with the noun’s gender and number)
(less specific; no regard to either gender or number)
near the speaker
near the hearer
|that/ those (over there)|
far from both
* s – singular; p – plural; m – masculine; f – feminine
- Variable vs. invariable demonstratives
- Demonstratives and space
- Demonstratives and time
Variable vs. invariable demonstratives
In Portuguese, demonstratives come in two flavors, variable and invariable (neuter).
Variable demonstratives are specific in that they conform to both number and gender.
Invariable demonstratives, on the other hand, don’t attend to either number or gender and are, therefore, more general.
Variable demonstratives change their endings to agree with the noun’s gender and number they refer to:
Esta pera é saborosa. (a pera)
This pear is tasty.
Estes melões são saborosos. (os melões)
These melons are tasty!
Also, they can be used either as stand-alone pronouns (substituting for the noun altogether) or adjectivally as determiners:
|as a determiner|
Estas maçãs não prestam!
These apples are no good!
|as a pronoun|
Estas não prestam!
These are no good!
Invariable demonstratives don’t conform to either gender or number. They are less specific and always used as pronouns:
|Isto é saboroso.|
This is tasty.
We often use them to either speak concisely or in more abstract terms (compared to variable demonstratives):
|More abstract vs. less abstract|
Isto é teu vs. Esta caneta é tua
This is yours vs. This pen is yours
Leva isto contigo vs. Leva estes livros contigo
Take this with you vs. Take these books with you
Isto é complicado vs. Esta situação é complicada
This is complicated vs. This situation is complicated
Demonstratives and space
In Portuguese, there are 3 categories of demonstratives according to the spatial relationship between the speaker and hearer, and the things they talk about.
1. Near the speaker
The demonstratives in this group refer to people or things near the speaker. They correspond to the English demonstratives this/these:
Note that the sense of proximity to the speaker conveyed by these demonstratives is often reinforced by the adverb of place aqui (here):
|este navio aqui|
this ship here
estes homens aqui
these men here
These demonstratives merge with the prepositions de and em:
|de + (este; esta; estes; estas; isto)||em + (este; esta; estes; estas; isto)|
Here’re a few sentence-examples:
|Gostaste deste filme? (gostar de)|
Did you enjoy this movie?
Estou farto desta canção. (estar farto de)
I am tired of this song.
Preciso disto aqui. (precisar de)
I need this.
|Entrei nesta loja mesmo agora. (entrar em)|
I just came into this shop.
Ninguém pode viver nestas condições! (viver em)
No one can live in these conditions!
Não penses nisto agora. (pensar em)
Don’t think about this now.
Reading tips! Learn more about prepositions, contractions, and verbs often followed by them: Basic Portuguese Prepositions and Contractions: An Inclusive Usage Rundown.
2. Near the hearer
The demonstratives in this group refer to people or things near the listener. They correspond to the English demonstratives that/those:
The sense of proximity to the hearer conveyed by these demonstratives is often reinforced by the adverb of place aí (next to you):
|esse copo aí|
that glass next to you
essas plantas aí
those plants next to you
that thing next to you
These demonstratives merge with the prepositions de and em:
|de (esse; essa; esses; essas; isso)||em (esse; essa; esses; essas; isso)|
|Gostas desse vestido? (gostar de)|
Do you like that dress?
Estou cansado dessas tuas desculpas. (estar cansado de)
I am tired of those excuses of yours.
Preciso disso aí. (precisar de)
I need that.
|Pensei muito nesse assunto. (pensar em)|
I thought a lot about that matter.
Trabalho nessas condições! (trabalhar em)
I work in those conditions!
Não penses nisso. (pensar em)
Don’t think about that.
3. Far from both
The demonstratives in this group refer specifically to people or things far from both the speaker and hearer.
In English, this third spatial relationship is not encoded with any specific demonstrative word. Instead, we leave it to the context and continue to use that/those (as in the previous group):
The sense of distance from both the speaker and hearer conveyed by these demonstratives is often reinforced by the adverb of place ali (over there):
|aquele quadro ali|
that painting over there
aquelas flores ali
those flowers over there
that over there
These demonstratives merge with the prepositions de, em and a:
|de + (aquele; aquela; aqueles; aquelas; aquilo)||em + (aquele; aquela; aqueles; aquelas; aquilo)||a + (aquele; aquela; aqueles; aquelas; aquilo)|
|Gostas daquela casa? (gostar de)|
Do you like that house?
Hoje lembrei-me daqueles dias maravilhosos de verão. (lembrar-se de)
Today I remembered those wonderful summer days.
Preciso daquilo agora. (precisar de)
I need that now.
|Deitei-me naquele sofá e adormeci. (deitar-se em)|
I lay on that couch and fell asleep.
Vivo naquela casa ali. (viver em)
I live in that house over there!
Não penses naquilo. (pensar em)
Don’t think about that thing.
|Vou àquele restaurante. (ir a)|
I am going to go to that restaurant.
Pedi ajuda àqueles senhores. (pedir ajuda a)
I asked those gentlemen for help.
Queres assistir àquilo? (assistir a)
You want to watch that thing?
Demonstratives and time
Demonstratives are not only relatable to space but also to time. For instance, este(s), estas(s), and isto refer to the present time:
|Estes tempos são difíceis.|
These times are difficult.
Both esse(s), essa(s), isso and aquele(s), aquela(s), aquilo refer to the past time:
|Esses tempos foram difíceis.|
Aqueles tempos foram difíceis
Those times were difficult.
In a past time-context, the difference between using esse(s), essa(s), isso or aquele(s), aquela(s), aquilo is very subtle.
If someone was talking about a past event and I were to comment upon it, I would probably go with esse(s), essa(s), isso. Otherwise, aquele(s), aquela(s), aquilo might be preferable.
Reading tips! As you’ve noticed, Portuguese demonstratives have specific forms for masculine vs. feminine and singular vs. plural nouns. But they are far from being the only word class affected by gender and number. Learn more about it:
• Disentangling Gender with Portuguese Masculine-to-Feminine Spelling Patterns
• Forming the Plural in Portuguese: Singular-to-Plural Conversion Patterns to Keep an Eye On
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