Posted in English

Sauce for the Gender

In the third of what I am now definitely thinking of my Four Evil Exes articles, here’s what I can find on the subject of remembering which nouns are masculine and which feminine. It turned out to be easier than I thought, although I’m sure the exceptions will plague me. I wish I’d done it ages ago, actually, but that’s the trouble with the 4 evil exes: they are boring and difficult and don’t have fun workarounds I can use, so it was just a case of ploughing through the literature – in this case, “Portuguese – an Essential Grammar” by Amélia Hutchinson and Janet Lloyd, with some supplemental examples cribbed from Fun With Portuguese and My Five Romances. I also got some tips from Benny the Irish Polyglot and read an entertaining post on the subject by Lady of the Cakes, whose blog is a great deal prettier and better-written than mine. Her post is a bit more pessimistic when it comes to finding patterns in this mess, but on the plus side does have (a) a picture of some cake and (b) rude words.

As you can see, most of the rules have exceptions, so it’s not as if I can be guaranteed to never screw up again if I learn them but if I don’t happen to know a word, it might boost my hit-rate a few percentage points.In most cases, more specific rules seem to override more general ones. So for example, “milhão” is masculine because it meets the “all numbers are masculine” rule even though it’s an abstract noun ending in -ão.

Oh and sorry about the colour-scheme, but… well, you know…

Rule Examples Exceptions
Male and Female animals/people depend on individual’s sex*
  • o touro / a vaca
  • o irmão / a irmã
Ordinal numbers depend what’s being counted
  • o primeiro (dia)
  • a segunda (noite)
Nouns ending in
-o (nb, not -ão though)
  • o lugar
  • o valor
  • o papel
  • o final
  • o rapaz
  • a foto
  • a tribo
  • a gravidez (understandably enough…)
Concrete nouns ending in
  • o sangue
  • o clube
  • o coração
  • o chão
  • o órgão
  • a fonte
  • a árvore
  • a mão
  • a televisão
Names of Lakes, Rivers, Mountains etc
  • o Tejo
  • os Himalaias
  • o Brasil
  • o Atlântico
  • o Tamisa (despite the -a ending!)
Car brands**** & types of wines
  • o porto
  • o Ferrari
  • a Mercedes
The seasons*****
  • o verão
  • o inverno
  • o outono
  • a primavera
Weekend days
  • o sábado
  • o domingo
Words from greek, usually ending -a: most usually in
  • o programa
  • o problema
  • o sistema
  • o poema
  • o cometa
  • o planeta
  • o dia
  • o mapa
  • o clima
  • o telefonema
  • o a
  • o p
Cardinal numbers
  • o um
  • o cento
  • o milhão
Most words ending in
  • a dúvida
  • a água
  • a palavra
  • a terra
Words ending
  • a cidade
  • a viagem
  • a garagem
  • a juventude
  • a espécie
  • a velhice
Abstract nouns ending in
  • a crise
  • a parte
  • a gente
  • a lição
  •  o norte
Names of towns & countries
  • A Madeira
  • A Rússia
  • A França
  • A Suiça
  • A Islândia
  • A Londres
 Places specifically named after male things:

  • O Rio de Janeiro
  • O São Paulo
  • O Porto

Places consisting of a male noun + adjective

  • Reino Unido
  • Os Estados Unidos
Names of the Arts and Sciences
  • a medicina
  • a matemática
  • a biologia
  • o teatro
  • o cinema
Names of days during the working week
  • a segunda feira
  • a terça feira

*=This rule supersedes all others. So “a mulher” is feminine even though it ends with r, for example

**=When looking for samples of nouns ending in -e as examples to use of concrete (masculine) and abstract (feminine) it was striking how many exceptions there were to this rule on the list. I’ve left it in because it’s in the textbook but, at least with the more common nouns, it seems like feminine outnumbers masculine for most -e nouns, even the concrete ones

***=When looking for samples of nouns ending in -ão as examples to use of concrete (masculine) and abstract (feminine) it was striking that the first twenty or so -ão words on this list were all abstract, feminine ones

****= Jeremy Clarkson would love this, I’m sure

*****=one exception out of four words is pretty shonky though. It’s only one away from a 50-50 split! Maybe best remember these by their endings and pretend the rule doesn’t exist!


Just a data nerd

3 thoughts on “Sauce for the Gender

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