Posted in English

A Neuterful Mind

Hm, I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel with these neuter puns aren’t I? (previous examples here and here)

For anyone who was interested in the issue of well-meaning-but-annoying young activists trying to force a neuter gender into Portuguese grammar as a way of describing either individuals who self-describe as gender-neutral, or mixed groups of male and female people, here’s an example in a meme of someone trying to use it in a group situation.

I have to ask myself if it’s real or a joke. If it’s real then Marcelo probably should have said “convidades” to match the adjective to his openening noun. I’m with Mariana, Lucas, Karina and the rest in this one though I think. Its hard enough trying to remember that saucepans have gender without also having to remember that some people have one of 67 imaginary ones.

Posted in English

Sir Isaac Neuter

I wrote this weeks ago but it’s been sitting in my drafts folder for ages

I had quite a response to the post a few days weeks ago about fringe issues of grammatical gender, It’s been helpful and interesting. It’s always interesting when I get corrections from Portuguese speakers of course, but these ones were even more interesting because it seemed like there were so many different takes on the subject so it was more like a debate and not just people telling me I’ve used the wrong tense or whatever. I must admit though that I wish I’d toned down my sense of humour. I think some of the tone came across as being a douchey anglophone who was criticising someone else’s grammar for being structurally sexist. Not my intention of course. I know english is weird in its own way (the spelling! Oh my god!) but this is a blog about learning portuguese so I’ll let someone else write about that.

Most languages have gender as a way of dividing nouns into different types of course. Portuguese inherited its system from Latin. We used to have it in english too but it faded hundreds of years ago. I pay a lot of attention to gender in portuguese, mostly because I find it so hard to remember the rules (see my post on gender & noun endings for example!). And, as a result of that attention, I often notice some of the more unusual aspects, and they grab my attention much more than the standard day-to-day words. That’s why I wrote the last article: It was as if I’d been looking for ladybirds and suddenly came across some weird, 24-legged purple creature with six wings hiding under a leaf. Suddenly, I’m emptying out my bug-jar to make room for it.

I’ve also had a lot of people replying specifically to the issue of gender as it relates to people (what the cool kids refer to as “gender identity”). I hadn’t really seen this as a key part of the post but again I didn’t really do myself with the choice of jokes. First of all, calling the piece “Neuter Kids on the Block” seemed like quite a good pun. Neuter is the name of a third gender in Latin that is neither masculine nor feminine so it seemed to fit with the story about the teacher. I’m not suggesting kids can be “neuter” of course. Mixing up grammatical gender and a person’s sex and/or the way they describe their gender is usually going to cause confusion. They’re not completely unrelated of course: some words will change the ending according to the person’s sex like médico/médica, professor/professora, but it’s best to keep them as two separate things in your head. Sorry. Wasn’t thinking.

I think the best way is to do this as a series of headings because the objections and corrections don’t really form a coherent whole.

What kinds of non-gender-specific pronouns are there?

Addressing mixed groups

In standard portuguese, if you are referring to any group of people using a pronoun then it needs to be “eles” (subject) or “os” (direct object) unless they are all women, in which case it’s “elas” and “as”. Indirect objects are the same for both: “-lhes”. When it comes to adjective endings, if they change at all, the rule is straightforward: if they are all female then you use “-as” but if there is one or more male it defaults to the masculine plural “-os”. That holds true even if the women outnumber the men by a million to one.

This is what I was referring to in the original post: it seems as though the tutor in my lesson was not satisfied with this situation and had changed it to an “e” ending in order to create a non-gender-specific (neuter) ending that isn’t part of standard portuguese because, I guess, she thinks masculine shouldn’t be the default. Nobody has suggested any alternative explanation so I am still pretty sure that’s what her intention was. A few people were quite skeptical of her approach though. For example, Reddit user Butt_Roidholds pointed out that in a lot of accents you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an -e ending and an -o ending anyway. You can see this on some meme accounts like bilbiamtengarsada on Instagram, where they’ll write dialect spelling that sometimes has an e on place of the o, but they aren’t being woke, just mimicking an accent.

Addressing mixed sets of individuals.

This one is slightly different because you’re addressing individual readers, not treating them as a group. For example, sending out an email to multiple people. Again, in theory you should be able to treat them all as masculine endings, as if the masculine gender in Portuguese was applicable to everyone. I don’t think most people think this way though and you’ll usually see something like “caro/a leitor(a)” to take account of the fact that the person reading it might be male or female. It’s a bit like in English when you write “Dear sir/madam”

On the Internet, you might see this written using an @ sign. Like today a few weeks ago on Instagram, someone (I think it was Literacidades) posted a poll about people’s covid vaccination status and one of the options was “vacinad@” because the individual user could be vacinado or vacinada. I like this. It’s neat. You obviously can’t pronounce it in speech, and that makes it a problem for people with impaired vision who are browsing the internet using text-to-speech software, and that’s a shame because it seems like a tidy way to do it.

Addressing People Who Self-Describe as Non-Binary

OK, we’re into the controversial bit now. Don’t panic, we’re going to get through this. Probably. The focus of the post is meant to be language and how some speakers of portuguese are trying to change the way it’s used. I’m not setting out to talk about the underlying question of how the idea of gender is changing in society generally. Although I very definitely do have an opinion on that, this is a language blog so I’m not here to evaluate the truth claims of the various competing versions of gender theory or the various arguments for or against. If you want that, go on twitter and you’ll find someone who’ll be happy to fight you to the death in a cage. Just don’t tell them I sent you.

That said, it is just possible that you haven’t heard the term non-binary before, so I’ll need to give a little bit of background.

There’s been a trend in the last few years for people to identify as “non-binary”. In other words, they do not think of themselves as relating to traditional notions of masculine or feminine and therefore they don’t want to be described as a man or a woman. This is part of a wider trend towards people believing that what makes you a man or a woman (or neither) is not the body but some internal sense of yourself. This is explained in a variety of different ways, and people who want it to be normalised are trying to effect change, mainly to pronouns, in their own languages around the world through social media campaigns, the school curriculum, changes to the law and so on.

Zir Isaac Newton

Of course that process is much, much more complicated in romance langauges than it is in english. In english, people who identify as not having a gender often prefer to be referred to either by a “neo-pronoun” like “zi” or “zer” (full list here) or using plural pronouns “they” and “them” instead of the usual he/she/him/her. People may differ about whether they regard this as politeness or attention-seeking and to what extent they are willing to comply with it, but at least for us english speakers that’s really the extent of the change and you don’t need to worry about adjective endings or any of that malarkey.

Assuming you are interested in finding out how this works in portuguese (and I guess if you weren’t you would have rolled your eyes and skipped ahead to the next section by now) here’s the state of play as of July September 2021, but obviously if you’re reading this in 2025 it will probably all seem laughably outdated and you will be cancelled if you repeat any of it.

Basically…

  • There are four completely different sets of candidate pronouns that can be applied to non-binary individuals in portuguese. The most popular is “the Elu system”. It uses Elu/Elus for its third person subject pronouns and so on through “delu” and “aquelus” and so on. But there are also systems based on Ile, Ilu and El. The last one seems like one to avoid if you’re a foreigner since the last thing you want is for someone to think you’re trying to talk to them in spanish!
  • The equivalent definite articles are either ê/ês or le/les, depending on the system. Adjective endings go to either e or u, so you get sentences like “ê carlos é muito esperte“. Possessives change too of course: Tue or Tu instead of Teu and Tua for example.
  • I think it’s correct to say these neo-pronouns are neuter pronouns, grammatically speaking, even though people are not neuter. Neuter exists in grammar, not in human biology.
  • It’s possible to avoid the issue entirely by means of circumlocations like “aquela pessoa é muito bonita” because pessoa is a feminine word you can use a feminine adjective while avoiding a social faux-pas no matter who you are referring to. Similarly, “trabalha numa biblioteca” instead of “é bibliotecário/a” and “molhaste-te por causa da chuva” instead of “estás todo molhado/a”.
  • Avoid the “-x” ending popular among americans or the @ ending that I mentioned above. They’re impossible to pronounce and don’t work with screen readers.
  • Non-binary and inclusive language applies only to humans, not animals or things. As I mentioned in the last post, this obviously strikes us as odd since we think of all inanimate objects and even some animals as basically having no gender because no biological sex, but portuguese has genders for all nouns and (if these changes becaome accepted by a majority of people) humans would be the only nouns that can be referred to without gender!

This is all set out with a lot more detail in a manual of inlusive language here which will presumably be updated from time to time. The guy says right in the intro that the language is “unfortunately still very binary and sexist” which I think is not something I’d agree with, but it’s not my language so I’ll leave it to others to comment. The manual is brazilian, I think, but as with america and britain, it tends to be the larger, more noisy transatlantic country that sets the agenda for the smaller, quieter one.

Summary

All of the above sections are pretty controversial of course and different people had different takes on it. AndreMartins5979 said that a better way of looking at this is to think of the masculine gender in portuguese as being neuter. It’s only called “masculine” because the feminine exists. So, he argues, Portuguese should stop using feminine and be more like english and just use one ending for all adjectives. I think this is the only time I have seen a portuguese speaker express this opinion. I can see the attraction obviously, because I speak english and it’s a lot easier, but it runs up against the same problem all the other suggested changes have: how do you implement a change this drastic across all printed materials, all websites, all schools, all conversations in all portuguese speaking countries in a way that everyone can agree with?

Taking the Acordo Ortográfico as an example, it would be pretty difficult, to say the least!

Other users described these sorts of changes, even when they are less extreme than the one Andre suggested, as “ugly” and “inelegant” and an imposition from the anglosphere onto the lusosphere.

Paxona, who is brazilian, mentioned that in her state, gender neutral language had been banned in schools. I don’t know quite how to feel about this: the current brazilian president is… well, let’s just say “a divisive figure”. I can think of shorter ways to describe him, but that’ll do. It’s a state ruling though, not a federal law. Anyway, I’m not really sure what the motivation is behind this law. Generally, I’m not a fan of banning language. Language changes when people start using it differently, not when some central authority decrees it, but she pointed out that education is the duty of the state – and hence, schools are a form of central authority in their own communities. So, in a world where there are several conflicting theories of how pronouns should be used, it’s all in flux and it’s all very controversial, it’s probably right that the legislature attempt to exert some sort of stabilising influence, at least for the time being. Otherwise you have a lot of well-meaning teachers, all trying to impose their own preferred systems and their own pet theories on a bunch of kids whose parents all speak standard portuguese.

Why is Masculinity not Masculine?

My daughter has just looked over my shoulder and seen this headline and now thinks I am writing something very, very woke.

Part of the original post was about a book called “O Feminino e o Moderno” by Ana Luísa Vilela, Fábio Maria da Silva and Maria Lúcia Dal Farra. And I said “O Feminino” meant “Femininity”. As Paxona pointed out, that isn’t quite right though. It’s more like “the feminine”. It’s a noun that tends only to be used in academic or abstract settings. According to Priberam:

Conjunto de qualidades ou atributos considerados como pertencentes às mulheres (ex.: representações do feminino na pintura)”
“feminino”, in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [em linha], 2008-2021, https://dicionario.priberam.org/feminino [consultado em 03-07-2021].

So “O Masculino” and “O Feminino” are both masculine, and “A Masculinidade” and “A Feminilidade” are both feminine. So that’s er… totally clear then!

Why are Feminine Things Masculine?

I still find it really confusing when I need to describe something as masculine but the noun is a feminine noun.

So here’s a page about “Roupas Masculinas“. “Roupa” is a feminine word, so even though these specific clothes are designed for men, the adjective ends up being masculina, not masculino. It’s a masculine feminine thing. Thinking about this gives me a headache.

Likewise, here are some Acessorios Femininos.

The plot really thickens when you get to word like “Grávido” which means pregnant. As I said in the last post, the default form of the adjective is masculine even though males can never get pregnant. Now, I still think if I were a portuguese woman this would enrage me more than words can express but I seem to be alone in that view.

Reddit user Xavieryes points out three possible situations where you could legitimately use grávido in its masculine form:

  • A male seahorse can get pregnant. Like all male animals, daddy seahorses (seastallions???) produce small gametes that fertilise the larger female ones, but unlike most species, female seahorses pass their eggs over to the male and he carries the fertilised eggs until they are seafoals ready for their first seadressage.
  • There are also trans-men, ie biologically female humans who identify as socially masculine and often prefer to be known by male pronouns. They can become pregnant and could then also be said to be “grávido”.
  • Finally, a guy whose wife/girlfreind is pregnant might be said to be grávido, in a jokey way, either because he is very uxorious – like when english-speaking couples say “we’re pregnant”, or it might just be because he has a big beer belly

So that’s three exceptions that justify the word grávido as being default in the dictionary over grávida. and again, I know its just the rules of how the language works but… I still think if I were a portuguese woman I would be burning the world down because of this.

Well, I think that’s the best I can do. It’s not the easiest of subjects to write about clearly and I expect there will be people who disagree so feel free to tell me about it in the comments 👇

I have asked on the portuguese subreddit if it’s OK to quote the people named, but if anyone would rather I deleted their username, drop me a line and I’ll do that.

Posted in English

Neuter Kids on the Block

I mentioned a few weeks back that I had backed out of a seminar on suffragettes in Portugal. Well, the tutor, seminar leader, whatever, sent out an email with some course materials. I was interested in the opening lines (In the image up there, 👆) Can you spot it?

As you probably know, portuguese has two genders, masculine and feminine, and all nouns have one or the other, even though physical objects and abstract concepts have no biological sex, they are all sorted into two categories too. And if referring to a group of – say – two women and two men, or even a thousand women and one male cat, the fact that there’s a mix of genders means you use the masculine as default so it would be “eles” not “elas”. Obviously this seems a bit silly on its face. I’m not going to get on my soapbox here because it’s not my language, but it seems like it would be fairer if you went with the majority or something. Anyway, what you have in the screenshot is the use of “querides” with an – es ending instead of either – as or – os.

It’s easy to see why this makes sense from a feminist point of view since mixed groups shouldn’t default to the masculine ending. It’s not just a typo either. At the end she says “beijinhos para todes”, which I keep pronouncing as “toads” and imagining a princess/frog situation.

I’ve had someone explain to me that e can be used as an ending for people describing themselves as “non-binary”. I haven’t seen any examples of this in the wild. For example, if you read the Wikipedia entry for Sam Smith you’ll find it carefully written to avoid any pronouns or gender-specific endings that refer to him directly. Where they do exist they are made to refer to other nouns. For example in the first paragraph it says “é uma personalidade britânica” where the a on the end of britânica refers to “personalidade” not to Smith himself. I think it would be kind of silly to squeeze gender-specific endings out of words referring to people, since a language that has gender for everything except people would be even sillier than a language that has gender for everything including people. IMHO one of the best things about English is that you don’t have the faff of remembering random genders for every single object and every single idea that has ever existed. If they don’t have a sex then they are all just “it”, and that’s beautifully simple.

O Feminino é o Moderno

And one final thought on gender: I always find it odd that for example the idea of feminity itself is masculine. What do I mean? Well, there’s a book called “O Feminino e o Moderno” by Ana Luísa Vilela, Fábio Maria da Silva and Maria Lúcia Dal Farra. Why is The Feminine Masculine? Weird historical reasons, that’s why!

Equally surprising is the word “grávida” (pregnant) which, if you look it up, is defined as the feminine version of grávido, as if men could get pregnant and in fact pregnant men were the default. It’s all a bit Judith Butler if you ask me.

Posted in English

Gender Wars 3: Attack of the Nouns

Madculine and Feminine nouns
Two nouns undergoing “flexão”

OK, so if you’re a new learner, you’ve probably come across a few explanations of how gender works in Portuguese, and how to work out if a given word is masculine or feminine just by looking at it. Different teachers have slightly different rules so I sat down to road-test them and see which versions were reliable and which had so many exceptions that they weren’t worth bothering with. I used a list of the 1000 most popular portuguese nouns (details in Appendix 3 below) and used excel formulae to see what rule *should* apply vs what gender it actually has.

This third version of the list has some new refinements for nouns ending in -ão. As you know they are very variable. I usually hear abstract nouns are feminine and concrete nouns are masculine but that’s a bit vague and there are lots of exceptions. But then I came across a video where some guy (I wish I could remember who so I could credit him!) said the thing to do is to look at the letter immediately before the -ão. Verbs ending -ção, -são and to a lesser extent -ião are the ones that are treated as abstract and feminine. They tend to be similar to english words ending -tion or -sion. The rest are manly and butch. Once you split the rule like this, it makes more sense and there are very few exceptions. So… I’ve updated the table below

Portuguese Noun Genders – All The Rules I Know

More specific rules nearer the top override more general ones further down. So for example, “dezena” is masculine because it meets the “all numbers are masculine” rule even though it ends in A. And Avó is feminine because it meets the “Male and Female people” rule even though it ends in an O. Sorry about the colour-scheme, but… well, you know… just trying to harness my cultural stereotypes in a way that makes it easier to follow.

Rule Examples Exceptions
Dependent:
Male and Female animals/people depend on individual’s sex*
  • o touro / a vaca
  • o irmão / a irmã
  • o dirigente/a dirigente
  • o autor, a autora
  • o rapaz
  • o socialista, a socialista
  • o jesuíta
  • o chefe
Dependent:
Ordinal numbers depend what’s being counted, because they are effectively adjectives!
  • o primeiro (dia)
  • a segunda (noite)
Masculine:
Nouns ending in
-o (but not -ão though)
-r
-l
-z
-u
  • o lugar
  • o amigo
  • o chapéu
  • o papel
  • o final
  • a tribo
  • a dor
  • a cor
  • a flor
Masculine:
Names of Lakes, Rivers, Mountains etc
  • o Tejo
  • os Himalaias
  • o Brasil
  • o Atlântico
  • o Tamisa (despite the -a ending!)
Masculine:
Compass points
  • O Leste
  • O Oeste
  • O Norte
  • O Sul
Masculine:
Car brands** & types of wines
  • o Madeira
  • o Ferrari
  • a Mercedes (but only the brand. The car is “um Mercedes”)
Variable:
The seasons obey their last letter rules o=masculine, a=feminine
  • o verão
  • o inverno
  • o outono
  • a primavera
Variable:
Week days obey their last letter rules o=masculine, a=feminine
  • o sábado
  • o domingo
  • a segunda feira
  • a terça feira
Masculine:
Words from greek, usually ending -a: most usually in
-ema
-grama
-eta
  • o programa
  • o problema
  • o sistema
  • o poema
  • o cometa
  • o planeta
  • o mapa
  • o telefonema
“Gorjeta” is the only word with these endings that doesn’t match but Priberam says it’s not greek
Masculine:
Letters
  • o a
  • o p
Masculine:
Cardinal numbers
  • o um
  • o cento
  • o milhão
Feminine:
Words ending in
-ção
-são
-ião
a acção
a actuação
a administração
a alteração
a aplicação
a aprovação
a associação
a atenção
a avaliação
a canção
a classificação
a colecção
a comissão
a competição
a composição
a comunicação
a concepção
a conclusão
a condição
a constituição
a construção
a criação
a decisão
a declaração
a definição
a designação
a dimensão
a direcção
a discussão
a disposição
a distribuição
a divisão
a edição
a educação
a eleição
a emoção
a estação
a evolução
a excepção
a expansão
a explicação
a exploração
a exportação
a exposição
a expressão
a extensão
a federação
a formação
a função
a fundação
a geração
a impressão
a inflação
a informação
a instalação
a instituição
a intenção
a interpretação
a intervenção
a investigação
a ligação
a manifestação
a missão
a nação
a negociação
a obrigação
a observação
a ocasião
a opção
a operação
a opinião
a oposição
a organização
a orientação
a paixão
a participação
a população
a posição
a preocupação
a pressão
a prisão
a privatização
a produção
a profissão
a protecção
a publicação
a reacção
a realização
a redução
a região
a relação
a religião
a representação
a resolução
a reunião
a revisão
a revolução
a secção
a selecção
a sensação
a sessão
a situação
a solução
a televisão
a tradição
a transformação
a união
a utilização
a variação
a versão
a visão
a votação
o apresentação
o avião
o coração
Masculine:
Other words ending in
-ão
o alcatrão
o algodão
o balcão
o cão
o capitão
o cartão
o chão
o cidadão
o escaldão
o feijão
o órgão
o padrão
o pão
o patrão
a gestão
a mão
a questão
a razão
Feminine:
Most words ending in
-a
  • a dúvida
  • a água
  • a palavra
  • a terra
  • o clima
  • o dia

(likely also greek)

Feminine:
Words ending in -ez
  • a estupidez
  • a gravidez
  • a viuvez
  • a surdez
  • a vez
Feminine: 
Words ending
-dade
-ie
-tude
-gem
-ice
  • a cidade
  • a viagem
  • a garagem
  • a juventude
  • a espécie
  • a velhice
  • o índice
Feminine:
Names of towns & countries
  • A Madeira
  • A Rússia
  • A França
  • A Suiça
  • A Islândia
  • Londres
 Places specifically named after male things:

  • O Rio de Janeiro
  • O Porto

Places consisting of a male noun + adjective

  • O Reino Unido
  • Os Estados Unidos
Feminine:
Names of the Academic Arts and Science subjects
  • a medicina
  • a matemática
  • a biologia
  • a física
  • a geografia

*=Note that some of these change their endings but some – like dirigente, cientista, keep the same ending.

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

Appendix 1: Not-So-Easy E

Some teachers say that nouns ending in E are split between abstract and concrete. However, as you can see, contrary to the textbook rule, it’s mixed pretty evenly on both sides. Conclusion: the rule is bollocks, I’m afraid, and we’ll just have to learn these the hard way.

Masculine Feminine
In theory, these should all be concrete (things you can see and touch) In theory these should all be abstract (ideas, emotions)
o acidente
o ambiente
o ataque
o barrete
o breve
o clube
o combate
o continente
o controle
o corte
o costume
o crime
o debate
o dente
o destaque
o empate
o exame
o filme
o gabinete
o golpe
o horizonte
o instante
o interesse
o legume
o leite
o limite
o mestre
o monte
o nome
o nordeste
o padre
o parque
o peixe
o príncipe
o regime
o romance
o sangue
o telefone
o teste
o transporte
o vale
o volume
a análise
a arte
a árvore
a ave
a base
a carne
a chave
a classe
a corte
a crise
a estante
a face
a fase
a fome
a fonte
a frase
a frente
a gente
a gripe
a hipótese
a mãe
a metade
a morte
a noite
a parede
a parte
a pele
a ponte
a posse
a rede
a saúde
a sede
a sorte
a tarde
a torre
a vontade

(NB Corte appears in both sides because it can mean either “The court” or “The cut”, both reasonably common but having differing genders just to be bloody awkward)

Apprendix 2: Mistakes, Mis-Shapes, Misfits

When I’d counted all the words that fit the rules and the exceptions, there was a short list left over of words that met none of the rules. The majority seem to be masculine, apart from fé, lei, ordem and nuvem.

  • a fé
  • o fim
  • o gás
  • o jardim
  • a lei
  • o mês
  • a nuvem
  • a ordem
  • o país
  • o pé
  • o som
  • o tom

Appendix 3: the List of 1000 Most-used Portuguese Words

I got the list from a site called Hackingportuguese but I took out a couple of words that I saw that were Brazil-specific and a couple that looked like they were (at least in European Portuguese) only used as adjectives, and replaced them with random nouns from a Memrise deck, to bulk it up to a thousand again. I subjected the survivors to extreme torture in an excel spreadsheet in order to see how many exceptions there were, using Excel formulae to check the ending against the supposed rule. My version of the list is available as a spreadsheet here in case you want to play with it and check my work.

Posted in English

Male And Female He Created Them

Portuguese words with very different meaning according to their gender

o rádio – a radio / a rádio – a radio station

o capital – capital, funds / a capital – the capital city

o caso – the case /  a casa – the house

o cargo – someone’s role or responsibility / a carga – cargo

o grama – gramme / a grama – creeping plants such as grass

o caixa – cash book / a caixa – box (caixa can also be a cashier, male or female)

o luto – grief / a luta – fight

o queixo – chin, jaw / a queixa – complaint

o polícia – police officer / a polícia – policy

o bolo – cake / a bola – ball

o carteiro – postman / a carteira – wallet

o cabeço – headland / a cabeça – head

o puto – a kid / a puta – a whore

Posted in English

Sauce for the Gender 2: Electric Boogaloo

This is a revisiting of one of my most useful blog posts, based on the criteria of number of times I go back to it! I felt like there were too many exceptions and it was worth looking again to see how safe the rules were and whether I could tweak them. To do this, I have taken the list of the 1000 most popular portuguese nouns I mentioned in that post (published on an extremely useful site called Hackingportuguese but currently only available on the Internet archive site because the original is having technical issues) and I have subjected it to extreme torture in an excel spreadsheet in order to see how many exceptions there were. This work has taken me two days so I hope it will pay off.

My version of the list is available as a spreadsheet here. It is actually modified: I took out a couple of words that I saw that were Brazil-specific and a couple that looked like they were (at least in European Portuguese) only used as adjectives, and replaced them with random nouns from a Memrise deck, to bulk it up to a thousand again.

So I’ve recreated my table (below) in what I hope is a more accurate way. TL;DR: Most of the rules are pretty good, I found a new rule I hadn’t heard of and I decided that nouns ending in e are a wilderness of chaos and despair from which there is no escape. In most cases, more specific rules seem to override more general ones. So for example, “dezena” is masculine because it meets the “all numbers are masculine” rule even though it ends in A. And Avó is feminine because it meets the “Male and Female people” rule even though it ends in an O. I’ll update the Memrise Deck I’ve been working on to reflect this new set of rules tomorrow.

Oh and again, sorry about the colour-scheme, but… well, you know… just trying to harness my cultural stereotypes in a way that makes it easier to follow.

Rule Examples Exceptions
Dependent:
Male and Female animals/people depend on individual’s sex*
  • o touro / a vaca
  • o irmão / a irmã
  • o dirigente/a dirigente
  • o autor, a autora
  • o rapaz
  • o socialista, a socialista
  • o jesuíta
  • o chefe
Dependent:
Ordinal numbers depend what’s being counted, because they are effectively adjectives!
  • o primeiro (dia)
  • a segunda (noite)
Masculine:
Nouns ending in
-o (nb, not -ão though)
-r
-l
-z
-u
  • o lugar
  • o amigo
  • o chapéu
  • o papel
  • o final
  • a tribo
  • a dor
  • a cor
  • a flor
 Variable:
Nouns ending in
-ão
The textbook says abstract nouns are largely feminine and concrete nouns largely masculine Slightly unclear and too many exceptions to list here. See the table below this one.
Masculine:
Names of Lakes, Rivers, Mountains etc
  • o Tejo
  • os Himalaias
  • o Brasil
  • o Atlântico
  • o Tamisa (despite the -a ending!)
Masculine:
Compass points
  • O Leste
  • O Oeste
  • O Norte
  • O Sul
Masculine:
Car brands** & types of wines
  • o Madeira
  • o Ferrari
  • a Mercedes (but only the brand. The car is “um Mercedes”)
Variable:
The seasons obey their last letter rules o=masculine, a=feminine
  • o verão
  • o inverno
  • o outono
  • a primavera
Variable:
Week days obey their last letter rules o=masculine, a=feminine
  • o sábado
  • o domingo
  • a segunda feira
  • a terça feira
Masculine:
Words from greek, usually ending -a: most usually in
-ema
-grama
-eta
  • o programa
  • o problema
  • o sistema
  • o poema
  • o cometa
  • o planeta
  • o mapa
  • o telefonema
“Gorjeta” is the only word with these endings that doesn’t match but Priberam says it’s not greek
Masculine:
Letters
  • o a
  • o p
Masculine:
Cardinal numbers
  • o um
  • o cento
  • o milhão
Feminine:
Most words ending in
-a
  • a dúvida
  • a água
  • a palavra
  • a terra
  • o clima
  • o dia

(likely also greek)

Feminine:
Words ending in -ez
  • a estupidez
  • a gravidez
  • a viuvez
  • a surdez
  • a vez
Feminine: 
Words ending
-dade
-ie
-tude
-gem
-ice
  • a cidade
  • a viagem
  • a garagem
  • a juventude
  • a espécie
  • a velhice
  • o índice
Feminine:
Names of towns & countries
  • A Madeira
  • A Rússia
  • A França
  • A Suiça
  • A Islândia
  • Londres
 Places specifically named after male things:

  • O Rio de Janeiro
  • O Porto

Places consisting of a male noun + adjective

  • O Reino Unido
  • Os Estados Unidos
Feminine:
Names of the Academic Arts and Science subjects
  • a medicina
  • a matemática
  • a biologia
  • a física
  • a geografia

*=Note that some of these change their endings but some – like dirigente, cientista, keep the same ending.

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

Nouns ending in -ão

This is a list of all the nouns ending with these two letters (excluding things like “irmão” and “verão” that trigger more specific rules). As you can see, they are largely feminine and largely abstract but with quite a lot of concrete masculine nouns acting as exceptions. Conclusion: the rule is pretty sound but if in doubt, err on the side of feminine.

Masculine Feminine
In theory, these should all be concrete (things you can see and touch) In theory these should all be abstract (ideas, emotions)
o alcatrão
o apresentação
o avião
o cão
o capitão
o cartão
o chão
o cidadão
o coração
o escaldão
o órgão
o padrão
o pão
o patrão
a acção
a actuação
a administração
a alteração
a aplicação
a aprovação
a associação
a atenção
a avaliação
a canção
a classificação
a colecção
a comissão
a competição
a composição
a comunicação
a concepção
a conclusão
a condição
a constituição
a construção
a criação
a decisão
a declaração
a definição
a designação
a dimensão
a direcção
a discussão
a disposição
a distribuição
a divisão
a edição
a educação
a eleição
a emoção
a estação
a evolução
a excepção
a expansão
a explicação
a exploração
a exportação
a exposição
a expressão
a extensão
a federação
a formação
a função
a fundação
a geração
a gestão
a impressão
a inflação
a informação
a instalação
a instituição
a intenção
a interpretação
a intervenção
a investigação
a ligação
a manifestação
a mão
a missão
a nação
a negociação
a obrigação
a observação
a ocasião
a opção
a operação
a opinião
a oposição
a organização
a orientação
a paixão
a participação
a população
a posição
a preocupação
a pressão
a prisão
a privatização
a produção
a profissão
a protecção
a publicação
a questão
a razão
a reacção
a realização
a redução
a região
a relação
a religião
a representação
a resolução
a reunião
a revisão
a revolução
a secção
a selecção
a sensação
a sessão
a situação
a solução
a televisão
a tradição
a transformação
a união
a utilização
a variação
a versão
a visão
a votação

Appendix 1: Not-so-Easy E

The original version of this post stated that nouns ending in -e followed the same pattern as those ending in -ão so I made up a list in the same format as the -ão list. However, as you can see, contrary to the textbook rule, it’s mixed pretty evenly between abstract and non-abstract on both sides. Conclusion: the rule is bollocks, I’m afraid, and we’ll just have to learn these the hard way.

Masculine Feminine
In theory, these should all be concrete (things you can see and touch) In theory these should all be abstract (ideas, emotions)
o acidente
o ambiente
o ataque
o barrete
o breve
o clube
o combate
o continente
o controle
o corte
o costume
o crime
o debate
o dente
o destaque
o empate
o exame
o filme
o gabinete
o golpe
o horizonte
o instante
o interesse
o legume
o leite
o limite
o mestre
o monte
o nome
o nordeste
o padre
o parque
o peixe
o príncipe
o regime
o romance
o sangue
o telefone
o teste
o transporte
o vale
o volume
a análise
a arte
a árvore
a ave
a base
a carne
a chave
a classe
a corte
a crise
a estante
a face
a fase
a fome
a fonte
a frase
a frente
a gente
a gripe
a hipótese
a mãe
a metade
a morte
a noite
a parede
a parte
a pele
a ponte
a posse
a rede
a saúde
a sede
a sorte
a tarde
a torre
a vontade

(NB Corte appears in both sides because it can mean either “The court” or “The cut”, both reasonably common but having differing genders just to be bloody awkward)

Apprendix 2: Mistakes, Mis-Shapes, Misfits

When I’d counted all the words that fit the rules and the exceptions, there was a short list left over of words that met none of the rules. The majority seem to be masculine, apart from fé, lei, ordem and nuvem.

  • a fé
  • o fim
  • o gás
  • o jardim
  • a lei
  • o mês
  • a nuvem
  • a ordem
  • o país
  • o pé
  • o som
  • o tom

Amended 1/2/19 – realised I’d written a “new rule” that was nonsense

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
Dependent:
Male and Female animals/people depend on individual’s sex*
  • o touro / a vaca
  • o irmão / a irmã
Dependent:
Ordinal numbers depend what’s being counted
  • o primeiro (dia)
  • a segunda (noite)
Masculine:
Nouns ending in
-o (nb, not -ão though)
-r
-l
-z
  • o lugar
  • o valor
  • o papel
  • o final
  • o rapaz
  • a foto
  • a tribo
  • a gravidez (understandably enough…)
 Masculine:
Concrete nouns ending in
-e**
-ão***
  • o sangue
  • o clube
  • o coração
  • o chão
  • o órgão
  • a fonte
  • a árvore
  • a mão
  • a televisão
Masculine:
Names of Lakes, Rivers, Mountains etc
  • o Tejo
  • os Himalaias
  • o Brasil
  • o Atlântico
  • o Tamisa (despite the -a ending!)
Masculine:
Car brands**** & types of wines
  • o porto
  • o Ferrari
  • a Mercedes
Masculine:
The seasons*****
  • o verão
  • o inverno
  • o outono
  • a primavera
Masculine:
Weekend days
  • o sábado
  • o domingo
Masculine:
Words from greek, usually ending -a: most usually in
-ema
-grama
-eta
  • o programa
  • o problema
  • o sistema
  • o poema
  • o cometa
  • o planeta
  • o dia
  • o mapa
  • o clima
  • o telefonema
Masculine:
Letters
  • o a
  • o p
Masculine:
Cardinal numbers
  • o um
  • o cento
  • o milhão
Feminine:
Most words ending in
-a
  • a dúvida
  • a água
  • a palavra
  • a terra
Feminine: 
Words ending
-dade
-ie
-tude
-gem
-ice
  • a cidade
  • a viagem
  • a garagem
  • a juventude
  • a espécie
  • a velhice
Feminine:
Abstract nouns ending in
-e
-ão***
  • a crise
  • a parte
  • a gente
  • a lição
  •  o norte
Feminine:
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
Feminine:
Names of the Arts and Sciences
  • a medicina
  • a matemática
  • a biologia
  • o teatro
  • o cinema
Feminine:
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!