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

Site Changes

Fernando Pessoa as a child (public domain image from the portuguese wikipedia page
Fernando Pessoa, three of Europe’s top ten poets

I’ve been thinking about the evolution of this blog. I originally started it as a sort of homework notepad where I would re-type texts that had been corrected, as a way of helping the lessons would stick in what I call my memory, but that’s less relevant these days, and the point of the blog was getting lost, especially since I have been learning other languages like Scots Gaelic which has been a bit confusing, I think.

So from now on I’m going to make it a bit more outward-facing, try and include more reviews of Portuguese resources and when I do include whole texts written in portuguese, try and explain what’s going on a bit more. I’ll be adding more and more resource pages listing useful Portuguese learning resources on the menu on the right hand side of the page too. Obviously I’m not a teacher, not even a native speaker, I’m just a student. If you’re reading this, I guess you are too. I think we students can probably help each other find good teachers, good videos, point out each other’s mistakes and generally motivate each other to be better at our chosen language.

An Invitation

So here’s an invitation: I write a lot of stuff on here but I’m curious to know who is reading it and what they like. I’d love to hear from you. I’d love it if you dropped a note in the comment section below 👇, saying what kind of thing you’d like to see on here. Or maybe go and find something you like on another page of the site and tell me about it. Is it the sort of thing you’d like to see more of? Less of? Have I made any egregious screw-ups? Should I convert the site to a knitting blog?