I observed that both colloquial Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese show some inconsistencies in the way they use the second person pronoun (or its conjugation) and would like to know if my observations are right and how these inconsistencies originated.

Let me first describe how I think it regularly would be based on what I know of the language and how things developed in similar languages:

So there are 4 second person pronouns. The informal ones (tu, vós) are conjugated in the second person and the formal ones (você, vocês) are conjugated in third person. In combination with second person pronouns one uses (te, a ti, contigo | vos, a vós, convosco) and with third person pronouns one uses (o(s), a(s), lhe(s)).

I'll start with what I observed in Brazilian Portuguese because there are a lot of things:

  • Switching between tu and você but always using the third person conjugation
  • Using você mostly with second person pronoun (te) and not (o/a, lhe)
  • But doing it right by using third person (se) when its reflexive
  • Using você in combination with contigo
  • Using você but still using second person imperative conjugation (fala/mostra) instead of (fale/mostre)

So how did você lose its formality and why are there still parts of tu used in combination even though second person conjugation only survived in imperative?

Now let's come to European Portuguese. Vós seems to have almost disappeared in both dialects. So vocês is used, no matter if it's formal or not. The thing is, some of the stuff I observed in Brazilian Portuguese in singular seem to appear again in plural in European Portuguese, and interestingly only in EP.

There are still people that use vós in Portugal and they use it without any inconsistencies, but those that use vocês seem to do following things:

  • Use it in combination with atonic pronoun (vos) instead of (os, as, lhes)
  • Use it in combination with convosco

I would be grateful if someone could give me some background on why this is the case.

Thank you in advance :)

  • 2
    Your observations on BP are mostly correct. We have by and large lost the T-V distinction, vós, and relative o/a lhe except in literary language or elevated speech, and mixing 2nd/3rd agreement is grammatical for most variants. Tu is dead in the dominant dialect, and among the variants where it does appear, some use 2nd person agreement, some 3rd. There are few cases where 2nd and 3rd agreement feel different in formality, they're mostly interchangeable (one ex. would be signage: pára aqui sounds too informal, pare aqui is the norm). Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 3:30
  • 2
    "Why" is a hard question but notice that many other languages have shown a tendency to lose the T-V (e.g. English has already lost the "thou" and its agreement a while ago) as they expand. This is consistent with the general trend towards morphological simplification in languages which come to cover large areas and many speakers (reference about the topic). Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 3:34

1 Answer 1


I think it may be not a definitive answer for your question, but I hope it will clarify and explain a few things.

Well, until the XV century, tu (from latin TV) and vós (from latin VOS) were regularly used as second person singular and second person plural respectively and conjugated as such. I'm going to be using "thou" and "you" to make it clearer.


  • "Tu és bela" (Thou art fair)
  • "Vós sois belas" (You are fair)

The pronoun vós was also used, like in many other languages (such as Italian), as a more formal way to address people (e.g.: modern Italian tu and voi); this use was also inherited from Latin, which started using the form VOS as a way to evoke the greatness of the emperor in the fourth century AD.


  • "Vós sois bela, minha rainha" (You are fair, my queen)

Note that in this case the adjective is not in its plural form, for it refers to the queen.

During the XV century, the pronoun vós was losing its formal tone, since it was being used as a form of treatment even between people who just didn't know each other and/or had a big difference in age (like in modern French and Italian). From this need to express formality with nobility, bishops etc., came forms like vossa majestade (your majesty), vossa alteza (your highness) and so on. It was a way of not speaking directly with the person, and they were used with third person singular forms.


  • "Vossa alteza é bela" (Your highness is fair)

The word você comes from a corruption of vossa mercê ("your grace") — exactly like Castillian usted, which comes from vuestra merced ­— and was used as a formal treatment that started to overcome the form vós. In the end of the XIX century, this form started to be more relevant in Brazil as interchangeable with tu. This lead to the emergence of o senhor and a senhora as more formal alternatives. In Portugal using the definite article to address people formally is also common.


  • "A professora é bela" (You [referring to the teacher] is fair) (lit. The teacher is fair)

In Brazilian dialects from Paraná, São Paulo, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Espirito Santo e Minas Gerais use você as the standard second person singular pronoun, however some dialects in states like Santa Catarina and Rio de Janeiro, tu and você seem to be in free variation (with a little difference in use between them). Cities like Belém and São Luís do Maranhão have strong Lusitan influence, there people conjugate second person singular and the third person conjugation has not become the standard way of addressing someone (probably a process of assimilation happened in the other dialects and that's why tu is often conjugated with third person singular).


  • "Tu é bela" (Thou are fair) instead of "Tu és bela" (Thou art fair).
  • 1
    Should really use ye not you for nominative. Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 20:18
  • 1
    I just tried to make it simple by distinguishing singular and plural changing just one of them, since you means both :P Commented Jan 23, 2020 at 20:20

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