I can speak Spanish and French, and I am currently learning Portuguese. During my learning, I realized that there are some unique features in Portuguese — I don't speak Italian, so I don't know if those are also present in Italian. In particular, I found the following quite amusing:

  1. The fact that you can use definite article in front a person's name or possessive pronoun (this is the opposite of what we have been taught in English, French and Spanish, and I was surprised when I first learnt it): a minha roupa (my clothes), O João ("the" João)

  2. Contraction of articles is extensive in Portuguese. Spanish only has a + el ⟶ al and de + el ⟶ del, and French have some, for example, de + le ⟶ du and a + le ⟶ au. But, in my impression, all propositions in Portuguese are contracted with definite pronoun (o, a), demonstrative pronoun (essa, esse,...), indefinite pronouns (um, uma)

Are there specific terminologies for the above-mentioned phenomena in Portuguese? And why has Portuguese absorbed and combined so many features from Spanish and French? As someone who can speak both languages, it did make it easier to understand some grammatical rules in Portuguese.

  • 1
    Contractions also in the naming of cities — o Porto, o Recife, o Rio de Janeiro. Which is why the English use Oporto. Apr 6, 2022 at 7:50
  • 1
    What makes you believe that Portuguese has "absorbed and combined so many features from Spanish and French"? Keep in mind that there are some 5 Romanic languages in the Iberian Peninsula. Apr 6, 2022 at 7:50
  • 4
    Italian has definite articles before possessive determiners as well, and using definite articles (or comparable structures) with names of people and places is hardly unique to Portuguese – other languages that do it include Catalan, German, Icelandic and Greek. Contraction of preposition + pronoun is quite comparable in most of the Romance languages; Portuguese just does it a bit more than Spanish and French (though not, as you surmise, in all cases). I don’t really see what your doubt is here. Apr 6, 2022 at 8:28
  • 1
  • 1
    There is no esso in Portuguese.
    – Lambie
    Apr 9, 2022 at 15:54

1 Answer 1


It is not so uncommon for langueges to put articles in front of personal names, it happens, for instance, in the South Tyrol dialect of German, so it is just a thing that happened and it is one of the features that distinguish portuguese in comparison to many romance languages. If you don't use an article it may sound more arcaic or even formal, although in a specific subdialect of the carioca dialect people don't use the article before names of close friends and family. The same goes for the use of the article before possessive determinants, it has no strong distinctive effect. It also happens in italian.

The contractions are another pretty common phonetic phenomenon and it was quite easy to occur in portugues since the articles lost their initial l-, leaving a hiatus between the preposition and the article (pretty much the same thing happened in Spanish with de + el). This contractions happened really early in the middle ages.

The thing is: Portuguese didn't "absorbed" features from Spanish and French, they were independent phenomena that naturally occurred in Portuguese.

  • Is there anything separating given names from common nouns in Portuguese? Apr 6, 2022 at 16:15
  • Yes, common nouns can be inflected and are, as they are in other languages, restrict to only one entity, not a class of entities, so the article is not really specifying a referent. Apr 6, 2022 at 16:48
  • @Araucaria-him Morphologically, only that articles are less mandatory with given names than with common nouns, and of course by being much less prone to inflection. Syntactically, personal names are commonly used (at least in European Portuguese; not so much in Brazil, I believe) as second-person pronoun substitutes in direct address, which common nouns are not. Jan 23, 2023 at 20:25
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, actually common nouns can be used as substitutes as well, specially in EUPT, for instance, I can say "O professor poderia me ajudar/ajudar-me?" to my teacher. Jan 23, 2023 at 22:38
  • That’s true – it’s really names and a small subset of common nouns that refer to people. Jan 24, 2023 at 1:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.