July 10, 2012 | Portuguese

Portuguese Miscellany

Articles, contractions, and other surprising linguistic features.

Portuguese has some odd contractions involving prepositions and articles.

Articles in Portuguese are funny to begin with. At least to my eyes and ears at present. “The” is o (masculine) or a (feminine). Those do not look like articles to me; they look like a conjunction and a preposition, respectively.

I Studied Here Today. Looks Like a Subway Tunnel.

I Studied Here Today. Looks Like a Subway Tunnel.

Por is “by” or “through,” as in Spanish. 

If por and o show up together in a sentence, as in “by the,” the contraction is pelo. That is not what I would expect it to be, and pelo also happens to mean “hair” in Spanish. If por and a (the feminine “the”) go together, they contract to pela.

So “by the man” would, I believe, translate as pelo homem in the sentence “The letter was written by the man.” Pelo homem looks to me as though it is saying something about a man’s hair.

How did this contraction come about? It does not seem so intuitive or obvious to me.

Homem, by the way, is pronounced in Pimsleur lessons in a manner that makes me think of “homie” in English. It’s definitely different, but heads in a similar direction.

The indefinite articles (a/an) in Portuguese are um and uma. When I hear them, they still sound like mistakes, as though someone accidentally mistyped an where an should be.

This too shall pass.

Portuguese seems to shrink words that I know in Spanish. Dolor in Spanish (pain) is dor in Portuguese. Manzana in Spanish (apple) is maçã in Portuguese. I for one don’t mind a little syllabic pruning and efficiency.

This is an interesting one in Portuguese: in my experience to date at least, the word for “too” or “too much”—demais—follows the word it modifies.

For example, Ele está doente demais para ajudar means “He is too sick to help.” The word doente is “sick.” So I guess you say basically “sick too much” rather than “too sick,” and the doente demais combination is pronounced kind of like this: doo-EN-chee jee-MICE.

Portuguese verb patterns are amazingly like Spanish. (Thank you, language gods!)

Comments (2)

Rodrigo • Posted on Sun, October 04, 2015 - 9:39 am EST

Hi Ellen, a little bit of knowledge of Latin clears up that doubt easily. In days of old the preposition used to be per (as in per cent, per capita), and the articles, lo and la. If you look at per+lo, the preposition+article contraction pelo (which also means body hair or fur in Portuguese) actually makes a lot of sense. The preposition and article have changed over time, but the contraction is an old thing that has remained.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Sun, October 04, 2015 - 10:51 am EST

Muito obrigada, Rodrigo. You know, I have been seriously considering doing some Latin next. Your comment encourages me in that intention.

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