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Personal pronouns - 7

Personal pronouns Personal pronouns can be further categorised into subject pronouns (e.g. English I, he, she, we, they) and object pronouns (e.g. English me, him, her, us, them). An object pronoun can function either as the direct object (like English me in ‘He hit me’) or as the indirect object (like English me in ‘He gave me a present’). Personal pronouns may also occur after prepositions (e.g. ‘behind me’).


First person pronouns

The forms of the first person pronouns are as follows:

As subject

As object

After preposition

Meaning

eu

me

mim

I, me

nós

nos

nós

We, us

(i) The object forms me and nos are unstressed so are pronounced [mi] and [nus] respectively.

(ii) The subject and post-preposition forms of the first person plural pronoun are identical, differing from the object form only in the written stress accent and corresponding stressed pronunciation [nɔs].

(iii) The object forms me and nos can function as either direct or indirect objects:

A Júlia me beijou = Julia kissed me.

O professor nos ensinou umas palavras novas = The teacher taught us some new words.


A gente

In everyday spoken language, it is extremely common to use the noun phrase a gente (literally ‘the people’) instead of nós/nos to mean ‘we, us’. Being a singular noun, it is followed by a third person singular verb:

A gente mora na próxima rua = We live in the next street.


The meaning ‘we, us’ is so established that a gente is never used to mean ‘the people’. ‘The people’ is translated as pessoas in the sense of ‘persons’, or o povo in the sense of ‘populace, nation’.


O Paulo vai encontrar a gente aqui = Paulo’s going to meet us here.

Quer ir com a gente? = Do you want to go with us?


Note that adjectives referring to a gente are used in the masculine singular, unless the adjective refers to women only, in which case it is feminine singular:


A gente está cansado = We’re tired.


You

The general word for ‘you’ is você when addressing one person and vocês when addressing more than one person. The word você derives historically from the noun phrase and form of address vossa mercê ‘your mercy’ (and vocês from the plural vossas mercês ‘your mercies’), which has two important implications:


(i) você and vocês are followed by verbs in the third person, singular and plural respectively:

Você é estado-unidense? = Are you American?

Vocês estão com fome? = Are you hungry?


(ii) They are not subject to the rules on object pronoun placement but instead occupy the noun-object position:


Considero você meu melhor amigo = I consider you to be my best friend.

Pretendo visitar vocês ano que vem = I intend to visit you next year.


However, when talking to an older stranger or a superior, you should use the respectful o senhor (literally, ‘the gentleman’) for a man and a senhora (literally, ‘the lady’) for a woman. These are also the forms of address used by employees in service industries to address customers. Grammatically, they are obviously nouns so must be followed by a third person verb:


A senhora está na fila? = Are you in the queue? (to an older woman you don’t know)

Posso falar com o senhor? = Can I talk to you? (to a man to whom you show respect, e.g. a boss)

Qual o nome do senhor? = What’s your name, sir? (to a customer)

A senhora aceita um café? = Would you like a coffee, madam? (to a customer)


As a rule of thumb, it is appropriate to use o senhor/a senhora in cases where in English you might address the person as ‘sir’ or ‘madam, ma’am’.


If you are not sure, you can often avoid the problem by not using a subject pronoun at all – as long as you are addressing someone with a question intonation, it is clear that you mean ‘you’:


Quer sentar? = Would you like to sit down?


Although now considered rather old-fashioned, it is not uncommon to hear people address their parents as o senhor/a senhora, especially in more conservative areas of Brazil. This usage parallels that of some American English speakers who address their parents as ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’.


The titles o senhor/a senhora can also occur in the plural: os senhores (for males or males and females) and as senhoras (for females only), but their use is restricted to only the most formal circumstances. The tendency is to use vocês or to omit the subject pronoun altogether:


Querem me acompanhar, por favor? = Would you follow me, please?


In the spoken language, the second person object pronoun te may be used as an alternative to você. But, as a true object pronoun, it must be placed immediately before the verb it is associated with, functioning as either a direct or indirect object:


Eu te amo. or Eu amo você. = I love you.

Te empresto o dinheiro. or Empresto o dinheiro para você. = I’ll lend you the money.


In the written language, and occasionally in the spoken language, the third person direct object pronouns o (for a male), a (for a female), os (for males or males and females) and as (for females only) and the indirect object pronouns lhe (for one person) and lhes (for more than one person) are used to mean ‘you’ with an equivalent degree of formality to o senhor/a senhora, etc.


The equivalences are as follows:

Subject

Direct object

Indirect object

Addressee

o senhor

o

lhe

male

a senhora

a

lhe

female

os senhores

os

lhes

males and females

as senhoras

as

lhes

females only


Examples:

Posso ajudá-la? = Can I help you?

Em que lhe posso ser útil? = How can I be of service (to you)?

É com enorme prazer que os convidamos ao lançamento do novo livro. = We are delighted to invite you to the launch of the new book.

Vimos apresentar-lhes proposta de reforma do estatuto social. = We hereby submit (to you) a proposal for reform of the company statutes.


Note that, especially in speech, o senhor/a senhora can also be used as the direct or indirect object:

Já vou atender o senhor. = I’ll be with you in a moment, sir.

Estaremos enviando à senhora o contrato em duas vias. = We will be sending you two copies of the contract.


Many grammarians state that o/a should be used as the object form of você and os/as as the object form of vocês. However, this does not take account of the fact that Brazilians perceive o(s)/a(s) meaning ‘you’ to be more formal than você(s). The description given here more accurately reflects actual usage.


Third person pronouns

Third person pronouns have a stressed form and unstressed direct and indirect object forms:


Stressed form


Unstressed forms


Meaning



Direct object

Indirect object


ele

masc. sing.

o

lhe

he, him, it

ela

fem. sing.

a

lhe

she, her, it

eles

masc. pl.

os

lhes

they, them, it

elas

fem. pl.

as

lhes

they, them, it


(i) The masculine forms ele and eles are pronounced with the close e sound, [`eli], [`elis], while the feminine forms ela and elas have the open e sound, [`εla], [`εlas].


(ii) The unstressed object pronouns o(s), a(s) and lhe(s) are pronounced [u(s)], [a(s)] and [ʎi(s)] respectively.


(iii) The masculine singular pronouns can refer to a male person (‘he, him’) or any masculine singular noun (‘it’), the female singular pronouns to a female person (‘she, her’) or any feminine noun (‘it’).


(iv) The masculine plural pronouns can refer to two or more males, two or more people of whom at least one is male, any masculine plural noun or a combination of masculine and feminine nouns (‘they, them’). The feminine plural pronouns can refer to two or more females, any feminine plural noun or a combination of exclusively feminine nouns (‘they, them’).


(v) Notice that the indirect object pronouns lhe/lhes are not differentiated for gender, so lhe can mean ‘(to) him, her, it’ while lhes means ‘(to) them’ regardless of gender.


Using third person pronouns in the written language

The stressed forms of the third person pronouns (ele, ela, eles, elas) are used as subject pronouns and after prepositions in both the spoken and written languages:


Ela gosta de chocolate. = She likes chocolate.

Vou com eles. = I’m going with them.


The unstressed object pronouns are mainly used in the written language and are placed immediately before or after the verb they are associated with. Examples with direct object pronoun:


A vendedora o acusou de ter roubado uma calça jeans. (written) = The sales assistant accused him of stealing a pair of jeans.


Dei as chaves ao gerente e ele as colocou na gaveta. (written) = I gave the keys to the manager and he put them in the drawer.


Examples with indirect object pronoun:

A mulher alega que a agência lhe ofereceu um trabalho. (written) = The woman claims that the agency offered her a job.


Os pais do menino pediram ao médico que lhes contasse a verdade. (written) = The boy’s parents asked the doctor to tell them the truth.


Using third person pronouns in the spoken language

In the spoken language, the stressed forms of the third person pronouns (ele, ela, eles, elas) are not only used as subject pronouns and after prepositions as in the written language, they are also used as object pronouns, being placed after the verb in the noun-object position:


Eu vejo ela todo dia. (spoken) = I see her every day.


A gente vai buscar eles no aeroporto. (spoken) = We’re going to pick them up at the airport.


But note that ‘it’ or ‘them’ referring to a thing or things previously mentioned is not

usually translated at all, being understood from the context:


Achei o livro interessante e acabei comprando. (spoken) = I found the book interesting and ended up buying it.


O que é que você fez com as cartas? – Rasguei e joguei fora. (spoken) = ‘What did you do with the letters?’ – ‘I tore them up and threw them out.’


The indirect object is expressed using the preposition para:


Mandei um e-mail para ele. (spoken) = I sent him an e-mail.


Falei para as meninas que eu ia escrever para elas. (spoken) = I told the girls I’d write to them.


As the direct objects ‘it, them’ are not usually translated in spoken Portuguese, it is

common in the spoken language to form sentences that contain only an indirect object:


Ele trouxe as fotos e mostrou para mim. (spoken) = He brought the photos and showed them to me.


Estou com minha bicicleta aqui. Te empresto. (spoken) = I have my bike here. I’ll lend it to you.


Translation of impersonal ‘it’

‘It’ is never translated when it stands for an impersonal subject or object:


Está chovendo. = It’s raining.

É impossível prever o resultado. = It’s impossible to predict the result.

Considero errado não ajudá-los. = I feel it’s wrong not to help them.


The reflexive pronoun se

The reflexive pronoun se is an unstressed object pronoun that refers back to a third person subject, including você(s). Among other functions (see Chapter 22), it is used when the third person subject and object are the same, i.e. it translates ‘himself, herself, itself, themselves’ and, in the cases of você(s), ‘yourself, yourselves’:


O menino se enxugou com uma toalha. = The boy dried himself with a towel.

Você se machucou? = Did you hurt yourself?


Use of subject pronouns

Subject pronouns occur in various types of verbless sentences and comparative expressions. This does not always correspond to English usage:


Quem quer sorvete? – Eu! = ‘Who wants ice cream?’ – ‘Me!’ / ‘I do!’

Nós vamos de carro. – Nós também. = ‘We’re going by car.’ – ‘So are we.’ / ‘Us too.’

Pessoas como eu = people like me

Ele é mais alto do que eu. = He’s taller than me.


The subject pronoun is used after como even when, grammatically, it is the object of the sentence, e.g. Quem diria que escolheriam uma pessoa como eu? ‘Who would have thought they’d choose a person like me?’ This also happens in lists, e.g.


Escolheram Paulo, Sérgio e eu. = ‘They chose Paulo, Sérgio and me’.


With verbs, subject pronouns are never obligatory in Portuguese and can always be left out if the subject of the verb is clear from the wider context or from the form of the verb itself. For instance, falo can only mean ‘I speak’ and falamos can only mean ‘we speak/spoke’ so, in these cases, a subject pronoun is not necessary; however, falava can mean ‘I spoke’, ‘he spoke’, ‘she spoke’ or even ‘you spoke’, so it may well be necessary to specify with a subject pronoun unless the wider context makes it unambiguous who the subject is. In many cases, the inclusion or omission of a subject pronoun is purely a matter of personal preference, but there are a number of factors to take into consideration:


(i) A subject pronoun is always included when the subject is emphasised for some

reason or when there is an idea of contrast:


Eu vou decidir quem faz o quê. = I will decide who does what.

Nós falamos português, eles não. = We speak Portuguese, they don’t.


(ii) Third person verb forms in particular can be ambiguous, so third person subject

pronouns are normally included, at least the first time the subject is mentioned:


Ele joga tênis. Você joga também? = He plays tennis. Do you play too?


(iii) ‘It’ as an impersonal subject is never translated into Portuguese:


Está quente hoje. = It’s hot today.


(iv) Although not actually wrong, it sounds stilted to keep repeating the subject pronoun once the subject has been established. Such repetition would certainly be avoided in writing:


Meu nome é Ricardo. Sou brasileiro e moro em São Paulo. = My name is Ricardo. I’m Brazilian and I live in São Paulo.


Você me liga quando chegar em casa? = Will you call me when you get home?


Placement of unstressed object pronouns

Unstressed object pronouns (me, te, se, nos, o, a, os, as, lhe, lhes) have to be placed immediately before or immediately after the verbs they are associated with. When

placed after, they are appended to the verb in writing with a hyphen. When there is a straight choice between the two positions, it is generally true that placing the pronoun after the verb sounds more formal than placing it before, although euphony may also be a deciding factor.


There is another possible position, which is sandwiched between the future stem and the ending in future and conditional verb forms, e.g. ver-me-iam ‘they would see me’, but such forms are perceived as extremely formal/literary and are rarely used nowadays except in the most formal contexts.


The crucial difference between the spoken language and the written language as regards object pronoun placement is that, in speech, there are no restrictions on placing an object pronoun at the beginning of a sentence or clause, so we can say that me, te and nos are always placed before the verb in the spoken language:


Te vejo amanhã. (spoken) = I’ll see you tomorrow.

O Pedro vai nos levar até lá. (spoken or written) = Pedro’s going to take us there.


But in written Portuguese, there is a cardinal rule that you must not begin a sentence or clause with an unstressed object pronoun. This means that, if there is no explicit subject the unstressed object pronoun has to be placed after the verb with a hyphen:


Vi-o. (written) cf. (Eu) vi ele. (spoken) - I saw him.

Beijou-a. (written) cf. Ele/ela beijou ela. (spoken) - He/she kissed her.


However, there are also a number of circumstances in which the unstressed object pronoun has to be placed before the finite verb:


(i) After a negative (não ‘not’, nunca ‘never’, nem ‘nor’, etc.):

Não o vi. (written) cf. Não vi ele. (spoken) = I didn’t see him.


(ii) In a relative clause:

a pessoa que o viu (written) cf. . . . que viu ele (spoken) = the person who saw him


(iii) In any kind of subordinate clause:

A vizinha disse que o viu. (written) cf. . . . que viu ele. (spoken) = The neighbour said she saw him.

Não lembro quando o vi. (written) cf. . . . quando vi ele. (spoken) = I don’t remember when I saw him.


(iv) After certain adverbs (sempre ‘always’, ‘already’, bem ‘well’, aqui ‘here’,

também ‘also’, etc.):

Já o vi. (written) cf. Já vi ele. (spoken) = I’ve already seen him.


(v) After certain pronouns (tudo ‘everything’, pouco ‘little’, muito ‘a lot’, quem ‘who,

anyone who, whoever’, todos ‘everyone’, alguém ‘somebody, someone’, ninguém

‘nobody, no one’):

Ninguém o viu. (written) cf. Ninguém viu ele. (spoken) = Nobody saw him.


(vi) In sentences starting with an interrogative or exclamatory word:

Quando o viu? (written) cf. Quando você viu ele? (spoken) = When did you see him?

Como o odeio! (written) cf. Como odeio ele! (spoken) = How I hate him!


When the subject of the verb is a noun or personal pronoun, you have the choice of placing the pronoun immediately before or immediately after the verb. Broadly speaking, placement before the verb is preferred in less formal written style (e.g. journalism), whereas in more formal and literary style the pronoun tends to be placed after the verb:


A polícia o prendeu. (neutral written style) = A polícia prendeu-o. (formal/literary written style) cf. A polícia prendeu ele. (spoken) = The police arrested him.


Brazilians will often include a subject pronoun in writing just so that the object pronoun can be placed in the less formal-sounding pre-verbal position without breaking the rule about not starting a sentence with an object pronoun:


Eu me vesti e saí. (Vesti-me would sound formal/literary) = I got dressed (dressed myself) and went out.


Special forms of the object pronouns -o, -a, -os, -as

(i) When appended to an infinitive, the third person object pronouns take the form -lo, -la, -los, -las, the final -r of the infinitive is dropped and a written accent is added to -a- and -e- (but not -i-):

amar + o > amá-lo ‘to love him/it’

escrever + a > escrevê-la ‘to write it’

dividir + os > dividi-los (no written accent on i) ‘to divide them’.


(ii) When appended to a first person plural verb form ending in -mos, the third person object pronouns take the form -lo, -la, -los, -las and the final -s of the verb form is dropped:

ajudamos + o > ajudamo-lo ‘we helped him’

vimos + as > vimo-las ‘we saw them’.


(iii) When appended to a verb form ending in a nasal sound (-am, -em, -ão, -õe), the

third person object pronouns take the forms -no, -na, -nos, -nas:

comem + o > comem-no ‘they eat it’

põe + as > põe-nas ‘he/she puts them’.


This rule also applies when third person object pronouns are placed between stem and ending in future and conditional verb forms, e.g. fa-lo-ei ‘I will do it’.


This rule also applies when the third person object pronouns are appended to other verb forms ending in -s or -z, e.g. fez + o > fê-lo, quis + as > qui-las, etc., but such forms sound so antiquated and stilted these days that they are avoided even in very formal/literary writing


Position of object pronouns with the infinitive

The pronouns me, te, se, nos and lhe(s) can be placed before an infinitive or appended to it with a hyphen. They are placed before it in speech and neutral written style, and after it in more formal and literary style:


Ela pode nos ajudar. (speech or neutral written style) = She can help us.


O filme pode ajudar-nos a entender o que aconteceu. (more formal writing) = The film may help us to understand what happened.


The pronouns o, a, os, as are appended to an infinitive as -lo, -la, -los, -las in all styles, in accordance with the rule explained in (i):


Decidi comprá-lo. = I decided to buy it.

É impossível vê-las a olho nu. = It’s impossible to see them with the naked eye.


The above construction is often used in the spoken language too, and is obligatory when these pronouns are used to mean ‘you’:


Temos que ajudá-lo. (written or spoken) = Temos que ajudar ele. (spoken only)

We have to help him.

Muito prazer em conhecê-la. = Delighted to meet you. (to a woman in a fairly formal situation)


Position of object pronouns in the perfect tenses

In the spoken language and neutral written language, me, te, se, lhe(s) and nos are placed between the auxiliary and the past participle:


Ele tem se queixado de dores abdominais. = He’s been complaining of abdominal pains.


The third person pronouns o, a, os, as are positioned before or after the auxiliary according to the rules given before.


O presidente o tinha convidado. (neutral written style) = The president had invited him.

Haviam-na ajudado. (formal/literary written style) = They had helped her.


The rules given before are sometimes applied to these pronouns too in more formal writing, which means that they are sometimes placed before the auxiliary, especially in combination with the auxiliary haver, which is a more formal alternative to ter in the formation of the pluperfect, e.g. o luxo a que se havia acostumado ‘the luxury to which he had grown accustomed’, but nowadays it is no longer usual to append them to the auxiliary with a hyphen when they are placed after it.


Position of object pronouns in the continuous tenses

In the spoken language and neutral written language, me, te, se, nos and lhe(s) are placed between the auxiliary and the gerund:


Estou me preparando para o concurso. = I’m preparing myself for the competition.


The rules given before may be applied to these pronouns too in more formal writing, which means that they are either placed before the auxiliary or appended to the gerund with a hyphen. The pronouns o, a, os, as are either positioned before the auxiliary or appended to the gerund with a hyphen:


O governo o está apoiando. / O governo está apoiando-o. = The government is supporting him.

Estavam esperando-a. = They were waiting for her.


Note that object pronouns are always appended to the gerund when it is used adverbially, i.e. not in combination with estar or similar auxiliary:


Ela apagou o cigarro, esmagando-o com o salto do sapato.

She put her cigarette out, crushing it with the heel of her shoe.


More about indirect pronoun objects

Although the prepositional phrases a ele(s) and a ela(s) can always be used instead of the indirect object pronouns lhe(s) in the written language, there are three cases where a prepositional phrase has to be used:


(i) When the indirect pronoun is stressed (i.e. when the preposition to is used in English):


Dei o dinheiro a ela. = I gave the money to her.

cf. Eu lhe dei o dinheiro. / Dei a ela o dinheiro. = I gave her the money.


(ii) When lhe could be ambiguous:


Depois do que o amigo fez, ele prometeu a ela que nunca mais o procuraria. = After what his friend did, he promised her he would never contact him again.


(iii) When the sentence contains both direct and indirect pronoun objects:


Eu queria que você o encaminhasse a ele. = I’d like you to pass it on to him.


Ele deixou a casa ao irmão, depois de tê-la prometido a nós. = He left the house to his brother after having promised it to us.


The preposition em is used instead of a/para when the action of the verb affects the

indirect object physically:


Ele deu um beijo nela. (spoken or written) Ele lhe deu um beijo. (written) = He gave her a kiss.


The indirect object pronouns can be used to indicate that someone is the beneficiary or victim of an action. In such cases, English uses ‘for’ with a pronoun or a possessive where Portuguese has the definite article:


Ele me roubou a carteira. = He stole my wallet.

Eles nos consertaram o carro. = They fixed our car (for us).


In a similar usage, indirect me can be included in colloquial speech to express the speaker’s surprise or annoyance:


Não me quebre esse copo, hein! = Don’t go breaking that glass now!

Em vez de quitar as dívidas, ele me compra um carro zero. =Instead of paying off his debts, he only goes and buys a brand-new car.


Pronouns used with prepositions

As we have seen above, the forms of the personal pronouns used after prepositions are the same as the subject pronouns, except in the case of the first person singular, mim:


sem ela = without her

atrás de nós = behind us

contra mim = against me.


After entre ‘between’, the rule in writing is that mim is to be used immediately after the preposition, e.g. entre mim e ele ‘between me and him’, but the subject form eu can be used as the second term, e.g. entre ele e eu ‘between him and me’. In speech, most people would also use eu in the first case: entre eu e ele.


Note that the first person singular and plural pronouns combine with the preposition com to form the single words comigo ‘with me’ and conosco ‘with us’. The other pronouns form regular two-word combinations with com, e.g. com você, com eles.


The third person reflexive pronoun se takes the form si after prepositions and forms the word consigo with the preposition com. However, these forms are only used in very formal written language, or when the meaning is ‘oneself’. In the spoken language and less formal writing, the subject pronoun is used instead, reinforced where appropriate with mesmo(s)/mesma(s) ‘-self, -selves’:


Ele prometeu a ele mesmo que não voltaria a fumar. = He promised himself that he would not smoke again.


A Laura se surpreendeu com ela mesma. = Laura was surprised at herself.

Não se deve pensar só em si mesmo. (impersonal sense) = One shouldn’t think just of oneself.


In colloquial speech, you may hear the familiar forms ti (in place of você) and contigo (in place of com você):


Eu vou contigo. = I’ll go with you


Emphatic uses of object pronouns

In the written language, the preposition a + pronoun is also used to emphasize a direct object:


Por que não convidaram a mim? = Why didn’t they invite me?

Isso não prejudica só a eles, prejudica a nós também. = This doesn’t just harm them, it harms us too.


NOTE

In the spoken language, this is only an issue with the first person object pronouns, as in other cases the pronouns are placed in noun-object position anyway and can simply be pronounced with greater emphasis. With first person pronouns the options are (italics indicate spoken emphasis):


Por que não me convidaram? / Por que não convidaram eu?

Nos prejudica também. / Prejudica nós também.


The same rules apply when a pronoun forms a composite direct object with a noun. Note that, in such cases, the accompanying noun must also be preceded by the preposition a in the written language:


Convidaram a mim e a três outras pessoas. (written)

Convidaram eu e três outras pessoas. (spoken)

They invited me and three other people.


Conheci a ele e ao diretor. (written)

Conheci ele e o diretor. (spoken)

I met him and the director.


The above rules also apply when a pronoun is accompanied by ‘only, just’, todos/todas ‘all’ or mesmo(s)/mesma(s) ‘-self, -selves’:


Pretendemos ajudar só a ela. (written)

We intend to help only her.


Preciso convencer a mim mesmo primeiro. (written or spoken)

I need to convince myself first.


Non-standard pronouns

The subject pronoun tu is quite often used in place of você in very colloquial speech,

usually in combination with third person verb forms. This usage is most widespread in the southernmost part of Brazil, where it may be considered the norm in colloquial spoken language. A small number of speakers in that region also use second person verb forms.


In some regions, notably Bahia, lhe is used as both the direct and indirect object of

você.


The old second person plural pronoun vós (unstressed object form: vos) is nowadays only encountered in biblical contexts as a form of address used between God and man. It can be likened to the English ‘thou’ and ‘ye’.

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