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I’m learning Portuguese, and given the unexpected difference with English possessive pronouns, I wonder whether Portuguese has possessive pronouns or possessive adjectives.

They appear to work like adjectives: O meu carro, o carro branco, matching the gender of the object possessed and admitting use of the definite article.

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    Do you mean, they appear to work like adjectives?
    – Jacinto
    May 28 '16 at 18:55
  • @Jacinto yes, corrected. May 28 '16 at 19:07
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The short answer is that it has both; it just depends how you use them.

This is a somewhat broad topic with lots of regional variation. Because I'm not sure where you are in your studies, I will answer with just an abbreviated outline that I hope will help you as an English speaker learning Portuguese.

Portuguese has both personal pronouns (like the word mine in English) and also personal determiners (like the word my in English). These look mostly alike but are used differently. Perhaps your confusion is because of how these look mostly alike in Portuguese, unlike in English where they can sometimes differ.

The determiners work a bit like adjectives in that they modify a substantive (noun) but are not substantives in and of themselves, so they cannot be the subject of a clause. They do have to agree with their noun.

So the personal pronoun doesn’t have a noun after it, but the personal determiner or personal adjective does. Sometimes these are called possessive pronouns and possessive determiners/adjectives instead of “personal” ones.

The basic paradigm is by person, number, and gender, from pt.wikibooks.org:

pronomes possessivos

If you use those as possessive determiners, as in “(o) meu amigo” meaning “my (male) friend” or “(as) nossas amigas” meaning “my (female) friends”, the definite article is not obligatory. Brazilian speakers often omit it altogether.

However, when you use those words as possessive pronouns, you more commonly use the article, especially in Portugal. For example, “Tens o meu?” means “Do you have mine?” and “Viste as minhas?” means “Did you see mine?”

Here are just a few of the many ways these can trip you up:

  • The third person determiners, which come before the noun, are often replaced by the prepositional equivalent following it instead, especially in Brazil, so “o amigo dele for example, not “o seu amigo”.

  • The second person tu forms are usually third person você forms in Brazil. This is a complicated topic in that it has even more regional variation than normal, so it would deserve its own question and answers for a fair treatment.

  • Almost no one outside of the far north of Portugal still uses the second person vós forms save in old formulaic constructions like “vossa excelência”. See Pronomes de tratamento in Wikipedia. However, you should still learn these forms so that you are not surprised by them when reading literature.

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  • With possessive pronouns you definitely use the definite artice in Portugal and, I'm nearly sure, in Brazil too. Never heard tens meu for tens o meu. when used as possessive determiners you'll sound old-fashioned in Portugal if you leave out the article. It looks as though you call the possesive determiner «pronome possessivo adjetivo» (hence the OP's hunch makes sense) and the possessive pronoun, «pronome possessivo substantivo» (they work like nouns) (Infoescola)
    – Jacinto
    May 28 '16 at 20:29
  • The position that the Gulbenkian's Gramática do Português takes is precisely that the possessive pronouns are not determiners, at least in European Portuguese (which is the point of view from which the question is made).
    – Artefacto
    May 28 '16 at 22:33
  • Personal pronouns, as far as I know, are divided into nominative pronouns ("eu, tu, ele, nós, vos, eles") and objective pronouns (me, mim, etc). We call "meu, teu, seu, etc" possessive pronouns.
    – Centaurus
    May 29 '16 at 14:05
  • @Centaurus When I was young these things were always called possessive pronouns only. Later on some people started to distinguish the "substantive" use from the "modifier" use, at least structurally, even when there was no difference in the word itself. I'm going to dig through some Portuguese grammar books I have to see how they present this matter instead of relying on my own intuition. I remember before being surprised by changes in technical vocabulary between language communities.
    – tchrist
    May 29 '16 at 16:47
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    @Janus, not accurate, I guess: "essa casa é minha" means "that house is mine" (it belongs to me, I may have others); "essa casa é a minha" = "essa é a minha casa" means "that is my house". Say, we're having a beer, glasses on the table; you accidentally pick up mine, and I'll naturally say "essa cerveja é a minha".
    – Jacinto
    Jul 7 '19 at 16:02

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