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Do I need the definite article before these nouns? Is this the correct vocabulary used in Portugal in the seventies? It is a sentence in an English novel I’m writing.

This is my sentence:

The shopkeeper begins pointing and naming various products. “Sabonete (soap)? Meia calça (panty hose)? Grampos (bobby pins)? Baterias (batteries)? Bolas de naftalina (mothballs)? Cartas de baralho (playing cards)?” And finally, “Fraldas descartáveis (disposable diapers).”

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  • Let me try if I understood: the shopper will only to say the list: Sabonete, Meias, Grampos, Baterias.... If it is the case, you do not need definite article.
    – Peixoto
    Jun 12, 2019 at 15:49
  • Agree, no need for any articles. The fact it is the seventies is irrelevant.
    – Lambie
    Jun 14, 2019 at 19:11
  • As far as I know, these words didn't change since the seventies. The only clear difference would be slang words and some accents. E.g. in books from the 50s you might find the pronoum "ele" written with circumflex "êle". Also, disposable nappies exist since the 1940s, but it might be useful to know how common they were in Portugal in the 70s.
    – Apollo
    Jun 17, 2019 at 14:19

1 Answer 1

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If the shopkeeper is just showing their wares (perhaps trying to guess what the customer wants) it would be more natural not to use definite articles. Now you ask for usage in Portugal. Some of the terms you suggest may be used in Brasil, but would be uncommon or not used at all in Portugal:

Soap. Sabonete is fine for soap you use on yourself; for washing clothes it would be sabão.

Pantyhose. Colãs (also collants) is the word I’m familiar with in Portugal.

Bobby pins. Ganchos, not grampos, is what we call them in Portugal. Or you could say ganchos do cabelo (‘hair ganchos’), as gancho generally means ‘hook’. But as the shopkeeper is pointing at them, it may be unnecessary to specify with do cabelo.

Pilhas are batteries for radios, torchlights, and the like, which I guess is what you have in mind. Baterias are car batteries.

Just naftalina would sound more natural than bolas de naftalina (literally ‘naphthalene balls’). If you wanted to say you want or saw, say, five mothballs, then yes, you'd say cinco bolas de naftalina, otherwise you just say naftalina.

Cartas de jogar (‘playing cards’) or baralhos de cartas (‘card decks’) is what we call it in Portugal. In context you’d just say cartas or even just baralhos.

Now fraldas descartáveis is what we call it nowadays. My problem is I don’t remember seeing disposable diapers in the 1970s at all, let alone remember what people called them, if and where they used them. I do remember well washable cloth diapers though; I lived in a small village at the time, and I don’t think people used them there; it might have been different in urban areas. My 2001 dictionary has fraldas descartáveis already.

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  • So is this correct? She’s looking for tampão higiênico. The grocer points to a sign down the street, Farmácia.
    – Moni
    Jun 13, 2019 at 7:51
  • @Moni, yes, meaning "we don't sell them; look for them at the Farmácia. The spelling in Portugal is higiénico, if that's relevant for your story.
    – Jacinto
    Jun 13, 2019 at 11:00

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