Ultimate guide on how to address a Portuguese (levels of formality)

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In European Portuguese, there are many ways of addressing a person, many levels of formality…
You could use TU, VOCÊ, O/a SENHOR/a ou DONA and conjugate the verbs differently. In this video, we’ll help you decide in which situations you should use what form of address! Also, we explain how complex the usage of the word “você” can be, even to Portuguese natives! But do not despair, because we give away a rule that always works! 😉

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    1. Dona as in a title of formality has “senhor” as it’s male equivalent form (they’re equivalents in meaning, in usage). But “Dona” can also mean owner and in that case you would say “dono” as the male equivalent 👍🏽

    2. Adding onto that, I do believe it stems from the more archaic noble titles of Dom and Dona, which come from the latin dominus. so it was originally used in Royalty, but over time Dona was reduced to a generalized polite title for a woman, usually an older woman, while Dom was altogether dropped. So yeah, historically the male of Dona was Dom, but nowadays you’d use senhor.

    1. Muitíssimo obrigada, SaiSai! We’re flattered 🥰 and very happy to know you’re enjoying and benefitting from our content ☺️

  1. My sister lives in Lisbon and next to her lives Dona Candida who always brings over homemade Tarte de amendoa 😊 it’s the best.

    1. What a lovely neighbour Dona Cândida is! We love a little tarte de amêndoa, especially a homemade one 😋 Make sure to visit your sister often 😜

    1. Obrigada, Vera! Como tratar as pessoas em Portugal é uma questão que muitos estudantes de português de Portugal têm, porque há tantas opções e, claro, não queremos ofender ninguém 😅 Ainda bem que este vídeo é útil para ti 😊

  2. You mentioned that when speaking with a group, you should refer to the group in the masculine form. I’m confused then as to why when speaking about our grandparents, one should use the form avós (grandmothers) and not avôs (grandfathers).

    1. Olá, Skip 👋🏽 well spotted and good on you for making that connection.
      Avós translates into grandmothers as well as grandparents, so even though it seems you’re referring to your grandparents as grandmothers, you really are not. The reason is to do with how the words evolved from Latin to the Portuguese we have today. The plural form of “avô” always had an open “o” like the one in the “avó” and so it was kept that way to this day as opposed to the singular form “avô” that went from an open one to a semi-opened.
      Saying that, the word “avôs” does exist (although I don’t think many would be aware of it!). This word was created so we could refer to grandfathers (the male grandparents only) as opposed to grandparents, whether it may be maternal, paternal or both sets.

      I hope this answers your question 👍🏽

  3. Thanks for these interesting insights into the conundrum that is forms of address. Portuguese seems to be one of the trickiest languages for a foreigner in this respect (among those that I dabble in, anyway). As with Spanish, there seems to be some conservatism in Latin America as compared to Europe. (When Paula Fernandes addresses a potential lover in the song “Passaro de Fogo”, she uses “você”! And then the possessive pronoun “teu”.) However, beyond that, in most languages it’s mainly a case of learning the polite forms and sticking to them until there is an agreement to do otherwise, even though the trend is largely towards less formality. As a Norwegian, I feel I’m at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Portuguese speakers, as we did away with politeness decades ago (as far as pronouns are concerned). It happened within living memory, though. I still remember the last time I used the polite form of the personal pronoun in earnest. It was during a home visit by a doctor in the late 1970’s, and just as I’d spoken, it struck me: “What am I saying? Nobody speaks like that anymore!” Still, it’s something to be aware of, potentially even neurosis-inducing, so thanks again for your guidance.

    1. Oh wow, that’s so interesting with how things evolved with Norwegian – so much simpler and straight forward! Thank you for sharing 😀

  4. How do you ask someone what formality you should use? For example, if you were meeting people for the first time in a business context?

    1. You could say:

      Como posso tratá-lo (or if the person is a woman: tratá-la). 👍🏽

    1. 😂😂😂 that’s so funny! It really shows how complex this topic really is. Thanks for sharing 🙏🏽 😁

  5. As a Portuguese-Canadian myself who hasn’t visited Portugal enough, I struggle with this and I come off too often as informal.
    Thanks for the tips!

    1. Though one, isn’t it 😅 hopefully our tips will help you next time you visit 🤗

  6. Very good Just let me add that using Desejam em vez de querem, também introduz um tom de mais respeito à pergunta.
    Querem um café? ou Desejam um café? têm niveis diferentes de intimidade!

  7. Olá Carla e Marlon,
    Thanks for your great video. This is one of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp and I still get nervous talking to my in-laws 😅

    I wanted to ask about last names. Is there ever a case in Portuguese that you’d say “a/o Senhor(a) Silva” instead of “a/o Senhor(a) João/Maria”?

    1. Olá 😊 I don’t think you should feel nervous, I’m sure they wouldn’t be offended since you’re not Portuguese. They might even find it endearing 🥰

      We tend to use the first name or both the first name and the surname together after “senhor/a” and “dona”. The surname alone I don’t think it’s that common, but it can happen perhaps when there’s a greater distance between the people involved or if the person has become known by their surname more so than by their first name.

  8. I really like your videos, I just wished you guys spoke more In Portuguese and less in English. That would definitely be a great listening practice!! Obrigada

    1. Obrigada Juanita 🙂 as you go though our material you’ll notice more videos in Portuguese 👍🏽

  9. My mother in law is 85 and from Porto. I often hear others, especially shop assistants/waiters addressing her per “menina” which is normal. My Angolan friend find this form of addressing offensive and prefers “velinha” whis is not agist in Angolan culture at all, rather a form of politeness🤦‍♀️ Good luck to us learners! 😂

    1. Forms of address in the different Portuguese versions can be rather tricky 😬 I personally love “menina”. Definitely not “velhinha” for me 😅

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