When is dropping pronouns acceptable in Portuguese?

Having learned quite a bit of Spanish, I know that there's a significant overlap between Portuguese and Spanish. However, one way it seems to differ is in use of pronouns.

In some of Duolingo's questions, pronouns are not included. This implies that there are some instances in which it's okay not to use the pronoun, or where the pronoun is implied in the rest of a sentence. However, in some instances, when I attempt to answer a question and drop the pronouns, my answer is marked wrong.

I already know (because I have been corrected in the comments) that in some instances with a subject and predicate (eu sou um menino, e voce e uma menina, for example), that both "eu" and "tu/voce" are required for the sentence to be understood.

I'm just unclear when there's a single subject. It seems as though it's a 50/50 tossup. Sometimes, I can get away with "sou um menino," and other times, it requires "eu sou um menino." Help?

August 17, 2018


I'm a native speaker. Generally, you can and should ommit the first-person singular pronoun in order to sound more natural, casual and overall like a native. For the second and third-person it is not good practice as it will cause ambiguity problems.

As a translation for "I am a boy" both "eu sou um menino" and "sou um menino" are perfectly fine. However, if you're using the second person-singular as in "you're a boy" you must say "você é um menino" in order to be properly understood. If you choose to drop the pronoun and say "é um menino" it will come out as "it's a boy" or maybe "he's a boy". In a third case where you're indeed meaning to say "he's a boy", I'd strongly advise you to use the pronoun as in "ele é um menino".

As a rule of thumb, for the first-person you should ommit it, for the second you should use it, and for the third it's a good idea to use it. Duolingo may accept translations in which it's ommited, but in a real conversation it would simply sound weird and confusing.

August 17, 2018

Actually second person is "Tu" and it's ok to ommit it too. "Você" is used in the third person form.

September 4, 2018

Okay, here's the deal. We can drop the pronouns when the conjugation is unique or the context is clear. Context is often sadly lacking on Duolingo so we cannot count on that here.

As for unique conjugations then we have the First Person both in Singular and Plural (eu e nós/I and we), and for the Second Person which is the familiar tu (for you).

For example: Eu como uma laranja = Como uma laranja and, Nós comamos uma laranja = Comamos uma laranja.

Where it gets murky and ambiguous is with Third Person (Plurals also) which in Portuguese covers ele/ela (he/she) and the treatment pronouns of o senhor/a senhora and você. Yes, você means you and you is Second Person but você is a Third Person (detached) treatment pronoun just like o senhor/a senhora. The difference is that the latter can be used to talk about someone as well as to someone.

As if that is not confusing enough then there is the Brazilian penchant for making everything possible use the same conjugation which pretty much means the Third Person. So, they commonly use, a gente instead of nós for we so add that to the Third Person conjugation pile.

Oh, but that's not all. The Third Person present can also most often be the Second Person (tu) Imperative (tense) which the Brazilians also employ despite they are você dominant because it cuts down on the conjugations necessary to know/remember. So, Come uma laranja could be, S/he, You, We eat an orange, but also a command (Imperative in second person) to, Eat an orange!

And then (e então), the Brazilians (not the Portuguese) also use the verb, ter (to have) in Third Person without a pronoun to mean, There is/are as in, Tem uma laranja = There is an orange (EU PT would use from the verb, haver = Há uma laranja). =]

But let's add another wrinkle, shall we? If the Third Person pronoun is actually missing from a given sentence then the most likely reason is that the pronoun that would be there if it were English is, it (which is also Third Person in both languages).

What this all means is at least on Duolingo, you can drop the pronouns usually for the First and Second Persons but not the Third Persons.

As far as formality, I would say that Brazil is the "Americanized" Portuguese and like the Spanish is looser. It's not that those in Portugal are uptight (in fact they have very good humor), just that they are more structured. For instance, BR PT often drops the articles in possessives while there is only one special case (singular family members) to drop possessive articles in EU PT.

It is in part this structure that allows for more pronoun dropping in EU PT. For instance, instead of using the catch all seu/sua(s) possessive for Third Person, EU PT utilizes [o/a(s) vosso/vossa(s) for plural you. Pretty cool. :)

Plus the use of tu is becoming more and more common.

Anyway, I can suggest you read all the discussions attached to the learning exercises for clues to the EU PT differences which often are pointed out. And, check out Memrise which has EU PT, with many examples by native speakers to help train the ear which is rather nifty. :)

Oh, and check out the "EP Experience" blog by a former mod and course contributor for Duo. It is really good and a vital source:

One more thing, você often gets mentioned as the formal pronoun in Portugal but that just is not the case. The truth is that você really is mostly a Brazilian thing and is avoided in Portugal as a bit... well, rude almost. Você is more like a 'detached/distant familiar' pronoun. The formal is, o senhor/a senhora. But, at least among adult females who do not know each other they will often address each other as, "a menina" which is not insulting (usually) but rather endearing.

However, another way to avoid você in Portugal is just to use the person's name. Would Louie like another glass of port? Think of it as pronoun dropping in a way. In English one might say, "Would you like another glass, Louie?" so the Portuguese is dropping the "you". :)

As to "official" Portuguese... um, no. There are two types of Portuguese. That used in Brazil, and that used everywhere else in the world. Not just Portugal but, in all the other countries and territories where Portuguese is an official language in Europe, Africa and Asia (and it is quite a list).

When is your trip and how long are you staying? :)

August 18, 2018

Thanks for the clarification! As far as “official” Portuguese I suppose I miss spoke. Probably more what I meant to say is that Brazilian Portuguese has been adopted as the “correct” Portuguese, since there are far more speakers of Brazilian Portuguese. Similar to what a linguist would say about English from the UK versus American English. I am just totally basing this assumption on what my friend who was born and lives in Portugal and teaches language has passed along to me. I have also heard this recently from several Brazilians that I speak with too, but I have no actual way of verifying anything. In the end, languages are living changing things so I don’t really suppose any of it matters.

August 18, 2018

Apologies for not addressing this sooner but, "correct" is not what I would call a good substitution. Essentially that means that European Portuguese – from which Brazilian Portuguese was born – is somehow "incorrect" and that's pretty far from the reality.

Both forms are "correct" and both forms are "official" for their respective countries, of which the Brazilian form really only covers the one which is Brazil while European Portuguese is used in Europe, Africa, and Asia (basically everywhere else that Portuguese is spoken which covers several countries and a handful of territories).

So, if you really must have a "one-is-better-than" marker, then you could go with the "more speakers" idea but not everyone in Brazil speaks Portuguese (in fact there are some staunch German speakers there), and the extent of the Portuguese diaspora (who after all seeded Brazil) is huge with Euro-PT speakers and descendants scattered around the world with large populations in London, Toronto, Vancouver, Boston, New Jersey, Germany, Netherlands, Finland, and of course Brazil. The city with the second largest number of Portuguese after Lisboa is Paris, and the country of Luxembourg is one-third Portuguese. So there are quite a few who would prefer to learn the Euro version of Portuguese even beyond those in Africa and Asia where it is also an official language.

However, the issue with more-speakers-than, is that Duolingo teaches several languages such as Welsh, Irish, Hungarian, Danish, Greek, Norwegian and more whose countries have smaller populations than Portugal alone (not Portugal plus Angola plus Mozambique + all the other EUPT speaking places). Are their languages any less valid for that?

I think more of the problem here is that indeed people do look at basic raw numbers and make choices based soley on that. Here I am talking about language program makers who do not take into consideration that while there are 180 million in Brazil (who already know the language) there are 700+ million in Europe who are more likely to go to Portugal (or Africa/Asia) than Brazil.

Similar to what a linguist would say about English from the UK versus American English.

This is pretty murky too. Sure, there are a lot of people in the US (not all are English speakers though) but "America" is a continent and even in Canada the English is different than in the US.

UK English is taught in more places than US English but from my research neither is really dominant and the reality is that, as an emerging global lingua franca, English is now beyond those two places. There is European English, and Indian English, and Nigerian English (another place that has an EU Portuguese base). What is important is actual communication and especially good listening skills:

Anyway, just some food for thought.

October 7, 2018

And why the heck do you use vocês and it isn't rude? I expect a good answer.

March 25, 2019

In the real world it also depends on if you are speaking more of a Brazilian style, or European style. In my experience talking to native speakers Brazilian are far less likely to drop the pronoun (Duolingo teaches primarily Brazilian) as are Europeans even in the case of the 2nd & 3rd person. I'm not sure what is actually correct (probably more Brazilian style since it's now been adopted as the "official" Portuguese), but that's is just what I've encountered.

August 17, 2018

That's interesting. I'm learning Portuguese in part because of an upcoming trip to Portugal. Obviously, Brazilian Portuguese has pronounced differences from European Portuguese. What intrigues me is that the differences in the language seem to be opposite from those found in Spain versus Latin America. In Latin America, it seems like Spanish has a much "looser" and more informal feeling to it than Spanish in Spain. Is it safe to say that Portuguese spoken in Portugal has a more informal tone? Apart from the use of "voce" in Brazil versus Portugal, there's the aspect of dropping the pronoun.

With that said, I'm obviously coming at this question from the perspective of a person not especially knowledgeable about the language itself and who is merely speculating - I hope the question isn't offensive.

August 17, 2018

Answering the original question: Duo is fairly inflexible, in a way that doesn't necessarily represent living language (especially spoken language). The safest option is to always include the pronouns in Duo, then do research/talk to actual speakers on how language is actually used.

To someone accustomed to the tú/usted split of Spanish, I can see why it might seem more formal to use "você" to the exclusion of "tu," but this is like saying modern English is formal compared to Shakespearean English because we use only "you," not "thou" and "you." In fact, I would make the opposite argument: using "você" for everyone is more informal, since it does not distinguish between social status, positions of power, etc. It's also not true that Brazilians don't use "tu"; usage is highly regional. Some locations use "tu," some use it but conjugate the verb as for "você" ("tu vai ao museu?"), some use it more freely, some restrict usage to more intimate relationships. When I talk with Brazilian friends or when I've traveled in Brazil, I use "você" with just about everyone--occasionally in formal situations where we don't know each other (in a bank or restaurant, for example), we might use "o senhor/a senhora," at least until a little familiarity is established. I don't think I've offended anyone :)

Meanwhile, in Portugal, "tu" is reserved for close relationships. "Você" is a marked word that many people avoid using altogether, preferring to use titles or names ("O senhor quer vinho?" "A Maria vai ao museu?" etc.). I have some friends who have been close for more than a decade, but because of an age difference and level of mutual respect, still refer to each other as "A [firstname]." As I understand it, this is part of why the pronouns are dropped more in Portugal--to avoid offending someone with "você," or making them feel old with "a senhora," or failing to use "o doutor."

Brazil: (note that the first answer is actually about Portugal)


August 18, 2018

Well said. Assino embaixo! Sem dúvidas o português de Portugal é mais formal. Não moro mais no Brasil, mas fui criado no Rio de Janeiro, onde se fala o português que se vê na televisão brasileira. O "padrão", vamos dizer assim. Lá o uso do tu leva a conjugação na terceira-pessoa do singular, sendo raramente utilizado. Geralmente se usa apenas em algumas frases, entre jovens que possuam relações de amizade, ou seja, é muito informal. Por exemplo: "Que que tu acha?", meaning "What do you think?" é uma construção que se usa muito entre amigos adolescentes/jovens, mas nunca para um desconhecido, um adulto, um idoso ou em uma situação formal.

PS: Sorry guys, I ended up writing it in Portuguese, but I guess it's a good way for you to practice.

August 18, 2018

Brazilians are more formal than Portuguese people when talking about personal pronouns. The same if we compare modern English vs Shakespeare English and Latin American Spanish vs European Spanish. First ones are more formal than second ones.

March 25, 2019

just keep studying and you will get it

August 18, 2018

Tente estudar algo sobre sujeito elíptico e sujeito indeterminado.

August 18, 2018
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