Question about the word order for adjectives and how this changes the meaning.

I've seen things like 'eu tenho uma casa nova' and 'É um carro vermelha' where the adjective is after the noun. I've also seen something like 'tenho um novo cavalo' where the adjective is before.

The feeling I'm getting is that the adjective goes after if it is describing something intrinsic about the object, such as the house being newly built or the car being red; whereas, if the adjective is before the noun it describes something to do with the relationship, such as me having just acquired the horse and not necessarily that it is young.

Is this the correct way to look at it? And if so, can I say 'eu tenho uma nova casa', implying that I have recently acquired a house and not that it is newly built?

Any help much appreciated, Tom

July 29, 2019


Hi, Tom! I am brasilian and I am portuguese teacher. I can explain the adjective for you. (sorry, my english not very good yet)

The usual position of the adjective in the sentence is after the noun.


1) Sometimes we put the adjective before the noun to emphasize the adjective. For exemple:

A) garota baixa (short girl)

B) baixa garota

A and B mean the same thing, but the B emphasizes the girl's characteristic. Nevertheless, if you say sentence B in a conversation, you will not sound natural. This sentence structure is common in the literature, because it is subjective. This is poetic.

2) The adjective before the noun changes its meaning or it is metaphor in some arrangements. For exemple:

A) Ele é um homem grande (He is a big man)

B) Ele é um grande homem (He is a great man) - “grande” is a metaphor

You are right about "Eu tenho uma casa nova". The adjective after the noun is usually literal and the adjective after the noun is usually subjective.

For exemple, “mau” :

A) Ele é um mau estudante (He is a bad student) - He is not an applied student.

B) Ele é um estudante mau (He is a evil student) – He is a evil person

But be careful. Exceptions Exist.

July 30, 2019

Thank you Bruna, this explains it well. I guess I will become more aware of situations where it is appropriate to put the adjective before the noun as I improve, but for now, as rafagarc says, I will stick with placing the adjective after the noun as this is usually the most natural position.

July 30, 2019

I'd like to add an example that every teenager in Brazil has to deal with on its exams at some point.

A very famous brazilian writer, "Machado de Assis", wrote a book named "Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas" (The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas). The main character is Brás Cubas, who, after dead, tells us his story. Very early in the book, Machado presents us with this beautiful sentence:

“eu não sou propriamente um autor defunto, mas um defunto autor..."

Literal translation would be:

I'm not properly a dead author, but an author dead.

Here we have a simple yet so complex example of adjective and noun positioning.

The question in the exams usually is about telling the difference between autor defunto and defunto autor.

The answer would be that, on 'autor defunto', defunto is the adjective, meaning someone who in life was an author and then died. By 'defunto autor' he means someone who became an author AFTER dead.

I agree with you that sticking with the natural position is the safest thing to do but I thought the adding was needed, to be fair with Machado and Portuguese in general. If you ever take an exam for an university in Brazil, chances are you would get this one right!

August 5, 2019

Yes, mate, you are right, very well said, finally some inteligence around here.

July 29, 2019

haha, thank you

July 30, 2019

Bruna explained it pretty well here in this thread. I would also say that, if you are still in the early stages of Portuguese learning, always place the adjective after the noun. Exceptions do exist, but the before-the-noun mode is often too formal for spoken Portuguese. When in doubt, you are much safer with the after-the-noun mode.

July 30, 2019

Thank you, it's a good point

July 30, 2019

Hello people! I think it's hard to explain because in Brazil the population speaks informally whole the time and many people aren't careful about our language during a conversation. The order of the adjectives about substantives depends on the context. In my opinion, it worths what sounds better and expresses what I mean. Brazilians understand very well even though it's not correct.

July 31, 2019
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