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The Portuguese personal pronouns and possessives display a higher degree of inflection than other parts of speech. Personal pronouns have distinct forms according to whether they stand for a subject (nominative), a direct object (accusative), an indirect object (dative), or a reflexive object. Several pronouns further have special forms used after prepositions.

The possessive pronouns are the same as the possessive adjectives, but each is inflected to express the grammatical person of the possessor and the grammatical gender of the possessed.

Pronoun use displays considerable variation with register and dialect, with particularly pronounced differences between the most colloquial varieties of European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.

Contents

Subject, object, and complement

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Basic forms

The personal pronouns of Portuguese have three basic forms, subjective, objective (object of a verb), and prepositional (object of a preposition).

number person subject object of verb object of preposition
singular 1st. eu me mim
2nd. tu te ti
3rd. ele, ela, você o, a ,você1; lhe2; se3 ele, ela, você; si3
plural 1st. nós nos nós
2nd. vós vos vós
3rd. eles, elas, vocês os, as ,vocês1; lhes2; se3 eles, elas, vocês; si3

1 direct object (masculine and feminine) 2 indirect object 3 reflexive or reciprocal

Subjective pronouns

Forms of address

Like most European languages, Portuguese has different words for "you", according to the degree of formality that the speaker wishes to show towards the addressee (T-V distinction). In very broad terms, tu, você (both meaning singular "you") and vocês (plural "you") are used in informal situations, while in formal contexts o senhor, a senhora, os senhores and as senhoras (masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, and feminine plural "you", respectively) are preferred. However, there is considerable regional variation in the use of these terms, and more specific forms of address are sometimes employed.

Generally speaking, tu is the familiar form of address used with family, friends, and minors. Você indicates distance without deference, and tends to be used between people who are, roughly, social equals. O senhor / a senhora (literally "sir"/"madam") are the most ceremonious forms of address. English speakers may find the latter construction akin to the parliamentary convention of referring to fellow legislators in the third person (as "my colleague", "the gentleman", "the member", etc.), although the level of formality conveyed by o senhor is not as great. In fact, variants of o senhor and a senhora with more nuanced meanings such as o professor ("professor"), o colega ("colleague") and o pai ("father") are also employed as personal pronouns. In the plural, there are two main levels of politeness, the informal vocês and the formal os senhores / as senhoras.

This threefold scheme is, however, complicated by regional and social variation. For example, in many communities of Brazilian Portuguese speakers, the traditional tu/você distinction has been lost, and the previously formal você tends to replace the familiar tu in most cases (the distinction remains, however, in many parts of the country). On the other hand, in Portugal it's common to use a person's own name as a pronoun more or less equivalent to você, e.g., o José, o sr. Silva, which is rare in Brazil (though it's found in parts of the Northeast region, for example).

When addressing older people or hierarchical superiors, modern BP speakers often replace 'você'/tu and 'vocês' by the expressions O(s) senhor(es) and A(s) senhora(s), which also require third-person verb forms and third-person reflexive/possessive pronouns (or the expressions "de vocês" "do senhor" etc...by the possessive). 'O(s) senhor(es)' and 'A(s) senhora(s)' are also used in formal contexts in modern EP, in addition to a large number of similar pronominalized nouns that vary according to the person who is being addressed, e.g. a menina , o pai, a mãe, o engenheiro, o doutor, etc.

Historically, você derives from vossa mercê ("your mercy" or "your grace") via the intermediate forms vossemecê and vosmecê; compare with the derivation of Spanish usted from vuestra merced.

Nós vs. a gente

A very common colloquial alternative to the 1st. person plural pronoun nós "we" is the noun phrase a gente, which formally takes verbs and possessives of the 3rd. person singular (or the expression "da gente"). Although avoided in the most formal registers, it is not considered incorrect, unless it is accompanied by verbs conjugated in the 1st. person plural, as in "*A gente moramos na cidade", instead of the normative "A gente mora na cidade" "We live in the city".

Vós

In nearly all Portuguese dialects and registers, the 2nd. person plural subject pronoun vós is no longer in use, as is the case with its corresponding verb forms. Currently, vós (and its verb forms) is only employed:

  • In some dialects of northern Portugal (i.e., in the colloquial spoken language).
  • In religious texts and services.
  • In very formal registers, for archaism.
  • In historical fiction.

Instead, the word vocês is used, or equivalent forms of address which take verbs and possessives of the 3rd. person plural. See the "Forms of address" section, above, and also the notes on colloquial usage, at the bottom of the page.

Objective pronouns

Proclisis, enclisis, and mesoclisis

As in other Romance languages, objective pronouns are clitics, which must come next to a verb, and are pronounced together with it as a unit. They may appear before the verb (proclisis, lhe dizer), after the verb, linked to it with a hyphen (enclisis, dizer-lhe), or, more rarely, within the verb, between its stem and its desinence (mesoclisis, dir-lhe-ei).

Enclisis and mesoclisis may require some euphonic adjustments in the verb ending and/or in the pronoun, e.g. cantar + o = cantá-lo "to sing it". The direct and indirect object pronouns can be contracted, as in dar + lhe + os = dar-lhos "to give them to him"; cf. Spanish dar + le + los = dárselos.

comprá-lo-ei = comprarei + o "I will buy it".
dar-to-ia = daria + o + te "I would give it to you".
dar-lho-ia = daria + o + lhe "I would give it to him".

When a verb conjugated in the 1st. person plural, ending in -s, is followed by the enclitic pronoun nos, the s is dropped. Examples: "Vamo-nos [vamos + nos] embora amanhã" (We are leaving tomorrow), "Respeitemo-nos [respeitemos + nos] mutuamente" (Let us respect each other).

Allomorphs

Third person direct object clitic pronouns have several forms, depending on their position with relation to the verb and on the verb's ending. If the pronoun is enclitic and the verb ends with a consonant, or if the pronoun is mesoclitic and the root of the verb ends with a consonant, then that consonant is elided, and an l is added to the beginning of the pronoun. If the pronoun is enclitic and the verb ends with a nasal diphthong (spelled -ão, -am, -em, -ém, -êm, -õe, or -õem), an n is added to the beginning of the pronoun. The same happens after other clitic pronouns, and after the adverbial particle eis.

default after a consonant after a nasal diphthong
o lo no
a la na
os los nos
as las nas

The third person forms o, a, os, and as may present the variants lo, la, los, las, no, na, nos, and nas:

  • Lo, la, los, and las are used after verbal forms ending with a consonant, which is elided. Examples: seduz + a = sedu-la, faz + o = fá-lo, diz + o = di-lo, destróis + os = destrói-los (different from destrói-os, in which the verb is conjugated in the imperative mood), comes + a = come-la (different from come-a), apanha-las (apanhas + as), amá-lo (amar +o), fazê-lo (fazer + o), partire-lo (partires +o), tem-la (tens + a, notice how the n changes into an m). Note the exception quere-o (quer + o) instead of qué-lo (qué-lo is still permitted, but uncommon).
  • This also occurs when the pronoun is in mesoclitic position: matá-lo-ás (matarás + o), fá-lo-ias (farias + o), feri-lo-ias (feririas + o), comê-lo-ias (comerias + o).
  • The variants no, na, nos and nas are used after a verbal form ending with a nasal diphthong. Examples: põe-no (põe + o), tem-na (tem + a), comeram-nos (ambiguous, can mean comeram + os "they ate them", or comeram + nos "they ate us").
  • The pronouns o, etc. present the same forms as above when they follow other clitic pronouns, such as nos and vos, or the adverbial particle eis. Examples: comeram-no-lo (comeram + nos + o), "Não vo-lo [vos + o] quero dar a entender."

Contractions between clitic pronouns

indirect object direct object
o a os as
me mo ma mos mas
te to ta tos tas
lhe lho lha lhos lhas
nos no-lo no-la no-los no-las
vos vo-lo vo-la vo-los vo-las
lhes lho lha lhos lhas

Notice how lhes + o is contracted into lho, not *lhe-lo or *lhos. This occurs because lhe used to be employed indistinctly for the singular and the plural and, while the agglutinated form suffered no alteration, lhe evolved into lhes for the plural number.

While used in European Portuguese, these forms are not currently used in Brazilian Portuguese (although they can be found in Brazilian literary texts up through the early 20th century).[1]

Syntax

Apart from the pronouns that act as subjects of a sentence, and from the stressed object pronouns which are employed after prepositions, Portuguese has several clitic object pronouns used with nonprepositional verbs, or as indirect objects. These can appear before the verb as separate words, as in ela me ama ("she loves me"), or appended to the verb after the tense/person inflection, as in ele amou-a ("he loved her") or ele deu-lhe o livro ("he gave her/him the book"). Note that Portuguese spelling rules (like those of French) require a hyphen between the verb and the clitic pronoun.

In West Iberian-Romance, the position of clitic object pronouns with respect to the verbs which govern them was flexible, but all Romance languages have since adopted a more strict syntax. The usual pattern is for clitics to precede the verb, or, in compound tenses, the auxiliary verb; e.g. Sp. Yo te amo, Fr. Je t'aime "I love you"; Sp. Tú me habías dicho, Fr. Tu m'avais dit "You had told me" (proclisis). The opposite order occurs only with a few tenses, such as the imperative: Sp. Dime, Fr. Dis-moi "Tell me" (enclisis). Spoken Brazilian Portuguese has taken more or less the same route, except that clitics usually appear between the auxiliary verb and the main verb in compound tenses, and proclisis is even more generalized: Eu te amo "I love you", but Me diz "Tell me", and Você tinha me dito "You had told me".

In European Portuguese, by contrast, enclisis is the default position for clitic pronouns in simple affirmative clauses: Eu amo-te "I love you", Diz-me "Tell me". In compound tenses, the clitic normally follows the auxiliary verb, Você tinha-me dito "You had told me" (like in Brazilian Portuguese, but conventionally spelled with a hyphen), though other positions are sometimes possible: Você vai dizer-me "You are going to tell me" (Spanish allows this syntax, as well), Você não me vai dizer "You are not going to tell me" (like in Spanish). Still, in formal Portuguese the clitic pronouns always follows the verb in the infinitive. The Brazilian proclisis is usually correct in European Portuguese (often found in ancient literature), though nowadays uncommon and emphatic. Only sentences that begin with a clitic pronoun, such as Te amo or Me diz, are considered unacceptable in European Portuguese.

With verbs in the future indicative tense or the conditional tense, enclitic pronouns are not placed after the verb, but rather incorporated into it: eu canto-te uma balada "I sing you a ballad" becomes eu cantar-te-ei uma balada in the future, and eu cantar-te-ia uma balada in the conditional (mesoclisis).

This is because these verb forms were originally compounds: cantarei = cantar + hei, cantarás = cantar + hás. In spoken Brazilian Portuguese, where proclisis is nearly universal, mesoclisis never occurs. Although the mesoclisis is often cited as a distinctive feature of Portuguese, it is becoming rare in spoken European Portuguese, since there is a growing tendency to replace the future indicative and the conditional with other tenses.

Although enclisis (or mesoclisis) is the default position for clitic pronouns in European Portuguese, proclisis is mandatory in subordinate clauses, except non-finite clauses (in which case both proclisis and enclisis are usually valid). Since proclisis is the normal position for clitic pronouns in Brazilian Portuguese, this marking does not exist in it.

Prepositional pronouns

Governance

The personal pronouns labelled "object of preposition" above are always employed after a preposition, and most prepositions govern those pronouns, but a few of them require subjective pronouns. For example, prepositions denoting exception, such as afora, fora, excepto, menos, salvo, and tirante. In those cases, the subject pronouns eu, tu, ele, ela, eles and elas are used. Examples: "Todos foram ao cinema excepto eu/tu", "Ele referiu toda a gente excepto ele mesmo." (not "Ele referiu toda a gente excepto si"), but "Ele referiu-se a toda a gente excepto a si", "Falaste a todos menos a mim", "Falaste com todos menos comigo" (not "com eu").

Contractions with the prepositions de and em

The following 3rd. person pronouns contract with the prepositions de "of/from" and em "in/on/at".

pronoun contracted with de contracted with em
ele dele nele
ela dela nela
eles deles neles
elas delas nelas

Contractions with the preposition com

The following prepositional pronouns contract with the preposition com "with" (circumstantial complement).

pronoun contracted form
mim comigo
ti contigo
si consigo
nós co(n)nosco
vós convosco
si consigo

The form connosco is used in European Portuguese, while conosco is used in Brazilian Portuguese.

These contractions are derived from the Latin practice of tacking the preposition cum "with" to the end of the ablative form of personal pronouns, as in mecum or tecum. In Vulgar Latin, enclitic cum (later shifted to -go) became fossilized and was reanalysed as part of the pronoun itself. Then, a second cum began to be used before those words, and finally cum mecum, cum tecum, etc. contracted, producing comigo, contigo, and so on.

Reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns are used when one wants to express the action is exercised upon the same person that exercises it or refers to such person. Examples:

  • EP: "Eu vi-me ao espelho." BP: "Eu me vi no espelho."
  • "Não te levas muito a sério."
  • EP: "De repente, vimo-nos perdidos na floresta." BP: "De repente, nos vimos perdidos na floresta."

In the third person, the reflexive pronoun has a form of its own, se - or si / sigo if preceded by a preposition. Examples:

  • EP: "Hoje ele levantou-se cedo." BP: "Hoje ele se levantou cedo."
  • EP: "Eles lavam-se sempre muito bem." BP: "Eles se lavam sempre muito bem."
  • "O gato sabe cuidar bem de si."
  • "Os ladrões levaram consigo tudo o que puderam."

The reflexive pronoun forms, when used in the plural (me and te are therefore excluded), may indicate reciprocity. In those cases, they do not have reflexive character - for instance, "as pessoas cumprimentaram-se" does not mean that each person complimented himself, rather they complimented each other. In some situations, this may create ambiguity; therefore, if one means "they love each other", one might want to say "eles amam-se mutuamente" or "eles amam-se um ao outro" (although "eles amam-se" will probably be interpreted this way anyhow); if one means "each one of them loves himself", one should say "eles amam-se a si mesmos" ou "eles amam-se a si próprios". Sometimes, especially in the spoken Portuguese, ele mesmo, ela mesma, com ele mesmo, com eles mesmos, etc. may be used instead of si and consigo. Example: "Eles têm de ter confiança neles (em+eles) mesmos" or "Eles têm de ter confiança em si (mesmos)".

Possessive pronouns and adjectives

The forms of the possessives depends on the gender and number of the possessed object or being.

possessor possessum
masc. sing. fem. sing. masc. plur. fem. plur.
eu meu minha meus minhas
tu teu tua teus tuas
ele, ela, você seu sua seus suas
nós nosso nossa nossos nossas
vós vosso vossa vossos vossas
eles, elas, vocês seu sua seus suas

The possessive pronouns are identical to possessive adjectives, except that they must be preceded by the definite article (o meu, a minha, os meus, as minhas, etc.) For the possessive adjectives, the article is optional, and its use varies with dialect and degree of formality.

Clearing ambiguity in the 3rd. person

Due to the use of 'seu(s)', 'sua(s)' as the preferred 2nd-person possessive pronouns, 'dele(s)' and 'dela(s)' are normally used as 3rd-person possessive markers in lieu of 'seu(s)'/'sua(s)' to eliminate ambiguity, e.g. Onde está o seu carro ("Where is your car?") vs. Onde está o carro dele? ("Where is his car?") 'Seu'/'Sua' as 3rd-person possessive pronouns are still frequent though, especially when referring to the subject of the clause or the gender is unknown and ambiguity can be solved from the context, e.g. O candidato Geraldo Alckmin apresentou ontem a sua proposta para aumentar a geração de empregos no Brasil ("Candidate Geraldo Alckmin presented yesterday his proposal to increase job creation in Brazil").

This does not apply to reflexive pronouns. Sentences such as *Há quem deteste a rotina dele ("There are some who hate their own routine") are not used in place of Há quem deteste a sua rotina.

Colloquial usage

In European Portuguese

In European Portuguese, si and consigo can also be used to refer to the person to whom the message is directed in the formal treatment by "o senhor", etc. or in the treatment by você. They are employed in the same circumstances ti and tigo would be used in the treatment by tu.

Examples:

  • "Se você não se importar, eu vou consigo" (I'll go with you, if you don't mind).
  • "Quando estava a passar pela Praça do Chile, lembrei-me de si".

Thus, in modern colloquial European Portuguese, the classical paradigm above is modified to (differences emphasized):

Subject Register Object of verb Object of preposition Reflexive Possessive
você
"you",
sing.
classical o, a; lhe, você você,
com você
se, si,
consigo
seu, sua,
seus, suas;
de você
colloquial si,
consigo
vocês
"you",
plur.
classical os, as; lhes; vocês vocês,
com vocês
se, si,
consigo
seu, sua,
seus, suas;
de vocês
colloquial vos vocês
convosco
vosso, vossa,
vossos, vossas

'Se', 'si, and 'consigo' are used in standard written BP exclusively as reflexive pronouns, e.g. Os manifestantes trouxeram consigo paus e pedras para se defenderem da violência policial ("Protesters brought (wood) sticks and stones with them to protect themselves against police brutality") , or Os políticos discutiam entre si o que fazer diante da decisão do Supremo Tribunal ("Politicians discussed among themselves what to do in face of the Supreme Court decision"). In colloquial language, those reflexive forms may be replaced however by subject pronouns (e.g. Discutam entre vocês em que data preferem fazer o exame vs standard Discutam entre si em que data preferem fazer o exame, Eng. "Discuss among yourselves when you prefer to take the exam"). Note also that in both standard and colloquial BP, it is considered wrong to use 'se', 'si', 'consigo' in non-reflexive contexts. Therefore, unlike in modern colloquial EP, 'para si' for example cannot ordinarily replace 'para você', nor can consigo ordinarily replace com você.

In Brazilian Portuguese

See also: Brazilian Portuguese.

For modern Brazilian Portuguese, one could propose the following chart (departures from the norm are in italics):

Subject Register Object Possessive Verb
tu
"you",
sing. fam.
classical te, ti, contigo teu, tua, teus, tuas és (2nd. pers. sing.)
colloquial é (3rd. pers. sing.)
você
"you",
sing.
classical o, a; lhe;
você, com você;
si, consigo
seu, sua, seus, suas;
de você
é (3rd. pers. sing.)
colloquial você (after a verb);
você, com você;
si, consigo;
te, ti, contigo
seu, sua, seus, suas;
de você;
teu, tua, teus, tuas
ele, ela
"he", "she"
classical o, a; lhe seu, sua, seus, suas;
dele, dela
colloquial ele, ela (after a verb)
vocês
"you",
plur.
classical os, as; lhes seu, sua, seus, suas;
de vocês
são (3rd. pers. plur.)
colloquial vocês (after a verb)
eles, elas
"they",
masc. and fem.
classical os, as; lhes seu, sua, seus, suas;
deles, delas
colloquial eles, elas (after a verb)

Tu vs. você

Although the 3rd person pronoun você tended to replace the classical 2nd-person pronoun "tu" in several Brazilian dialects and, especially, in the media communication, the use of tu is still frequent in several BP dialects.

Most of the dialects that retain tu also use accordingly te (accusative pronoun), ti (dative postprepositional pronoun), contigo, and the possessive teu. The use of "tu" is dominant in the South (Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and parts of Paraná) and Northeast (with the exception of most of Bahia and some other areas, mostly in the coast), and it is also very frequent in the Northern region and Rio de Janeiro.

However, even in some of the regions where "você" is the prevailing pronoun, the object pronoun te and ti and the possessive pronoun teu/tua are quite common, although not in most of São Paulo, Brazil's most populated state. In fact, in the city of São Paulo the pronoun tu is almost nonexistent.

In EP, "tu" is considered a pronoun to be used in informal or familiar situations, while "você" is a semi-formal and formal pronoun. That distinction, object and possessive pronouns pattern likewise, is still maintained in the South and in the surroundings of the cities of Santos (in State of São Paulo) and Recife (in Pernambuco). In Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, for instance, você is rarely used in spoken language - in most occasions, o senhor/a senhora is employed whenever tu may sound too informal.

In most of the Northeast, você is frequently used only in semi-formal and formal conversations, mostly with people whom one doesn't know well or when a more polite or serious speech is required. As for Rio de Janeiro and the North of Brazil, both tu and você (and associated object and possessive pronouns) are used with no clear distinction in their use.

However, when one talks to older people or people of higher status (a boss, for example), most Brazilians prefer to use o senhor/a senhora (literally "the sir" and "the mistress").

In standard Portuguese (both in Brazil and in Portugal), você and vocês are always accompanied by 3rd. person verb forms (e.g. você é, vocês são), whereas tu requires 2nd-person verb forms (e.g. tu és). However, in tuteante BP dialects like gaúcho, tu is almost always accompanied by 3rd-person verb forms, e.g. tu é, tu bebeu vs. standard tu és, tu bebeste. That particular usage is considered substandard (ungrammatical) by most Brazilian speakers whose dialects do not include tu (e.g. paulistanos).

The 'você' (subj.)/'te' (obj.) combination, e.g. Você sabe que eu te amo, is a well-known peculiarity of modern General Brazilian Portuguese and is similar in nature to the 'vocês (subj.)/'vos' (obj.)/ 'vosso' (poss.) combination found in modern colloquial European Portuguese. Both combinations would be condemned, though, by prescriptive school grammars based on the classical language.

When Brazilians use tu, it's mostly accompanied by the 3rd person verb conjugation: Tu vai ao banco? - "Will you go to the bank". ("Tu vai" is wrong according to the standard grammar, but it's used by millions of Brazilians anyway). The pronoun tu accompanied by the second-person verb can still be found in [Maranhão], [Piauí], [Pernambuco] (mostly in more formal talkings) and Santa Catarina, for instance, and in a few cities in Rio Grande do Sul near the border with Uruguay, with a slightly different pronunciation in some conjugations (tu vieste - "you came" - is pronounced as if it were tu viesse), which also is present in Santa Catarina and Pernambuco (especially in Recife, where it's by far the predominant way to pronounce the past tense particle -ste).

O(s) and a(s)

In Brazil, the weak clitic pronouns '-o(s)' and '-a(s)' are used almost exclusively in writing or in formal speech (e.g. TV newscasts). In colloquial speech, 'ele(s)' and 'ela(s)' replace the clitics as direct objects (e.g. Vi eles na praia ontem versus Vi-os na praia ontem, Eng. "I saw them on the beach yesterday"). The standard written variants -lo(s) and -las (used after an infinitive ending in 'r') are more frequent though in the colloquial speech of educated Brazilians, but seem to be losing ground as well. Note however that 'ele(s)' or 'ela(s)' are never used as direct objects in formal writing such as newspaper articles, academic papers, or legal documents. The use of -(l)o, -(l)a, etc. replacing 'você' as direct objects is restricted mostly to the written language (in particular, movie subtitles) although it occurs frequently in a few fixed expressions like prazer em conhecê-lo ("pleased to meet you") or Posso ajudá-lo? ("May I help you?)

Lhe(s)

The use of 'lhe' and 'lhes' as indirect object forms of 'você' and 'vocês' ("[to] you", plural and singular) is currently rare in General BP, where 'lhe' is often replaced as noted above by 'te' or, alternatively, by 'para você'. On the other hand, "lheísmo", i.e. the use of 'lhe' not only as an indirect object (e.g. Eu lhe dou meu endereço, "I will give you my address"), but also as a direct object (e.g. Eu lhe vi na praia ontem, Eng. "I saw you at the beach yesterday") is frequent though in Northeastern Brazilian dialects, especially in Bahia.

In standard written BP, it is common to use 'lhe(s)' as indirect object forms of 'ele(s)/ela(s)' ("[to] him / her / it / them"), e.g. O presidente pediu que lhe dessem notícias da crise na Bolívia. In the colloquial language, 'lhe' in that context is frequently replaced by 'para ele', etc., although educated speakers might use 'lhe' in speech as well.

Replacement of objective pronouns with subjective pronouns

In substandard BP, especially in regional dialects like caipira, object pronouns may be avoided altogether, even in the first person. For example: Ele levou nós no baile (standard BP Ele nos levou ao baile) or Ela viu eu na escola (standard BP Ela me viu na escola). These examples, although common in rural areas and in working-class speech, would sound ungrammatical to most urban middle-class BP speakers.

In Guinea-Bissau Portuguese

Abó

In Guinea-Bissau, a lusophone country, "abó" is used with the meaning of "tu" or "você" (i.e., with the meaining of "you"). As "você", the pronoun "abó" is conjugated in the third person singular.

References

  1. ^ Azevedo, Milton M. (2005). Portuguese: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 237.  

See also

External links


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