We the People: Nós Vs. A Gente

December 23, 2010

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Author: Justin

I’m about to give you advice that will save you weeks of headache and confusion. It’s one of the strangest, yet inescapable quirks of spoken Brazilian Portuguese.

Few Portuguese books acknowledge it, the grammar purists cringe at its acceptedness, but the fact is 99% of Brazilians use it. You need to know that:

Brazilians use the word GENTE (people) to describe NOSOTROS (we).

While it might seem a totally foreign concept, don’t let it intimidate you. With practice it’s a piece of cake.

SPANISH USE OF “LA GENTE”

In Spanish the use of ‘la gente’ is straightforward and similar to English, with a few odd exceptions. As illustrated in the examples below, Portuguese by in large parallels Spanish.

(If you don’t have a handle yet on basic Portuguese articles (the = el/la = o/a), then we first recommend Portuguese contractions).

(span) La gente aqui es buena
(port) A gente aqui é boa
(eng) The people here are good

Note: ‘Gente’ is used in the 3rd person singular to describe a group of people in both Portuguese and Spanish.

(span) Tatiana es gente buena
(port) Tatiana é gente boa
(eng) Tatiana is a good person

Note: ‘Gente’ is used to describe a single person in both Portuguese and Spanish.

BRAZILIAN PORTUGUESE USE OF ‘A GENTE’

However, this is where Brazilian Portuguese takes a HUGE leap and revolutionizes the language in its spoken form: ‘a gente’ is used instead of ‘us.’

I’ll repeat that: ‘a gente’ is used instead of ‘us.’

Though the formal and written ‘Nós’ (us) exists in Portuguese and is used like the Spanish ‘Nosotros’ (us), 99% of Brazilians use ‘a gente’ to say ‘we’ or ‘us’ in informal settings.

Here are a few simple examples.

Spoken Portuguese Formal & Written Portuguese Spanish
A gente sempre fala Portugues (Nós) sempre falamos Portuguese (Nosotros) siempre hablamos Portuguese
A gente vai para o Brasil (Nós) vamos para o Brasil (Nosotros) vamos para Brasil.
Note: Falar = Hablar/ Speak

Again, this may seem strange at first to a Spanish speaker, but it’s quite simple and easy to apply. Speak this way if you want to sound Brazilian.

Check out how ‘a gente’ is used in the famous song “Velha Infância” by the Brazilian band, Os Tribalistas.

TIP: To avoid confusion when referring to people outside your group, use the Portuguese ‘pessoas’ (span: personas). When speaking directly to more than one person, use ‘vocês’ (span: ustedes).

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