In this article, I will tell you two cautionary tales involving my Australian friend and the word “obrigado,” in other words how to say thank you in Portugese.


Story 1: “Obrigado” is for men and “Obrigada” is for women


During his vacation in Brazil, my friend and his group met some other Australian tourists. During their meeting, one of the guys said “obrigada” to a girl.


Instantly, my friend said: “Hey man, that’s wrong. You should tell her ‘obrigado,’ because you are a man.”


The guy answered: “No, no, I learned that when I talk to a woman I should say ‘obrigada,’ and when I talk to a man I should say ‘obrigado.’”


Dear reader, you have no notion of how quickly a lengthy discussion erupted over the correct usage of “obrigado.” Who do you think was right?


Do you already know what is thank you in Portuguese? A man should say “obrigado” and a woman should say “obrigada.” But do you know why?


The reason is that the word “obrigado” is usually an adjective applied to the person who says “thank you.” In Portuguese, adjectives may have different terminations according to gender and number.


The word “obrigado” comes from the Latin verb “obligare,” which translates as “obligate” in English (“obrigado” is the participle past tense for the verb “obrigar” that means “obligate,” “force,” “impose”). In the context of gratitude, it means that that person feels obligated to feel grateful for something that another person did. And, as traditionally it is an adjective, it must follow these rules:


●Men must use “obrigado” to say thank you.

●Women must use “obrigada” to say thank you.

●When saying thanks on behalf of other people, men must use “obrigados.”

●When saying thanks on behalf of a group of people who are all women, women must use “obrigadas.”

●When saying thanks on behalf of a group of people that includes men AND women, women must use “obrigados.”


Let’s see some examples:


Maria says: Obrigada, professor.

(Thank you teacher).


João says: Muito obrigado por tudo.

(Thank you very much for everything).


Ana says: Obrigada.

(Thank you).


Carlos says: Obrigado.

(Thank you).


However, I said I would tell you two stories…


Story 2: “Obrigado” when it is not an adjective


During his vacation, my friend visited many places and met a lot of people. When at the beach, there would often be a lot of people playing volleyball. Sometimes, balls would fly out of the play area and land near bystanders. When this happened to my friend, a female volleyball player called to him: “Ô! Pode jogar a bola pra mim, por favor?” (Hey! Could you throw the ball to me please?)


My friend threw the ball back to her. The girl shouted again: “Obrigadooooooo!” and went back to the game.


My friend was really confused, because it was a native Portuguese speaker woman saying “obrigado” instead of “obrigada.” What had happened?


Remember that when I was explaining the first story I said obrigado is usually an adjective?


Yes, I know Portuguese has a lot of exceptions and complexities. But, it is not so hard.


Nowadays the word “obrigado” is being used as an interjection to show gratitude in some informal conversations. In Portuguese, interjections are always invariable; maintaining the same word “obrigado” no matter if the person is a man or a woman.


When writing, to use “obrigado” as an interjection, you just need to use the word with an exclamation point: “Obrigado!” In this form, there is no doubt that this is an interjection rather than an adjective.


But when you are talking, if you are a woman, it is still better if you use the adjective form “obrigada,” especially if you are it a formal conversation.


Now you can understand how to use “obrigado” as an interjection, what if I tell you that it can also be used as a noun?


Yes, it can, but is really easy to recognize when this happens. Nouns usually come with articles, pronouns, numerals or adjectives. So it is easy to recognize when “obrigado” is being used as a noun. See these examples:


Helena says: O meu obrigado a todos os que me ajudaram.

(My thanks for everyone who helped me).


In the example above the word “obrigado” was used as a noun and in situations like this, as with interjections, it must maintain the same form, “obrigado,” no matter if the person is a man or a woman.


Now you know how to say thank you in Portuguese. Obrigado is a magic word that will open doors to you. As you are a polite and nice person, now you can use it without risking mistakes.


Hero Image (Surprise) by Iam Theo (CC BY 2.0)