No matter where you are from and no matter where are you going, you will need to talk about your city or about cities you are planning to visit. And if you are learning Portuguese, talking about cities and countries requires knowing how to use articles correctly.


Sometimes it might be a little bit confusing to know when “o” and “a” should be used in some country names and when they are not. For example, imagine you just met a nice group of Lusophone tourists in your city. Of course you wouldn't miss the opportunity to practice your Portuguese, right? An ideal way to break the ice would be to start a conversation about some trips you went on in their country or even some trips you are planning to take there in the future.


Let's see what you could say in some situations. Take some time to consider the right answer:


  1. You are planning to visit São Paulo, a big city in Brazil. You could say:
    1. Gostaria de visitar São Paulo [I would like to visit São Paulo] or
    2. Gostaria de visitar o São Paulo
  2. You have visited Portugal, the primary Lusophone country. You could say:
    1. Estive em Portugal [I have been to Portugal] or
    2. Estive no Portugal
  3. You have some shoes that you bought on your last trip to Angola, a Lusophone country in Africa. You could say:
    1. Estes sapatos são de Angola [These shoes are from Angola] or
    2. Estes sapatos são da Angola


Could you select the correct expression from the examples above? Before continuing, let's review some of the concepts applied in this post, i.e., common concepts used in the names of cities and countries in Portuguese:


Definite Articles precede nouns. In Portuguese, the definite articles are o (“the” in masculine form) and a (“the” in feminine form), and their respective plural forms os and as.


Prepositions connect two elements of a phrase. Here, I'm talking about two important prepositions; em (can be translated to “on”, “in” or “at”) and de (can be translated to “of” or “from”). In some cases, these prepositions can be used in combination with definite articles. In these cases they form contractions. So you need to remember:


Em + O = No   

Em + Os = Nos

Em + A = Na

Em + As = Nas

De + O = Do

De + A = Da

De + Os = Dos

De + As = Das


Now you can review these concepts, let's get back to this article's subject and understand why you can't say Gostaria de visitar o São Paulo.


Well... There are no fixed rules about when to use or not to use articles with names of cities and countries in Portuguese. The ones who decided this were the native ones from each place. But there are some tips that can help you.


Names of Cities


Usually, in Portuguese we do not use any article with the names of cities and islands. The majority of cities are known only by their names, for example Brasília, Santos, Curitiba, Coimbra, Maputo... So, if you ask Portuguese native speakers where they live, they will say:


  • Eu moro em Campinas [I live in Campinas]
  • Eu moro em Lisboa [I live in Lisboa]
  • Eu moro em Luanda [I live in Luanda]
  • Eu moro em Manaus [I live in Manaus]


What about your city? For this point, I think it is easier for you, because to talk about almost any city from non-Lusophony countries (i.e. , probably your city), you don't use articles. So you can say:


  • Eu sou de Barcelona [I'm from Barcelona]
  • Moro em Chicago [I live in Chicago]
  • Você conhece Buenos Aires? [Do you know Buenos Aires?]
  • Você vai gostar de Paris! [You will love Paris!]
  • Eu nasci em Dubai [I was born in Dubai]
  • Voltarei para Shanghai em maio [I will go back to Shanghai in May]


Did you notice I used the words “usually” and “majority”? That's because there are a few exceptions in which you need to use an article with the name of the city, mainly in the names of cities that are derived from nouns. For example, we always say: o Rio de Janeiro, o Porto, a Madeira, o Recife and some non-Lusophony cities even use the article too, like o Cairo and a Cidade do Cabo. Let's look at some examples using these cities:


  • Não conheço o Rio de Janeiro [I don't know Rio de Janeiro]
  • Eu estava no Porto [I was in Porto]
  • Ele é do Recife [He is from Recife]
  • Eu vou para o Cairo [I'm going to Cairo]
  • Venho da Fátima [I come from Fátima]



Names of Countries and Continents


You need to use an article with the names of the continents. Finally a rule without any exceptions…. you may think! Yes, you can say: a América, a Europa, a Ásia, a África, a Oceania e a Antártida. Let's see some examples of phrases:


  • Gostaria de visitar a América Central [I would like to visit Central America]
  • A Argélia é o maior país da África [Algeria is the largest country in Africa]
  • Mônaco fica na Europa [Monaco is located in Europe]


What about for country names? For the majority of country names, you have to use articles. Let's look at some examples:


  • O México é muito lindo! [Mexico is very beautiful]
  • Gosto de chocolates da Bélgica [I like chocolate from Belgium]
  • Não comprei nada no Paraguai [I didn't buy anything in Paraguay]


In the box below, there are some more examples of countries that must be used with articles:


a Alemanha, a Argentina, a Áustria, a Bolívia, o Brasil, o Canadá, o Chile, a China, a Coreia do Norte, a Croácia, a Dinamarca, os Emirados Árabes Unidos, o Equador, a Espanha, os Estados Unidos, a França, a Grécia, a Índia, o Irã, a Irlanda, a Itália, o Japão, o Líbano, a Lituânia, a Nigéria, a Noruega, a Nova Zelândia, o Peru, a Polônia, o Reino Inido, a Romênia, a Rússia, a Síria, a Suécia, a Suíça, a Tunísia, a Turquia, a Ucrânia.


As all rules have exceptions, some countries do not need any article. That's why you need to say:


  • Estive em Portugal [I've been to Portugal]
  • Nunca visitei Cuba [I've never been to Cuba]
  • Estes sapatos são de Angola [These shoes are from Angola]


This box will give some other examples of countries that are not used with articles:


Andorra, Cabo Verde, Camarões, Cingapura, El Salvador, Honduras, Israel, Luxemburgo, Macau, Marrocos, Moçambique, Mônaco, Porto Rico, Timor Leste.


Those are my tips for you about the use of definite articles with names of countries and cities in Portuguese. I hope they were useful. If you didn't find your city or your country in my examples, please, let me know in the “Comments”.


Image Sources


Hero image by Júlio Boaro (CC BY-SA 2.0)