Comparison of Portuguese and Spanish

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Although Portuguese and Spanish are closely related, to the point of having a considerable degree of mutual intelligibility, there are also important differences between them, which can pose difficulties for people acquainted with one of the languages who attempt to learn the other. Both are part of a broader group known as West Iberian Romance, which also includes several other languages or dialects with fewer speakers, all of which are mutually intelligible to some degree.

The most obvious differences are in pronunciation. The written languages are often significantly more intercomprehensible than the spoken languages. Compare, for example, the phrase

A buen entendedor pocas palabras bastan (Spanish [a ˈβwen entendeˈðor ˈpokas paˈlaβɾas ˈbastan])
Para bom entendedor, poucas palavras bastam (Brazilian Portuguese [paɾə ˈbõw ĩtẽdeˈdoʁ ˈpoːkɐs pɐˈlavɾɐz ˈbastɐ̃w], European Portuguese [p(ə)ɾə ˈβõ ẽtẽdɨˈðoɾ ˈpo(w)kəʃ pəˈlavɾəʒ ˈβaʃtə̃w])

roughly equivalent to the English proverb "A word to the wise is sufficient."

There are also some significant differences between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese as there are between British and American English or Peninsular and Latin American Spanish. This article notes these differences below only where:

  • both Brazilian and European Portuguese differ not only from each other, but from Spanish as well;
  • both Peninsular (i.e. European) and Latin American Spanish differ not only from each other, but also from Portuguese; or
  • either Brazilian or European Portuguese differs from Spanish with syntax not possible in Spanish (while the other dialect does not).


Portuguese and Spanish share a great number of words that are either spelled identically (although they may be pronounced quite differently), almost identically (though they may be pronounced more or less the same), or are similarly predictable. Consider, for example, the following paragraph, taken from the Gramática esencial del español, by Manuel Seco (Espasa Calpe, 1989), and compare it to the Portuguese rendition below, noting the extensive lexical similarity and the only slight changes in word order:

Pero, a pesar de esta variedad de posibilidades que la voz posee, sería un muy pobre instrumento de comunicación si no contara más que con ella. La capacidad de expresión del hombre no dispondría de más medios que la de los animales. La voz, sola, es para el hombre apenas una materia informe, que para convertirse en un instrumento perfecto de comunicación debe ser sometida a un cierto tratamiento. Esa manipulación que recibe la voz son las "articulaciones".

Porém, apesar desta variedade de possibilidades que a voz possui, seria um instrumento de comunicação muito pobre se não se contasse com mais do que ela. A capacidade de expressão do homem não disporia de mais meios que a dos animais. A voz, sozinha, é para o homem apenas uma matéria informe, que para se converter num instrumento perfeito de comunicação deve ser submetida a um certo tratamento. Essa manipulação que a voz recebe são as "articulações".

Some common words are however quite different in the two languages, for instance:

Meaning Spanish Portuguese Origin Notes
'store, shop' tienda loja Late Latin tendam (< tendere),
Germanic via Old French loge
The primary meaning of the Portuguese term tenda is 'tent' (in Spanish tienda also can mean 'tent'). Spanish lonja ('market') is rare.
'knee' rodilla joelho Latin rotellam, genvcvlvm Rótula ('kneecap' in both Spanish and Portuguese) is etymologically related to Spanish rodilla ('little wheel'). The Spanish idiom de hinojos 'kneeling' has the same etymology as Portuguese joelho.
'street' calle rua Latin callem,
[viam] rvgam.
'window' ventana janela Latin ventvs,
iānvella (iānva+ella)
Latin ventvs means 'wind', ventana is etymologically 'wind opening'. Portuguese janela comes from Latin iānvella, diminutive form of iānva ('door, opening'), the same root as English 'January' and 'janitor' (originally from the name ianvs, the God of gates or doors).
'to erase' borrar apagar Late Latin bvrra,
Latin adpācāre
The same word borrar exists in Portuguese but means 'to smudge' (e.g. está borrado 'it's smudged', compare Spanish borroso 'blurry'); and Spanish apagar means 'to turn off' (a meaning that also exists in Portuguese, in expressions such as apagar a luz 'turn the light off').
'to forget' olvidar esquecer Latin oblītare,
Olvidar also exists in Portuguese but is far less common, as well as obliterar and obliviar, from the same root as English 'oblivion'.



Vocabulary differences between the two languages arose from various factors:

  • Arabic influence: Spanish kept much of the Mozarabic vocabulary of Arabic origin, while the Mozarabic component was far less influential in Portuguese. Thus we find cases in which the usual Spanish word is derived from Arabic, while the corresponding word in Portuguese is Latin-derived, as in the following examples: Sp. albañil, Port. pedreiro, 'stonemason'; Sp. alcalde, Port. presidente da câmara (Portugal)/prefeito (Brasil), 'mayor'; Sp. alfarero, Port. oleiro, 'potter'; Sp. alfil/, Port. bispo, 'bishop' (in chess; otherwise the Spanish word is obispo). In some of these cases Spanish may have a less-frequent synonym derived from Latin, and Portuguese may have one from Arabic.
  • Influences from other European languages during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Portuguese received a great deal of French influence, while Spanish was more autonomous and Mediterranean-oriented.[citation needed]
  • Influences from other languages (Amerindian, African, or Asian). For example, compare the respective Spanish and Portuguese main words for:
'pineapple': piña (from the Spanish word for 'pine cone') / abacaxi (from Tupi) or ananás (ananás or ananá also in Spanish, though less common)
(from Tupi–Guarani), in Spanish by way of Portuguese.
'smoking pipe': pipa (from supposed Late Latin pīpa) / cachimbo (from Kimbundu).[1]
'tea': (from Min Nan Chinese) / chá (from Cantonese).
  • Semantic change, producing numerous cognates that look similar but mean different things (false friends): diseñar means 'to design' in Spanish, while its cognate desenhar means 'to draw' in Portuguese. Similarly, dibujo is Spanish for 'drawing', but debuxo means 'sketch' in Portuguese (although it is rather rare and bookish, having been largely displaced by rascunho; c.f. Spanish rasguño, which means 'scratch').
  • Words that have two forms in one language, but just one in the other: Portuguese criar corresponds to both Spanish crear 'to create' and criar 'to raise', while Spanish sueño corresponds to both Portuguese sonho 'dream' and sono 'sleep'.

Days of the week[edit]

Unlike the other Romance languages, modern Portuguese does not use the Roman planetary system for the days Monday through Friday. Instead, the weekdays are numerical, and derived from Ecclesiastical Latin. The word feira (from Latin feria) refers to daily (Roman Catholic) religious celebrations; it is cognate with feira 'fair' or 'market', as well as with férias 'vacation' and feriado 'holiday'. In Spanish, the days of the week are all masculine; in Portuguese, the feira days are feminine, while sábado and domingo are masculine.

Spanish Portuguese English
lunes (< Lat. diēs lūnae 'Moon's day')

segunda-feira ('second feria')

martes (< Lat. diēs martis 'Mars' day')

terça-feira ('third feria')


miércoles (< Lat. diēs mercvrii 'Mercury's day')

quarta-feira ('fourth feria')


jueves (< Lat. diēs iovis 'Jupiter's day')

quinta-feira ('fifth feria')


viernes (< Lat. diēs veneris, 'Venus' day')

sexta-feira ('sixth feria')


sábado (< Lat. sabbatvm 'Sabbath') Saturday
domingo (< Lat. diēs dominica 'Lord's day') Sunday

The form terça-feira (< Lat. tertia feria) differs in its first component from the usual Portuguese word for 'third', terceira.

In actual usage, the word feira is often dropped:

Vou visitar-te na segunda. (European Portuguese)
Vou te visitar na segunda. (Brazilian and European Portuguese)
'I'll visit you on Monday.'


Apart from a considerable number of false friends, there are also some cognate words whose meaning is broader in one language than in the other. Some examples:

Todo and tudo[edit]

The Spanish indefinite pronoun todo can mean 'all/every', or 'everything'. Portuguese distinguishes between todo 'all/every' (masculine) and tudo 'everything' (neuter, used for an indefinite object or abstraction).

Todos los insectos tienen seis patas. (Spanish)
Todos os insetos têm seis patas. (Portuguese)
'All insects have six legs.'
El ladrón robó todo. (Spanish)
O ladrão roubou tudo. (Portuguese)
'The thief stole everything' or 'The thief stole it all.'

Relative and interrogative pronouns[edit]

Spanish uses an acute accent on interrogative pronouns, while the corresponding relative pronouns (etymologically the same words) are spelled without the accent in order to mark the difference in prosodic stress.[2] (As explained below, the acute accent often changes the vowel sound in Portuguese, but not Spanish.) For example, ¿quién? (who?) and quien (who) in Spanish, but quem for both in Portuguese. Apart from that, while "quem" is invariable, Spanish has both the singular "quién" and the plural "quiénes."

¿Quiénes son esas personas? (Spanish)
Quem são essas pessoas? (Portuguese)
'Who are those people?'

Muy, mucho, and muito[edit]

Spanish distinguishes the adjective mucho 'much/many' from the adverb muy 'very/quite'. Portuguese uses muito for both.

Tomé muchas fotos durante el viaje. (Spanish)
Tirei muitas fotos durante a viagem. (Portuguese)
'I took many photos during the trip.'
Las cerezas están muy maduras. (Spanish)
As cerejas estão muito maduras. (Portuguese)
'The cherries are quite ripe.'

As an adjective, muito is inflected according to the gender and number of the noun it qualifies, like mucho. As an adverb, it is invariable like muy. Thus, it would be incorrect to say *muitas maduras in the second example.

Cardinal numbers[edit]

The cardinal numbers are very similar in Spanish and Portuguese, but there are differences of usage in numbers one and two. Spanish has different words for the masculine singular indefinite article ('a, an') and the numeral 'one', thus un capítulo 'a chapter', but capítulo uno 'chapter one'. In Portuguese, both words are the same: um capítulo and capítulo um. Spanish uno can also be used as a pronoun, like the English generic "one", to represent an indeterminate subject, but this is not possible with Portuguese um; the reflexive pronoun se is used instead. Se may be used in Spanish to form passive and impersonal constructions, as well.[3]

Uno (or Se) debe pensar antes de actuar. (Spanish)
Deve-se pensar antes de agir. (Portuguese)
'One should think before acting.'

This still applies in cases where a relatively indeterminate subject is genderized, such as the Spanish todos a una [voz] ('all at once', literally 'all at one [voice]'). It should be rewritten in Portuguese without any cardinal number. For example, todos juntos 'all together'.

On the other hand, in Portuguese, cardinal number 'two' inflects with gender (dois if masculine, duas if feminine), while in Spanish dos is used for both.

Uno más uno es igual a dos. (Spanish)
Um mais um é igual a dois. (Portuguese)
'One plus one equals two.'
Dos cabezas piensan mejor que una. (Spanish)
Duas cabeças pensam melhor que uma. (Portuguese)
'Two heads think better than one.'
Tengo dos hermanos y dos hermanas. (Spanish)
Tenho dois irmãos e duas irmãs. (Portuguese)
'I have two brothers and two sisters.'


The conjunction "and" in Spanish is y (pronounced [i] before a consonant, [j] before a vowel) before all words except those beginning with an [i] sound (spelled i- or hi-). Before a syllabic [i] sound (and not the diphthong [je] as in hierro), the Spanish conjunction is e [e̞]. Portuguese uses e [i] before all words.

Sal y pimienta. (Spanish)
Sal e pimenta. (Portuguese)
'Salt and pepper.'
Judío e hindú. (Spanish)
Judeu e hindu. (Portuguese)
'Jewish and Hindu.'
Leones y hienas. (Spanish)
Liões e hienas. (Portuguese)
'Lions and hyenas.'

Similarly, for the conjunction "or" Spanish uses o [o̞] before all words except those beginning with o- or ho-, in which case it uses u [w]. Portuguese always uses ou [ow]~[o].

Vino o agua. (Spanish)
Vinho ou água. (Portuguese)
'Wine or water.'
Uno u otro. (Spanish)
Um ou outro. (Portuguese)
'One or the other.'

Se, si, , and sim[edit]

In Portuguese, the word se can be a reflexive pronoun or a conjunction meaning 'if'. This may give the false impression that a Portuguese verb is pronominal when it is not. For example, Se ficou em Paris... means 'If (he/she) remained in Paris...' When the conjunction se precedes a pronominal verb, it is common to have a double se in the sentence, e.g. Se se esqueceu da sua senha... 'If you forgot your password...'

Meaning and description Spanish Portuguese
'yes' sim  [sĩ ]
'himself' / 'herself' / 'itself' / 'themselves'
(stressed reflexive pronoun, object of preposition)
'if' (conjunction) si se
'himself' / 'herself' / 'itself' / 'themselves'
(unstressed reflexive pronoun)


  • Spanish largo (arch. also luengo) means 'long', while ancho means 'wide'. In Portuguese largo (also ancho) is 'wide' and longo is 'long'.
  • Spanish extrañar can mean 'to find strange' or 'to miss'. Portuguese estranhar means 'to find strange', or to lock horns.
  • Spanish raro can mean 'rare' or 'strange'. In Portuguese, it just means 'rare'.
  • Spanish todavía can mean 'yet/still' or 'however/nevertheless'. Portuguese todavia means 'however/nevertheless'. In Portuguese, 'yet/still' is ainda.
  • Spanish (estar) embarazada means '(to be) pregnant'. Portuguese (estar) embaraçada means '(to be) embarrassed' or '(to be) entangled'.[4] However, Spanish does have the term embarazoso/a meaning 'embarrassing'. 'Pregnant' in Portuguese is grávida/prenha´´.
  • Spanish exquisito means 'exquisite/sophisticated'. Portuguese esquisito means 'strange/weird'.
  • Experto means 'expert' in both Spanish and Portuguese, but in Portuguese it should not be confused with its homophone esperto (it's a homophone only in Brazil), which means 'smart/intelligent'. 'Expert' in Portuguese may also be perito, especialista, or exímio, which are the same in Spanish (Sp. eximio is spelled without the accent mark).
  • Spanish escoba is 'broom'. Portuguese escova is 'brush' or 'broom' (but Portuguese usually chooses 'vassoura' for 'broom'). However, in some varieties of Spanish, escobilla means 'toilet brush'.
  • Spanish apellido 'surname' is apelido in European Portuguese, and sobrenome in both Brazilian and European Portuguese (but Portuguese usually say apelido). Spanish sobrenombre/apodo 'nickname' is apelido/alcunha/codinome in Brazilian Portuguese, and alcunha in European Portuguese.
  • Spanish rojo is 'red'. Portuguese roxo is 'purple'. 'Red' in Portuguese is vermelho. In European Portuguese the word encarnado (literally in the flesh) is also used as synonym of 'red' even though vermelho is more frequent.
  • Spanish apenas means 'hardly'. Portuguese apenas is 'only'. Thus the Spanish phrase él apenas pudo dormir means 'he could not even/hardly sleep', or 'he was just barely able to sleep', whereas the Portuguese phrase ele pôde apenas dormir means 'he could only sleep'.
  • Spanish vaso means 'drinking glass (tumbler)', while Portuguese vaso means toilet (from vaso sanitário, váter in Spanish) or flower pot. A 'drinking glass' in Portuguese is copo, while Spanish copa is a wine glass. A wine glass in Portuguese is copo or taça, while Spanish taza is a 'coffee cup or teacup'; Spanish taza also refers to the bathroom bowl. 'Coffee cup' in Portuguese is xícara de café/chávena.
  • Spanish cachorro means puppy, while in Brazilian Portuguese, it can refer to a dog of any age.


Broadly speaking, the grammars of Portuguese and Spanish are not greatly different. Nevertheless, there are some differences between them which can be hurdles for people acquainted with one of the languages who attempt to learn the other.


Spanish has three forms for the singular definite article, el, masculine, la, feminine, and lo, neuter. The last is used with adjectives to form abstract nouns employed in a generic sense, and also to intensify the meaning of adjectives. In Portuguese, there is only o, masculine, and a, feminine. Literary Spanish has also three corresponding third person pronouns, él 'he', ella 'she', and ello 'it' (referring to a broad concept, not a named object), while Portuguese has only ele, masculine, and ela, feminine. The Spanish neuters lo and ello have no plural forms.

Some words are masculine in Spanish, but feminine in Portuguese, or vice versa. A common example are nouns ended in -aje in Spanish, which are masculine, and their Portuguese cognates ending in -agem, which are feminine. For example, Spanish el viaje 'the journey' (masculine, like French le voyage and Italian il viaggio) corresponds to the Portuguese feminine a viagem. Similarly, el puente 'bridge', el dolor 'pain', or el árbol 'tree' are masculine nouns in Modern Spanish, whereas a ponte, a dor, and a árvore are feminine in Portuguese. On the other hand, the Spanish feminine la leche 'the milk' corresponds to Portuguese o leite (masculine, like French le lait, Italian il latte). Likewise, nariz 'nose' is feminine in Spanish and masculine in Portuguese.

Some Spanish words can be both masculine and feminine, with different meanings. Both meanings usually exist also in Portuguese, but with one and the same gender, so that they can't be differentiated unless further information is provided. For instance, the word orden 'order' can mean both 'harmonious arrangement' and 'directive', like its counterparts in English and Portuguese. But the Spanish word is masculine when used with the first meaning, and feminine with the second:

Me sorprendió el orden. ('I was surprised by the order [i.e., by how orderly it all was].')
Me sorprendió la orden. ('I was surprised by the order [i.e., by the directive that was given].')

In Portuguese, the equivalent word ordem is always feminine:

Surpreendeu-me a ordem. ('I was surprised by the order.')

Without additional context, it is impossible to tell which meaning was intended in Portuguese and English (although other words could be substituted; in English, one would likely use "orderliness" in the first case above rather than "order", which would by itself suggest the second case).

Use of the definite article[edit]

In many varieties of Portuguese, personal names are normally preceded by a definite article, a trait also found in Catalan but only in certain dialects in Spanish. In Portuguese, this is a relatively recent development, which some Brazilian dialects have not adopted yet, most notably in some states of the Brazilian Northeast. In those dialects of Portuguese that do regularly use definite articles before proper nouns, the article may be omitted for extra formality, or to show distance in a literary narrative. Compare, for example, English "Mary left", Spanish María salió, and Portuguese A Maria saiu. Note, however, that in many Spanish dialects the definite article is used before personal names; thus, la María salió is commonly heard.

Portuguese uses the definite article before the names of some cities and almost all countries except relatively new ones such as Cingapura/Singapura ('Singapore'), and those which are related to Portugal (or with which Portugal has had historical relationships, even though this is a rough rule) and the Portuguese-speaking countries, e.g. a Holanda but Portugal; o México but Angola, a Suécia, but Moçambique. The major exception to the country rule is o Brasil. Also Inglaterra, França, Espanha, Itália in European Portuguese, but with the article a in Brazilian Portuguese. In Spanish, use of the definite article is optional with some countries: (la) China, (el) Japón, (la) India, (la) Argentina, (el) Ecuador, (el) Perú, (el) Uruguay, (el) Paraguay, (el) Brasil, (los) Estados Unidos, etc. The same is true with two continents: (la) Antártida and (el) África; with archipelagos and islands: (las) Filipinas, (las) Canarias, (las) Azores, with some provinces, regions or territories: (el) Tíbet, (la) Toscana, (el) Piamonte, (el) Lacio and with some cities: (el) Cairo, (la) Valeta. Spanish uses the definite article with all geographical names when they appear with an adjective or modifying phrase, as in the following examples: la España medieval 'medieval Spain', el Puerto Rico prehispánico 'pre-Hispanic Puerto Rico', el Portugal de Salazar 'Portugal during Salazar's dictatorship', etc.

Santiago es la capital de Chile. (Spanish)
Santiago é a capital do Chile. (Portuguese)
'Santiago is the capital of Chile.'
Él es de Costa Rica, que está en América Central. (Spanish)
Ele é da Costa Rica, que fica na América Central. (Portuguese)
'He is from Costa Rica, which is in Central America.'
Tengo un boleto para (los) Estados Unidos de América. (Spanish)
Tenho um bilhete para os Estados Unidos da América. (Portuguese)
'I have a ticket to the United States of America.'
Nueva Delhi no es la ciudad más poblada de (la) India. (Spanish)
Nova Déli não é a cidade mais populosa da Índia. (Portuguese)
'New Delhi is not the most populous city in India.'
La Europa medieval pertenecía a monarcas absolutos. (Spanish)
A Europa medieval pertencia a monarcas absolutos. (Portuguese)
'Medieval Europe belonged to absolute monarchs.'

Portuguese omits the definite article in stating the time of day unless para as is used.

Son las nueve y quince. (Spanish)
São nove e quinze. (Portuguese)
'It's nine fifteen.'

In addition, in most dialects of Portuguese the definite article is used before possessive adjectives (like in Italian), which is not possible in Spanish. For instance, the sentence 'This is my brother' is Este es mi hermano in Spanish, but may be Este é o meu irmão in Portuguese. Nevertheless, in many Brazilian dialects (mostly in the Northeast) and in casual BP the article is not used in sentences such as: Este é meu irmão (although it usually appears in sentences such as O meu irmão está lá).


In Portuguese, possessive adjectives have the same form as possessive pronouns, and they all agree with the gender of the possessed item. In Spanish, the same is true of nuestro/nuestra ("our") and vuestro/vuestra ("your" [plural]), but for all other possessives, the pronoun has a longer form that agrees with the gender of the possessed item, while the adjective has a shorter form that does not change for gender. The possessive adjectives are normally preceded by a definite article in Continental Portuguese, less so in Brazilian Portuguese, and never in Spanish. The possessive pronouns are preceded by a definite article in all dialects of both languages. See examples in the table below.

Gender of
possessed item
Spanish Portuguese
Adjective Pronoun Adjective Pronoun
Feminine su casa
"your house"
la suya
(a) sua casa
"your house"
a sua
Masculine su libro
"your book"
el suyo
(o) seu livro
"your book"
o seu


Object pronouns[edit]

In Portuguese, third-person clitic pronouns have special variants used after certain types of verb endings, which does not happen in Spanish. The default object pronouns o/a/os/as change to lo/la/los/las when they follow a verb that ends in ⟨r⟩, ⟨s⟩ or ⟨z⟩, and to no/na/nos/nas when they follow a verb that ends in a nasal sound.

Spanish Portuguese Meaning
manténgalo mantenha-o 'keep it'
mantenerlo mantê-lo 'to keep it'
lo mantienen mantêm-no 'they keep it'

In Brazilian Portuguese, these forms are uncommon, since the pronoun normally precedes the verb (i.e. você o mantenha in the above example), and third-person subject pronouns are used informally as object pronouns (mantenha ele), though the latter is technically incorrect. However, as it has been considered ungrammatical to begin a sentence with an object pronoun, the above examples are, on rare occasion, used in Brazil as well.

Clitic personal pronouns[edit]

European Portuguese differs from Brazilian Portuguese with regard to the placement of clitic personal pronouns, and Spanish is in turn different from both of them.

  • In Spanish, clitic pronouns normally come before the verb, except with the imperative, the infinitive, and the gerund. In verbal periphrases, they precede the auxiliary verb.
  • In spoken Brazilian Portuguese, clitic pronouns normally come before the main verb. In verbal periphrases, they come between the auxiliary verb and the main verb. This occurs even with the imperative, the infinitive, the gerund, and the past participle.
  • In European Portuguese, clitic pronouns may come before or after the verb, depending on the type of clause. In verbal periphrases, they may precede or follow the auxiliary verb, or follow the main verb (when this is in the infinitive or the gerund).
Spanish Portuguese Meaning
Ella le dio un libro. Ela deu-lhe um livro.
Ela lhe deu um livro.
'She gave him a book.'
Dígame dónde ha estado. Diz-me onde estiveste.[5]
Diga-me por onde você esteve.
'Tell me where you've been.'
Tómame una foto.
Sácame una foto.
Tira-me uma foto.
Me tira uma foto.
'Take a picture for me.'
Quería verte.
Te quería ver.
Queria ver-te.
Queria te ver.
'I wanted to see you.'
No te he conseguido ver.
No he conseguido verte.
No conseguí verte.
Não consegui ver-te.
Não consegui te ver.
'I didn't manage to see you.'


In Portuguese, verbs in the future indicative or conditional tense may be split into morphemes, and the clitic pronoun can be inserted between them, a feature known as mesoclisis. This also occurred in Old Spanish, but no comparable phenomenon takes place in modern Spanish:

Lo traerá. (Spanish)
Trá-lo-á. (European Portuguese and very formal written Brazilian Portuguese)
'He/She will bring it.'

However, these tenses are often replaced with others in the spoken language. Future indicative is sometimes replaced by present indicative; conditional is very often replaced by imperfect indicative. In colloquial language, most Portuguese would state trá-lo-á as vai trazê-lo ('going to bring it') or irá trazê-lo ('will bring it').

Combining pronouns in Spanish[edit]

The Spanish construction, se lo dio, means either '[He/She] gave it to [him/her]' or '[He/She] gave it to himself/herself'. The expected pattern for the former would be *le lo dio, but such a construction does not exist. This is unique to Spanish.

  • Latin: dedit illis illvddedit illis illvm (early Vulgar Latin) → dit illis illu (Late Vulgar Latin)
  • Spanish: dio (i)lli (el)lodio ge lodiógelo (arch.) → dióselose lo dio
  • Portuguese: deu (i)lli (l)odeu lhe (l)odeu-lho

Thus, modern Spanish makes no distinction between the reflexive pronoun se and the dative personal pronoun se. Note that this did not happen in old Spanish: diógelo, 'he gave it to him', dióselo, 'he gave it to himself'. The medieval g sound (similar to that of French) was replaced with s in the 14th-15th centuries (cf. Spanish coger, 'to catch', but cosecha, 'harvest', Port. colher and colheita, both from Lat. colligere).

Use of stressed pronouns for inanimate subjects[edit]

In Spanish, stressed pronouns are never used for inanimate subjects (i.e. things, as opposed to people or animals), not even for clarity or disambiguation purposes.[6] Portuguese knows no such restriction, so that stressed pronouns referring to inanimate subjects can either be used or dropped:

¿Dónde están las llaves? Están en la mesa. (Spanish – pronoun is always dropped)
Onde estão as chaves? (Elas) estão na mesa. (Portuguese – pronoun is optional)
'Where are the keys? They are on the table.' (English – pronoun is required)

Second-person pronouns[edit]

The use of second-person pronouns differs dramatically between Spanish and Portuguese, and even more so between European and Brazilian Portuguese. Spanish and usted correspond etymologically to Portuguese tu and você, but Portuguese has gained a third, even more formal form o(s) senhor(es), a(s) senhora(s), demoting você to an "equalizing" rather than respectful register. The old familiar forms have been largely lost in the Portuguese-speaking world, as the Portuguese equalizing forms você or vocês have displaced tu to a large extent and vós almost entirely; and even where tu is still used, the second-person verb forms that historically corresponded to it are often replaced by the same (third-person) forms that are used with "você".

In the plural, Portuguese familiar vós is archaic nearly everywhere (as with the old English second singular "thou"), and both the pronoun and its corresponding second-person plural verb forms are generally limited to the Bible, traditional prayers, and spoken varieties of certain regions of rural Portugal; normally, the familiar (and equalizing) form is now vocês. In the case of Peninsular Spanish, , usted, vosotros, and ustedes have more or less kept their original functions; if anything, is displacing usted out of common use and usted is coming to be used only for formal situations (like o senhor in Portuguese). Latin American Spanish is more complicated: vosotros has fallen out of use in favor of ustedes, but certain regions of Spanish America also use vos as a singular informal pronoun, displacing out of its original role to a greater or lesser extent (see voseo).

Spoken Brazilian Portuguese has dramatically simplified the pronoun system, with você(s) tending to displace all other forms. Although a few parts of Brazil still use tu and the corresponding second-person singular verb forms, most areas either use tu with third-person verb forms or (increasingly) drop tu entirely in favor of você. This has in turn caused the original third-person possessive seu, sua to shift to primarily second-person use, alongside the appearance of a new third-person possessive dele, dela (plural deles, delas, "their") that follows the noun (thus paraphrases such as o carro dele "his car", o carro dela "her car"). The formal o senhor is also increasingly restricted to highly formal situations, such as that of a storekeeper addressing a customer, or a child or teenager addressing an adult stranger.

More conservative in this regard is the fluminense dialect of Brazilian Portuguese (spoken in Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and in the Zona da Mata of the state of Minas Gerais) – especially its carioca sociolect. This dialect generally preserves intimate or familiar tu, the standard equalizing form você, and the respectful or formal o senhor/a senhora, together with their related possessives, to such an extent that almost all speakers use these forms, according to context. Nevertheless, a minority of educated speakers correctly conjugates all of the tu pronouns formally; otherwise, it is mostly conjugated as você.

Standard Portuguese usage has vocês and os senhores/as senhoras as plurals of você and o senhor/a senhora, but the vernacular has also produced new forms with the second-person familiar plural function, such as gente (compare a gente as a possible colloquial variation of nós, "we"/"us", that should, but commonly is not, be conjucated as third-person singular), pessoas, pessoal, [meu] povo, cês (eye dialect for vocês in colloquial pronunciation), and galera (the latter mainly associated with youth slang).

It is often said that the gaúcho, nordestino and amazofonia dialects, as well as some sociolects elsewhere, such as that in and around the city of Santos, have preserved tu; but unlike in fluminense, the use of você is very limited, and entirely absent among some speakers, and tu takes its place. In these areas, the verb with tu is conjugated in the third-person form (as with você) – except among educated speakers in some urban centers such as Porto Alegre and, especially, Belém. See Brazilian Portuguese.


"To be"[edit]

Spanish and Portuguese have two main copulas, ser and estar. For the most part, the use of these verbs is the same in both languages, but there are a few cases where it differs. The main difference between Spanish and Portuguese is in the interpretation of the concept of state versus essence and in the generalisations one way or another that are made in certain constructions. For instance,

Está prohibido fumar. (Spanish) [estar]
É proibido fumar. (Portuguese) [ser]
'Smoking is forbidden.'
La silla está hecha de madera. (Spanish) [estar]
A cadeira é feita de madeira. (Portuguese) [ser]
'The chair is made of wood.'
Sólo uno es correcto. (Spanish) [ser]
Só um está correto. (Portuguese) [estar]
'Only one is correct.'

Also, the use of ser regarding a permanent location is much more accepted in Portuguese. Conversely, estar is often permanent in Spanish regarding a location, while in Portuguese, it implies being temporary and/or something within the immediate vicinity (same house, building, etc.)

Nuestra oficina queda (or está) muy lejos. (Spanish) [quedar/estar]
O nosso escritório é (or fica) muito longe. (Portuguese) [ser/ficar]
'Our office is very far away.'
¿Dónde está (or queda) el aeropuerto? (Spanish) [estar/quedar]
Onde fica (or é) o aeroporto? (Portuguese) [ficar/ser]
'Where is the airport?'

Because the airport is obviously not anywhere nearby, ficar is used in Portuguese (most common), though ser can also be used.

Secondary copulas are quedar(se) in Spanish and ficar in Portuguese. Each can also mean 'to stay' or 'to remain.'

Me quedé dentro de la casa todo el día. (Spanish)
Fiquei dentro de casa todo o dia. (Portuguese)
'I stayed inside the house all day.'

The Spanish sentence using the reflexive form of the verb (quedarse) implies that staying inside the house was voluntary, while Portuguese and English are quite ambiguous on this matter without any additional context. (See also the next section.)

Both Spanish quedar(se) and Portuguese ficar can mean 'become':

Mi abuela se está quedando sorda. (Spanish)
A minha avó está ficando surda. (Brazilian Portuguese and some dialects of European Portuguese)
A minha avó está a ficar surda. (European Portuguese)
'My grandmother is becoming deaf.'

Reflexive verbs[edit]

Reflexive verbs are somewhat more frequent in Spanish than in Portuguese, especially with actions relating to parts of the body:

Guillermo se quebró la pierna jugando a la pelota. (Spanish)
O Guilherme quebrou a perna jogando bola. (Brazilian Portuguese)
O Guilherme partiu a perna a jogar à bola. (European Portuguese)
'William broke his leg playing football.'

"To like"[edit]

The Portuguese and Spanish verbs for expressing "liking" are similar in form (gostar and gustar respectively) but different in their arrangement of arguments. Arguments in linguistics are expressions that enable a verb to complete its meaning. Expressions of liking typically require two arguments: (1) a person who likes something (sometimes called the "experiencer"), and (2) something that the person likes (sometimes called the "theme"). Portuguese and Spanish (as well as English) assign different grammatical cases to these arguments, as shown in the following table:

Argument structure with verbs of liking
Person who likes Thing that is liked Form
Portuguese Subject Object of preposition de (Eu) gosto de ouvir música.
Spanish Indirect object Subject Me gusta escuchar música.
English Subject Direct object I like to listen to music.

The Portuguese sentence can be translated literally as "[I] [take satisfaction] [from] [listening to music]", while the Spanish corresponds to "[To me] [(it) is pleasing] [to listen to music]."

Auxiliary verb of the perfect[edit]

In Spanish, the compound perfect is constructed with the auxiliary verb haber (< Latin habere). Although Portuguese used to use its cognate verb (haver) in this way, now it's more common to form these tenses with ter ('to have') (< Latin tenere). Haver is more used in Brazilian Portuguese, while ter is used as an auxiliary by other Iberian languages; it is much more pervasive in Portuguese. Note that most Portuguese verb tables only contain ter with regard to the perfect.

Yo ya había comido cuando mi madre volvió. (Spanish) [imperfect form of haber]
Eu já comera quando a minha mãe voltou. (Portuguese) [pluperfect inherited from Latin]
Eu já tinha comido quando a minha mãe voltou. (Portuguese) [imperfect form of ter]
Eu já havia comido quando a minha mãe voltou. (Portuguese) [imperfect form of haver]
'I already had eaten when my mother returned.'

Imperfect subjunctive versus pluperfect indicative[edit]

A class of false friends between the two languages is composed of the verb forms with endings containing -ra-, such as cantara, cantaras, cantáramos, and so on. Spanish has two forms for the imperfect subjunctive, one with endings in -se- and another with endings in -ra- (e.g. cantase/cantara 'were I to sing'), which are usually interchangeable. In Portuguese, only cantasse has this value; cantara is employed as a pluperfect indicative, i.e. the equivalent to Spanish había cantado ('I had sung'). Although there is a strong tendency to use a verb phrase instead in the spoken language, like in Spanish and English (tinha cantado), the simple tense is still frequent in literature.

Present perfect[edit]

In Spanish, as in English, the present perfect is normally used to talk about an action initiated and completed in the past, which is still considered relevant or influential in the present moment. In Portuguese, the same meaning is conveyed by the simple preterite, as in the examples below:

No, gracias. Ya he cenado. (Spanish) [present perfect]
Não, obrigado. Já jantei. (Portuguese) [preterite]
'No, thank you. I have already dined.' [present perfect]
He ido a España dos veces. (Spanish) [present perfect]
Fui a Espanha duas vezes. (Portuguese) [preterite]
'I have been to Spain twice.' [present perfect]
¿Ha oído usted las últimas noticias, señor? (Spanish) [present perfect]
O senhor ouviu as últimas notícias? (Portuguese) [preterite]
'Have you heard the latest news, sir?' [present perfect]

In Portuguese, the present perfect (pretérito perfeito composto) is normally used for speaking of events which began in the past, were repeated regularly up to the present, and could keep happening in the future. See the contrast with Spanish in the following example:

He pensado en pedirle matrimonio. (Spanish) [present perfect]
'I have thought of asking her/him [indirect object] to marry me [the thought has occurred to me at least once].' [present perfect]
Tenho pensado em pedi-la em casamento. (Portuguese) [present perfect]
'I have been thinking of asking her [direct object] to marry me.' [present perfect continuous]

As this example suggests, the Portuguese present perfect is often closer in meaning to the English present perfect continuous. See also Spanish verbs: Contrasting the preterite and the perfect.

Personal infinitive[edit]

Portuguese, uniquely among the major Romance languages, has acquired a "personal infinitive", which can be used as an alternative to a subordinate clause with a finite verb in the subjunctive.

A recepcionista pediu para esperarmos. (Portuguese) [personal infinitive]
A recepcionista pediu que esperássemos. (Portuguese) [imperfect subjunctive]
La recepcionista nos pidió que esperáramos/esperásemos. (Spanish) [imperfect subjunctive]
'The receptionist asked for us to wait.' (literal personal infinitive translation)
'The receptionist asked that we wait.' (literal Portuguese imperfect subjunctive translation)

The Portuguese perfect form of the personal infinitive corresponds to one of several possible Spanish finite verbs.

Alguém nos acusou de termos roubado uma caneta. (Portuguese)
Alguien nos acusó de haber robado un bolígrafo. (Spanish)
'Somebody accused us of having stolen a pen.'

On some occasions, the personal infinitive can hardly be replaced by a finite clause and corresponds to a different structure in Spanish (and English):

O hábito de fumares à janela é desagradável. (Portuguese, using personal infinitive. Literally, 'The habit of [you] smoking at the window is unpleasant.')
(O) teu hábito de fumar à janela é desagradável. (Portuguese, using impersonal infinitive. Literally, '(The) Your habit of smoking at the window is unpleasant.')
Tu hábito de fumar junto a una ventana es desagradable. (Spanish: 'Your habit of smoking close to a window is unpleasant.')

The personal infinitive is not used in counterfactual situations, as these require either the future subjunctive or the imperfect subjunctive. 'If we were/had been rich...' is Se fôssemos ricos..., not *Se sermos ricos... Also, it is conjugated the same as the future subjunctive (see next section), provided the latter is not irregular (ser, estar, ter, etc.) The personal infinitive is never irregular, though the circumflex accent may be dropped in writing on expanded forms (such as pôr).[7]

In the first and third person singular, the personal infinitive appears no different from the unconjugated infinitive.

É bom eu/ele esperar um bocadinho. (Portuguese)
'It is good that I/he wait(s) a bit.'

The above rules also apply whenever the subjects of the two clauses are the same, but independent of each other.

Para chegarmos cedo, temos/teremos de nos apressar. (Portuguese) [personal infinitive]
Para que lleguemos temprano, necesitamos apresurarnos. (Spanish) [present subjunctive]
'For us to arrive early, we will need to hurry.'
Para chegarmos cedo, tínhamos/teríamos de nos apressar. (Portuguese) [personal infinitive]
Para que llegáramos/llegásemos temprano, necesitaríamos apresurarnos. (Spanish) [imperfect subjunctive]
'For us to arrive early, we would need to hurry.'

As shown, the personal infinitive can be used at times to replace both the impersonal infinitive and the subjunctive. Spanish has no such alternative.

Future subjunctive[edit]

The future subjunctive, now virtually obsolete in Spanish, continues in use in both written and spoken Portuguese. It is used in subordinate clauses referring to a hypothetical future event or state – either adverbial clauses (usually introduced by se 'if ' or quando 'when') or adjective clauses that modify nouns referring to a hypothetical future entity. Spanish, in the analogous if-clauses, uses the present indicative, and in the cuando- and adjective clauses uses the present subjunctive.

Se eu for eleito presidente, mudarei a lei. (Portuguese)
Si yo soy elegido presidente, cambiaré la ley. (Spanish)
'If I am elected president, I will change the law.'
Quando fores mais velho, compreenderás. (Portuguese)
Cuando seas mayor, comprenderás. (Spanish)
'When you are older, you'll understand.'
Dar-se-á/Se dará o prêmio à primeira pessoa que disser a resposta correta. (Portuguese)
Se dará el premio a la primera persona que diga la respuesta correcta. (Spanish)
'The prize will be given to the first person who says the right answer.'

Irregular verbs[edit]

A number of irregular verbs in Portuguese change the main vowel to indicate differences between first and third person singular: fiz 'I did' vs fez 'he did', pude 'I could' vs pôde 'he could', fui 'I was' vs foi 'he was', tive 'I had' vs teve 'he had', etc. These vowel differences stem from vowel raising (metaphony) triggered historically by the final -ī of the first-person singular in Latin. Spanish maintains such a difference only in fui 'I was' vs fue 'he was'. In all other cases, one of the two vowels has been regularized throughout the conjugation and a new third-person ending -o adopted: hice 'I did' vs hizo 'he did', pude 'I could' vs pudo 'he could', etc.

Contrarily, Spanish maintains many more irregular forms in the future and conditional: saldré 'I will leave', pondré 'I will put', vendré 'I will come', diré 'I will say', etc. Portuguese has only three: farei 'I will do', direi 'I will say', trarei 'I will carry'.

Portuguese drops -e in "irregular" third-person singular present indicative forms after ⟨z⟩ and ⟨r⟩, according to phonological rules: faz 'he does', diz 'he says', quer 'he wants', etc. Spanish has restored -e by analogy with other verbs: hace 'he does', dice 'he says', quiere 'he wants', etc. (The same type of analogy accounts for fiz vs hice 'I did' in the past tense. In nouns such as paz 'peace', luz 'light', amor 'love', etc. -e was dropped in both languages and never restored).



In Spanish the prepositions a ('to') and de ('of, from') form contractions with a following masculine singular definite article (el 'the'): a + el > al, and de + el > del. This kind of contraction is much more extensive in Portuguese, involving the prepositions a ('to'), de ('of, from'), em ('in'), and por ('for') with articles and demonstratives regardless of number or gender.[8] All four of these prepositions join with the definite article, as shown in the following table:

Preposition +
definite article
a de em por
ao do no 1 pelo
à 2 da na pela
aos dos 1 nos pelos
às das nas pelas

1These Portuguese contractions include some potential "false friends" for the reader of Spanish, such as no (Port. 'in the', Sp. 'no, not') and dos (Port. 'of the', Sp. 'two').
2In European Portuguese, a is pronounced [ɐ], while à is pronounced [a]. Both are generally [a] in most of Brazil, although in some accents such as carioca and florianopolitano there may be distinction.

Additionally, the prepositions de and em combine with the demonstrative adjectives and pronouns as shown below:

Preposition +
de em
este (masc.sing.)
esta (fem.sing.)
estes (
estas (
esse (masc.sing.)
essa (fem.sing.)
esses (
essas (
aquele (masc.sing.)
aquela (fem.sing.)
aqueles (
aquelas (

The neuter demonstrative pronouns (isto 'this' isso, aquilo 'that') likewise combine with de and em – thus, disto, nisto, etc. And the preposition a combines with the "distal" demonstratives (those that begin with a-) to form àquele, àquilo, etc.

The Portuguese contractions mentioned thus far are obligatory. Contractions also can be optionally formed from em and de with the indefinite article (um, uma, uns, umas), resulting in num, numa, dum, duma, etc. and from the third person pronouns (ele, ela, eles, elas), resulting in nele, nela, dele, dela, etc. Other optional contractions include de with aqui > daqui ('from here') and even with the noun água (um copo d'água 'a glass of water').

The Spanish con ('with', com in Portuguese) combines with the prepositional pronouns , ti, and to form conmigo, contigo, consigo ('with me', 'with you', 'with him-/herself '). In Portuguese this process not only applies to the pronouns mim, ti, and si (giving comigo, contigo, and consigo), but also is extended to nós and (in those varieties that use it) vós, producing connosco (conosco in Brazilian Portuguese) and convosco.

Personal "a"[edit]

Spanish employs a preposition, the so-called "personal a", before the direct object of a transitive verb (except tener) when it denotes a specific person(s), or domestic pet; thus Veo a Juan 'I see John'; Hemos invitado a los estudiantes 'We've invited the students.' In Portuguese, personal a is virtually non-existent, except before Deus 'God': louvar a Deus 'to praise God', amar a Deus 'to love God'.

Ir a versus ir para[edit]

Quite common in both languages are the prepositions a (which often translates as "to"), and para (which often translates as "for"). However, European Portuguese distinguishes between going somewhere for a short while versus a longer stay, especially if it is an intended destination, in the latter case using para instead of a. While there is no specified duration of stay before a European Portuguese speaker must switch prepositions, a implies one will return sooner, rather than later, relative to the context. This distinction is not made in English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, and the Spanish para cannot be used for this purpose.

Fui al mercado cerca de mi casa. (Spanish)
Fui ao mercado perto de/da minha casa./Fui para o mercado perto de/da minha casa. (European and Brazilian Portuguese)
'I went to the market near my house.' [temporary displacement]
El presidente anterior fue exiliado a Portugal. (Spanish)
O presidente anterior foi exilado para Portugal. (European and Brazilian Portuguese)
'The former president was exiled to Portugal.' [permanent, or more lasting displacement]

Note, though, in the first example, para could be used in Portuguese if in contrast to a very brief period of time.

Não fico muito tempo, só um minuto. Tenho que/de ir para o mercado. (Portuguese)
'I can't stay long, only a minute. I have to go to the market.' [pending task or appointment]

In informal, non-standard Brazilian Portuguese, em (in its original form or combined with a given article in a contraction, yielding no, na, numa, etc.), often replaces the preposition a from standard Portuguese.

Vou na padaria. (non-standard Brazilian Portuguese)
Vou à padaria. (standard Portuguese)
'I'm going to the bakery.'
Fui numa festa ontem. (non-standard Brazilian Portuguese)
Fui a uma festa ontem. (standard Portuguese)
'I went to a party yesterday.'

Such a construction is not used in Spanish or in European Portuguese.

In Portuguese the preposition até can also be used when the duration of the stay is expected to be short and/or when there is a specific reason for going somewhere.

Vou até a praia.
'I'm going to the beach.'

Hacia and para[edit]

Spanish has two prepositions of direction: para ('for', including 'headed for [a destination]'), and hacia ('toward [not necessarily implying arrival]'). Of them, only para exists in Portuguese, covering both meanings.

Este regalo es para ti. (Spanish)
Este presente é para ti. (Portuguese)
'This gift is for you.'
Aquel/Ese avión va hacia Brasilia. (Spanish)
Aquele avião voa para Brasília. (Portuguese)
'That airplane is flying toward Brasília.'

Colloquially, para is often reduced in both languages: to pa' in Spanish,[9] and to pra (sometimes written p'ra and this form may be used in literature) or pa (only in slang in Portugal and Rio de Janeiro, and not permitted in writing) in Portuguese. Portuguese pra, in turn, may join with the definite article: pra + o > pro (BP) or prò (EP), pra + a > pra (BP) or prà (EP), etc.[10] In reference to the slang option pa, these become: pa + o > , pa + a > , etc.

"Going to" future[edit]

Both languages have a construction similar to the English "going-to" future. Spanish includes the preposition a between the conjugated form of ir "to go" and the infinitive: Vamos a cantar 'We're going to sing' (present tense of ir + a + infinitive). Usually, in Portuguese, there is no preposition between the helping verb and the main verb: Vamos cantar (present tense of ir + infinitive). This also applies when the verb is in other tenses:

Ayer yo iba a leer el libro, pero no tuve la oportunidad. (Spanish)
Ontem eu ia ler o livro, mas não tive oportunidade. (Portuguese)
Yesterday I was going to read the book, but never had the chance.

Other differences in preposition usage[edit]

While as a rule the same prepositions are used in the same contexts in both languages, there are many exceptions.

Nuestros gastos de energía. (Spanish)
(Os) nossos gastos com/de energia. (Portuguese)
Our energy expenses.
Voy a votar por Juan. (Spanish)
Vou votar em/no João. (Portuguese)
I'm going to vote for John.



The traditional Spanish alphabet had 28 letters, while the Portuguese had 23. Modern versions of recent years added k and w (found only in foreign words) to both languages. Portuguese also added y for loanwords.

With the reform in 1994 by the 10th congress of the Association of Spanish Language Academies, Spanish alphabetization now follows the same pattern as that of other major West European languages. Prior to this date, however, digraphs were independently alphabetized. For example, the following surnames would be put in this order: Cervantes, Contreras, Cruz, Chávez, Dávila. Many Spanish dictionaries and other reference material still exist using the pre-reform rule of alphabetization.

Current Spanish alphabet (Spanish alphabet reform of 1994)
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n ñ o p q r s t u v w x y z
ch ll rr
Current Portuguese alphabet (Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990) introducing k, w and y
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
ch lh nh rr gu qu ss (cc cç sc sç xc xs)

In Spanish, ⟨gu⟩, ⟨qu⟩, and ⟨sc⟩ in Latin American Spanish are not called digraphs, however they are single sounds as in Portuguese (for the exception of ⟨sc⟩ in European Portuguese). Also Spanish has taken ⟨sh⟩ /ʃ/ from English as a loan sound; e.g. sherpa, show, flash. Brazilian Portuguese uses the trigraph ⟨tch⟩ /tʃ/ for loanwords; e.g. tchau, 'ciao', tcheco 'Czech', República Tcheca 'Czech Republic', tchê 'che' (this latter is regional), etc. European Portuguese normally replace the trigraph ⟨tch⟩ with ⟨ch⟩ /ʃ/: chau, checo, República Checa, etc.

Both, Spanish and Portuguese, use ⟨zz⟩ /ts/ (never as /dz/ – this one appears only in loanwords from Japanese e.g. adzuki) for some Italian loanwords, but in Portuguese may sometimes not be pronounced as affricate, but having an epenthetic /i/ or /ɨ/; e.g. Sp. and Port. pizza 'pizza', Sp. and Port. paparazzo 'paparazzo', etc. Spanish also utilizes ⟨tz⟩ /ts/ for Basque, Catalan and Nahuatl loanwords, and ⟨tl⟩ /tɬ/ (or /tl/) for Nahuatl loanwords; e.g. Ertzaintza, quetzal, xoloitzcuintle, Tlaxcala, etc. Portuguese utilizes ⟨ts⟩ for German, originarily ⟨z⟩, and Japanese loanwords.

Question and exclamation marks[edit]

Only in Spanish do interrogatives and exclamations use the question mark or exclamation point respectively at the beginning of a sentence. The same punctuation marks are used, but these are inverted. This prepares the reader in advance for either a question or exclamation type of sentence.

Interrogative: ¿Cuántos años tienes? (Spanish)
Exclamation: ¡Cuidado con el perro! (Spanish)

On the other hand, in Portuguese, a person reading aloud lengthy sentences from unfamiliar text may have to scan ahead to check if what at first appears to be a statement, is actually a question. Otherwise, it would be too late to enable proper voice inflection. Neither language has the equivalent of the auxiliary verb to do, which is often used to begin a question in English. Both Spanish and English can place the verb before the subject noun to indicate a question, though this is uncommon in Portuguese, and almost unheard of in Brazil. In effect, most questions in Portuguese not beginning with an interrogative are written the same way as a statement, with only a question mark at the end.

¿Tiene usted una medida de cuál es su exposición a estos riesgos y está usted confiado de que su organización está minimizando el impacto de los mismos sobre sus accionistas, equipo de trabajo y otros grupos interesados? (Spanish)
Você tem a medida de qual é a sua exposição a esses riscos e tem confiança que sua organização está minimizando os impactos resultantes, em seus acionistas, funcionários e outros interessados? (Portuguese)
'Do you have a measure of what your exposure is to these risks, and are you confident that your organization is minimizing their impact on your shareholders, staff, and other interested parties?'

While several changes would have to made to convert the above examples from a question to a statement in Spanish and English, only the ending question mark need be replaced with a period in Portuguese.

Different spellings for similar sounds[edit]

The palatal consonants are spelled differently in the two languages.

Description Spanish Portuguese
Spelling Pronunciation Spelling Pronunciation
palatal "l" ll ʎ (~ ʝ)[11] lh ʎ
palatal "n" ñ ɲ nh ɲ (EP), (BP)
palatal "y" y ʝ i j

The symbols ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨ñ⟩ are etymological in Spanish, as the sounds they represent are often derived from Latin ll and nn (for those positions, Portuguese has simple ⟨l⟩ and ⟨n⟩; cf. rodilla/rodela, peña/pena). The Portuguese digraphs ⟨lh⟩ and ⟨nh⟩ were adopted from Occitan, as poetry of the troubadours was the most important influence on Portuguese literature up until the 14th century. King Denis of Portugal, who established Portuguese instead of Latin as the official language, was an admirer of the poetry of the troubadours and a poet himself. Examples include names such as Port. Minho (Sp. Miño) and Magalhães (Sp. Magallanes).

The letter ⟨y⟩ was used in Portuguese from the 16th to the early 20th century in Greek loans, much as in English (e.g. Psychologia, modern Psicologia 'Psychology'). The orthographic reform in 1911 officially replaced it with ⟨i⟩. The corresponding sound can be regarded as an allophone of the vowel /i/ in both languages. Compare Sp. rey ('king'), mayor ('greater, elder') with Port. rei ('king'), maior ('larger, greater').

The exact pronunciation of these three consonants varies somewhat with dialect. The table indicates only the most common sound values in each language. In most Spanish dialects, the consonants written ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ have come to be pronounced the same way, a sound merger known as yeísmo. A similar phenomenon can be found in some dialects of Brazilian Portuguese (e.g., “muié” for mulher, 'woman'), but it is much less widespread than in Spanish.

The Portuguese letter ⟨ç⟩ (c-cedilha) was first used in Old Spanish, based on a Visigothic form of the letter ⟨z⟩: "". In Portuguese it is used before ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, and ⟨u⟩ (including nasals), and never at the beginning or end of any word. It always represents the "soft c" sound, namely [s]. In modern Spanish, it has been replaced by ⟨z⟩. Example: calzado (Sp.), calçado (Port.) 'footwear'.

Correspondences between word endings[edit]

Various word endings are consistently different in the two languages.

  • Spanish -n corresponds to Portuguese -m when in word-final position (e.g. Spanish: jardín, algún; Portuguese: jardim, algum). In Portuguese, word- or syllable-final ⟨m⟩ and ⟨n⟩ indicate nasalization of the previous vowel; e.g. som /ˈsõ/ 'sound' (see phonology below). In the plural, ⟨m⟩ is replaced with an ⟨n⟩ (Spanish: jardines, algunos; Portuguese: jardins, alguns), that is because in these cases the ⟨m⟩ is not in word-final position anymore. Notice, some rare learned words in Portuguese and Spanish may also have a word final -n (e.g. Portuguese abdómen/abdômen 'abdomen'), and -m (e.g. Spanish tándem 'tandem'), respectively.
  • Common exceptions to the above rule concern the Spanish noun endings:
    • -án and -ano, which normally correspond to -ão or -ã in Portuguese (Irán vs Irão (EP)/Irã (BP) 'Iran', hermano vs irmão 'brother', and huérfano vs órfão, 'orphan m.');
    • -ana, which corresponds to -ã (hermana vs irmã 'sister', mañana vs manhã 'morning', huérfana vs órfã 'orphan f.');
    • -ón / -ción or -cción / -sión, which usually correspond to -ão / -ção or -(c)ção / -são or -ssão (melón vs melão 'melon', opción vs opção 'option', corrección vs corre(c)ção 'correction', pensión vs pensão 'pension', or admisión vs admissão 'admission');
    • -on or -an, which corresponds to -ão in most monosyllables (son vs são 'they are', tan vs tão 'as, so');
  • The singular noun or adjective endings -án and -ón in Spanish both usually correspond to Portuguese -ão, and likewise the Spanish ending -ano often corresponds to Portuguese -ão (although there are also many Portuguese words ending in -ano, including gentilics such as cubano, boliviano, etc.). The plurals of the Portuguese words in -ão, however, generally preserve the historical distinctions: Portuguese -ãos, -ães, and -ões generally correspond to Spanish -anos, -anes, and -ones, respectively:
    • -ãos, as in mão/mãos (Spanish mano/manos, English 'hand(s)');
    • -ães, as in capitão/capitães (Spanish capitán/capitanes, English 'captain(s)');
    • -ões, as in melão/melões (Spanish melón/melones, English 'melon(s)').
  • Notable exceptions to the above rule:
    • verão/verões (Spanish verano(s) English 'summer(s)');
    • vulcão/vulcões (Spanish volcán/volcanes, English 'volcano');
    • ancião, which allows the three plural forms: anciãos, anciães and anciões (Spanish anciano(s), English 'elder(s)').
    • guardião, which allows the three plural forms: guardiãos, guardiães and guardiões (Spanish guardián/guardianes), English guardian
    • vilão, which allows the three plural forms: vilãos, vilães and vilões (Spanish villano/villanos), English villain
    • João/Joões (Spanish Juan/Juanes, English 'John'). This plural can be seen in words such as joão-de-barro/joões-de-barro (Red Ovenbird).
  • The 3rd person plural endings of the preterite indicative tense are spelled with -on in Spanish (pensaron, vivieron 'they thought, they lived'), but with -am in Portuguese (pensaram, viveram).
  • In Portuguese words ending in -l form their plurals by dropping ⟨l⟩ and adding -is (-eis when final unstressed -il): caracol/caracóis (Spanish caracol(es), English 'snail(s)'), fácil/fáceis (Spanish fácil(es), English 'easy').
  • In Spanish, adjectives and nouns ending in -z form their plurals by replacing ⟨z⟩ with ⟨c⟩ (-ces); e.g. feroz/feroces (Portuguese feroz(es), English 'ferocious'), vez/veces (Portuguese vez(es) English 'time(s)').
  • Another conspicuous difference is the use of -z in Spanish versus -s in Portuguese at the end of unstressed syllables, especially when the consonant is the last letter in a word. A few examples:
Álvarez, Fernández, Suárez, izquierda, mezquino, lápiz (Spanish)
Álvares, Fernandes, Soares, esquerda, mesquinho, lápis (Portuguese)
  • Other correspondences between word endings are:
    • -dad(es) or -tad(es) (Spanish) and -dade(s) (Portuguese), as in bondad(es) vs bondade(s) 'goodness(es)' and libertad(es) vs liberdade(s) 'liberty/ies'. The word ending -zade(s) is also found in Portuguese, e.g. amizade(s) (Spanish amistad(es), English 'friendship(s)');
    • -ud(es) (Spanish) and -ude(s) (Portuguese), as in virtud(es) vs virtude(s) 'virtue';
    • -ble(s) (Spanish) and -vel/eis (Portuguese), as in amable(s) vs amável/amáveis 'amiable';
    • -je(s) (Spanish) and -gem/ns (Portuguese), as in lenguaje(s) vs linguagem/linguagens 'language(s)';
    • -aso (Spanish) and -asso (Portuguese), as in escaso vs escasso 'scarce';
    • -eso (Spanish) and -esso (Portuguese), as in espeso vs espesso 'thick';
    • -esa (Spanish) and -essa or -esa (Portuguese), as in condesa vs condessa 'countess' and inglesa vs inglesa 'Englishwoman';
    • -eza (Spanish) and -iça or -eza (Portuguese), as in pereza vs preguiça 'laziness' and naturaleza vs natureza 'nature';
    • -ez (Spanish) and -ice and -ez (Portuguese), as in idiotez vs idiotice 'idiocy' (there are unpredictable exceptions in Portuguese, e.g. estupidez 'stupidity') and timidez vs timidez 'shyness';
    • -izar (Spanish) and -izar or -isar (Portuguese), as in realizar vs realizar 'to realize/realise' and analizar vs analisar 'to analize/analise' (notice there are also some Spanish verbs that in -isar; e.g. avisar 'warn', pesquisar 'research', etc.) Brazilian Portuguese uses an alternative word ending in -issar in some exceptional cases; e.g. aterrissar, alunissar (European Portuguese aterrar, alunar; Spanish aterrizar, alunizar, English 'landing', 'moon landing');
    • -azar (Spanish) and -açar (Portuguese), amenazar vs ameaçar 'threaten';
    • -anza (Spanish) and -ança (Portuguese), esperanza vs esperança 'hope';
    • -encia (Spanish) and -ença or -ência (Portuguese), as in diferencia vs diferença 'difference' and ocurrencia vs ocorrência 'occurrence' (in Spanish there are few exceptional words ending in -enza; e.g. vergüenza 'shame');
    • -icia (Spanish) and -iça or -ícia (Portuguese), as in justicia vs justiça 'justice' and malicia vs malícia 'malice';
    • -izo (Spanish) and -iço (Portuguese), as in movedizo vs movediço 'moveable';
    • -miento or -mento (Spanish) and -mento (Portuguese), as in sentimiento vs sentimento 'feeling, sentiment' and reglamento vs regulamento 'rules, regulations';
    • -ísimo (Spanish) and -íssimo (Portuguese), as in fidelísimo vs fidelíssimo 'most loyal'.

Accentuation and nasalization[edit]

Both languages use diacritics to mark the stressed syllable of a word whenever it is not otherwise predictable from spelling. Since Spanish does not differentiate between mid-open and mid-close vowels and nasal vowels, it uses only one accent, the acute. Portuguese usually uses the acute accent ( ´ ), but also uses the circumflex accent ( ˆ ) on the mid-close vowels ⟨ê⟩ and ⟨ô⟩ and the stressed (always nasal in Brasil) ⟨â⟩.

Although the Spanish ⟨y⟩ can be either a consonant or a vowel, as a vowel it never takes an accent. At the end of a word, the Portuguese diphthong -ai is the equivalent of the Spanish -ay, however, -ai can have an accent on the ⟨í⟩ to break the diphthong into two separate vowels, e.g. açaí (three syllables). Without the accent, as in Spanish, the last syllable would be a diphthong: Paraguai (Portuguese) and Paraguay (Spanish) 'Paraguay'.

Portuguese nasal vowels occur before ⟨n⟩ and ⟨m⟩ (see phonology below) without an accent mark, as these consonants are not fully pronounced in such cases. The tilde (~), is only used on nasal diphthongs such as ⟨ão⟩ [ɐ̃w̃] and ⟨õe⟩ [õj̃], plus the final ⟨ã⟩ [ɐ̃] which replaces the -am ending, as the latter is reserved for verbs, e.g. amanhã [amɐˈɲɐ̃] 'tomorrow'.

  • Initial and middle: vowel + ⟨n⟩ + consonant (except ⟨h⟩, ⟨p⟩ or ⟨b⟩): antecedente, geringonça, mundo, ênfase  
  • Initial and middle: vowel + ⟨m⟩ + bilabial consonant (⟨p⟩ or ⟨b⟩): caçamba, emprego, supimpa, pomba, penumbra  
  • Final: vowel + ⟨m⟩: fizeram, em, ruim, bom, algum (except for learned words, e.g. abdómen/abdômen, hífen, etc.)

These do not alter the rules for stress, though note endings -im, -ins and -um, -uns are stressed, as are their non-nasal counterparts (see below). A couple of two-letter words consist of only the nasal vowel: em and um.

Phonetic vowel nasalization occurs in Spanish—vowels may get slightly nasalized in contact with nasal consonants—but it is not phonemically distinctive. In Portuguese, on the other hand, vowel nasalization is distinctive, and therefore phonemic: pois /ˈpojs/ or /ˈpojʃ/ 'because' vs pões /ˈpõj̃s/ or /ˈpõj̃ʃ/ '(you) put'.

Portuguese changes vowel sounds with (and without) accents marks. Unaccented ⟨o⟩ (/u/, /o/, /ɔ/) and ⟨e⟩ (/i/, /ɨ/, /e/, /ɛ/, /ɐ/), acute accented ⟨ó⟩ (/ɔ/) and ⟨é⟩ (/ɛ/), or circumflex accented ⟨ô⟩ (/o/) and ⟨e⟩ (/e/). Thus, nós [ˈnɔs] or [ˈnɔʃ] 'we' vs nos [nus] or [nuʃ] 'us', avô [aˈvo] 'grandfather' vs avó [aˈvɔ] 'grandmother', se [si] or [sɨ] 'itself, himself, herself' reflexive pronoun vs [ˈsɛ] 'seat, headquarters' vs [ˈse] 'to be' 2nd person imperative. Spanish pronunciation makes no such distinction.

The grave accent ( ` ) is also used in Portuguese to indicate the contraction of the preposition a (to) with a few words beginning with the vowel a, but not to indicate stress. In other cases, it is the combination of the preposition and the feminine definite article; in other words, the equivalent of a la ('to the') in Spanish. Às is used for the plural (a las in Spanish).

  • a (prep.) + a(s) (def. article 'the') = à(s) ('to the').
  • a (prep.) + aquele(s), aquela(s) (pron. 'that') = àquele(s), àquela(s)—underlined stressed syllable—('to that').
  • a (prep.) + aquilo (pron. n. 'that') = àquilo ('to that').

The diaeresis or trema ( ¨ ) is used in Spanish to indicate ⟨u⟩ is pronounced in the sequence ⟨gu⟩; e.g. desagüe [deˈsaɣwe]. As the Portuguese grave accent, the trema does not indicate stress. In Brazilian Portuguese it was also used for the digraphs ⟨gu⟩ and ⟨qu⟩ for the same purpose as Spanish (e.g. former BP spelling *qüinqüênio [kwĩˈkwẽɲu], EP quinquénio [kwĩˈkwɛnju] 'five-year period'), however since the implementation of the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement in Brazil, the trema was abolished (current BP spelling quinquênio [kwĩˈkwẽɲu]), and its usage was restricted to some loanwords (e.g. mülleriano 'Müllerian').

The accentuation rules (including those of predictable stress) of Portuguese and Spanish are similar, but not identical. Discrepancies are especially pervasive in words that contain i or u in their last syllable. Note the Portuguese diphthongs ei and ou are the approximate Spanish equivalent of e and o respectively, but any word ending with these diphthongs is, by default, stressed on its final syllable.

Compare the following pairs of cognates in which the stress falls on the same syllable in both languages:

taxi, vi, bam, ansia, seria, sea, jardín, pensáis, pen (Spanish)
xi, vivi, bambu, ânsia, ria, seria, jardim, pensais, pensou (Portuguese)

Semivowel–vowel sequences are treated differently in both languages when it comes to accentuation rules. A sequence of a semivowel adjacent to a vowel is by default assumed to be read as a diphthong (part of the same syllable) in Spanish, whereas it is by default assumed to be read as a hiatus (belonging to different syllables) in Portuguese. For both languages, accentuation rules consistently indicate something other than the default.

A consequence of this is that words that are pronounced alike in both languages are written according to different accentuation rules. Some examples:

  • emergencia (Spanish), emergência (Portuguese) 'emergency'
  • tolerancia (Spanish), tolerância (Portuguese) 'tolerance'
  • audacia (Spanish), aucia (Portuguese) 'audace'
  • ocio (Spanish), ócio (Portuguese) 'leisure'
  • continuo (Spanish), connuo (Portuguese) 'continuous'
  • contio (Spanish), continuo (Portuguese) 'I continue'

Another consequence (though less common) is that some words are written exactly (or almost exactly) the same in both languages, but the stress falls on different syllables:

  • democracia (Spanish, rising diphthong at the end), democracia (Portuguese, the stress on -ci- breaks the diphthong) 'democracy'
  • polia (Spanish, the stress on -- breaks the diphthong), pocia (Portuguese) 'police'


Although the vocabularies of Spanish and Portuguese are very similar (at times identical), both languages differ phonologically from each other. Phonetically Portuguese is closer to Catalan or to French while the phonetics of Spanish are much closer to Sardinian and the Southern Italian dialects. Portuguese has a larger phonemic inventory than Spanish. That could explain why it is generally not very intelligible to Spanish speakers despite the strong lexical similarity between the two languages; Portuguese speakers have a greater intelligibility of Spanish than do the reverse.

One of the main differences between the Spanish and Portuguese pronunciation are the vowel sounds. Standard Spanish has a basic vowel phonological system, with five phonemic vowels (/a/, //, /i/, //, /u/). Phonetic nasalization occurs in Spanish for vowels occurring between nasal consonants or when preceding a syllable-final nasal consonant (/n/ and /m/), but it is not distinctive as in Portuguese. Dialectally, there are Spanish dialects with a greater number of vowels, with some (as Murcian and Eastern Andalusian) reaching up to 8 to 10 vowel sounds. On the other hand, Portuguese has seven to nine oral vowels (/a/, /ɐ/*, /e/, /ɛ/, /ɨ/*, /i/, /o/, /ɔ/, /u/) (/ɐ/ is closer to [ə] in Portugal, while the near-close near-back unrounded vowel /ɨ/—also rendered as [ɯ̟] or [ʊ̜]—is only found in European Portuguese) plus five phonemic nasal vowels (/ɐ̃/, //, /ĩ/, /õ/, /ũ/) when preceding an omitted syllable-final nasal (⟨n⟩ and ⟨m⟩) or when is marked with a tilde (~): ⟨ã⟩ and ⟨õ⟩. Portuguese, as Catalan, uses vowel height, contrasting stressed and unstressed (reduced) vowels. Moreover, Spanish has two semivowels as allophones, [j, w]; while Portuguese has four, two oral [ ~ ɪ̯], [ ~ ʊ̯] and two nasalized glides [ ~ ɪ̯̃], [ ~ ʊ̯̃] (non-syllabic near-close vowels, as those of most English speech, are allophones of the glides in the Brazilian dialects where near-closeds are used).

The following considerations are based on a comparison of standard versions of Spanish and Portuguese. Apparent divergence of the information below from anyone's personal pronunciation may indicate one's idiolect (or dialect) diverges from the mentioned standards. Information on Portuguese phonology is adapted from Celso Pedro Luft (Novo Manual de Português, 1971), and information on Spanish phonology adapted from Manuel Seco (Gramática Esencial del Español, 1994).

Comparing the phonemic inventory of the two languages, a noticeable divergence stands out. First, standard Portuguese has more phonemes than Spanish. Also, each language has phonemes that are not shared by the other.

Early phonetic divergence[edit]


Spanish and Portuguese have been diverging for over a thousand years. One of the most noticeable early differences between them concerned the result of the stressed vowels of Latin:

Classical Latin
Vulgar Latin
Spanish Portuguese
Spelling Pronunciation Spelling Pronunciation
a /a/ a ~ á /a/ a ~ á ~ â /a/ ~ /ɐ/1
e /ɛ/ ie ~ ié /je̞/ e ~ é /ɛ/
ē /e/ e ~ é /e̞/ e ~ ê /e/
ī /i/ i ~ í /i/ i ~ í /i/
o /ɔ/ ue ~ ué /we̞/ o ~ ó /ɔ/
ō /o/ o ~ ó /o̞/ o ~ ô /o/
ū /u/ u ~ ú /u/ u ~ ú /u/
au /aw/ o ~ ó /o̞/ ou /ow/²

1The vowels /a/ and /ɐ/ occur largely in complementary distribution.
2This diphthong has been reduced to the monophthong /o/ in many dialects of modern Portuguese.

As vowel length ceased to be distinctive in the transition from Latin to Romance, the stressed vowels e and o became ie and ue in Spanish whenever they were short (Latin petra → Spanish piedra 'stone'; Latin moritvr → Spanish muere "he dies"). Similar diphthongizations can be found in other Romance languages (French pierre, Italian pietra, Romanian piatră; French meurt, Italian muore, Romanian moare), but in Galician-Portuguese these vowels underwent a qualitative change instead (Portuguese/Galician pedra, morre), becoming lower, as also happened with short i and short u in stressed syllables. The Classical Latin vowels /e/-/eː/ and /o/-/oː/ were correspondingly lowered in Spanish and turned into diphthongs /je̞/ and /we̞/. In Spanish, short e and o and long ē and ō merged into mid vowels, /e̞/ and /o̞/, while in Portuguese these vowels stayed as close-mid, /e/ and /o/ and open-mid, /ɛ/ and /ɔ/, as in Vulgar Latin.

Portuguese has five phonemic nasal vowels (/ɐ̃/, /ẽ/, /ĩ/, /õ/, /ũ/), which, according to historical linguistics, arose from the assimilation of the nasal consonants /m/ and /n/, often at the end of syllables. Syllable-final m and n are still written down to indicate nasalization, even though they are no longer fully pronounced, that is, either [ⁿ] (before obstruents) or elided completely. In other cases, nasal vowels are marked with a tilde (ã, õ). Not all words containing vowel + n have the nasal sound, as the subsequent letter must be a consonant in order for this to occur: e.g. anel /ɐˈnɛw/ ('ring') –oral/non-nasal– vs anca /ˈɐ̃kɐ/ ('hip') –nasal–.

However, in some Brazilian dialects, most vowels (including the allophones present only in unstressed environment) have nasal allophones before one of the nasal consonants /m/, /n/, /ɲ/, followed by another vowel. In other Brazilian dialects, only stressed vowels can be nasalized this way. In European Portuguese, nasalization is absent in this environment.

The Portuguese digraph ou (pronounced usually as the diphthong [ow], but sometimes as a monophthong [o]) corresponds to the final of Spanish -ar verbs in the preterite tense; e.g. Spanish descansó and Portuguese descansou ("he/she rested"). The Spanish irregular verb forms in -oy (e.g. doy "I give", estoy "I am", soy "I am", voy "I go") correspond to Portuguese forms in -ou (e.g. dou, estou, sou, vou). But in some other words, conversely, Spanish o corresponds to Portuguese oi, e.g. Spanish cosa, Portuguese coisa "thing"; Spanish oro "gold", Portuguese usually ouro, but sometimes oiro.

Stressed vowel alternations may occur in Portuguese, but not in Spanish:

Spanish Portuguese English
nuevo   [ˈnwe̞βo̞]

novo   [ˈnovu]

new (m. sg.)
nueva   [ˈnwe̞βa]

nova   [ˈnɔvɐ]

new (f. sg.)

nuevos   [ˈnwe̞βo̞s]

novos   [ˈnɔvuʃ]

new (m. pl.)

nuevas   [ˈnwe̞βas]

novas   [ˈnɔvɐʃ]

new (f. pl.)

Unstressed vowels[edit]

The history of the unstressed vowels in Spanish and Portuguese is not as well known as that of the stressed vowels, but some points are generally agreed upon. Spanish has the five short vowels of classical Latin, /a/, /e̞/, /i/, /o̞/, /u/. It has also two semivowels, [j] and [w], that appear in diphthongs, but these can be considered allophones of /i/ and /u/, respectively. The pronunciation of the unstressed vowels does not differ much from that of stressed vowels. Unstressed, non-syllabic /e̞/ /o̞/, and /a/ can be reduced to [ʝ], [w̝] and complete elision in some dialects; e.g. poetisa [pw̝e̞ˈtisa] ('poet' f.), línea [ˈlinʝa] ('line'), ahorita [o̞ˈɾita] ('now').

The system of seven oral vowels of Vulgar Latin has been fairly well preserved in Portuguese, as in the closely related Galician language. In Portuguese, unstressed vowels have been more unstable, both diachronically (across time) and synchronically (between dialects), producing new vowel sounds. The vowels written ⟨a⟩, ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ are pronounced in different ways according to several factors, most notably whether they are stressed, and whether they occur in the last syllable of a word. The basic paradigm is shown in the following table (it has some exceptions).

Spanish Brazilian Portuguese European Portuguese
Stressed Syllable
before stress,
with coda
Stressed Onset of
/a/ /a/ or /ɐ ~ ə/ § /a/ or /a ~ ɐ/ 1 /a ~ ɐ/ /ɐ ~ ə/ /a/ or /ɐ/ /a ~ ɐ/ 2
or /ə/
/e̞/ /e/ or /ɛ/ /e ~ e̞/ or /ɛ/ 3 /e ~ e̞ ~ ɛ/
or /ɪ ~ i/
/ɪ ~ i/ /e/ or /ɛ/ /e/
(/ej ~ ɐj/ #)
/o̞/ /o/ or /ɔ/ /o ~ o̞/ or /ɔ/ 3 /o ~ o̞ ~ ɔ/
or /ʊ ~ u/
/ʊ ~ u/ /o/ or /ɔ/ /o/
(/ow ~ ɐw/ #)

§ Always nasalized in this environment, that is, [ɐ̃ ~ ə̃]

1 Only in Florianópolis, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and eastern Minas Gerais.

2 Only before stressed syllables

3 Only in Northeastern Brazil. In some other dialects (including those of Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais), this also occurs if the stressed vowel is open rather than closed (ɛ or ɔ, rather than e or o). It can be said that the opening of the stressed vowel influences the vowels of the preceding syllables to open too, while in other dialects they would remain closed. This means that europeia is pronounced /euɾɔ'pɛiɐ/, rather than /euɾo'pɛiɐ/, like in other dialects. In contrast, europeu is pronounced /euɾo'peu/ everywhere. This phenomenon affects all the syllables preceding the stressed one, as seen in the words perereca /pɛɾɛ'ɾɛkɐ/ and voçoroca /vɔsɔ'ɾɔkɐ/. While toró is /tɔ'ɾɔ/, torá is /to'ɾa/, with the first O remaining closed. This is because /a/ is not "perceived" as an open vowel, because it has no closed counterpart in this situation (unlike ɛ and ɔ, which have e and o as counterparts), hence its openness is taken for granted; I and U too are always open in stressed position.

# Only in some dialects, the first mainly in the area including and surrounding Lisbon (not present in much of northern and insular Portugal, as in Brazil), and the latter mainly in some hinterland northern Portuguese accents (not present in southern and insular Portugal, as in Brazil)

Brazilian unstressed vowel allophones are easy to guess by their geographical distribution. While near-close [ʊ], [ɪ] and unstressed close-mid [e], [o] are found in southern and western accents, where postvocalic ars are "soft" (flap, coronal approximant or rhotic vowel) and postvocalic sibilants (written ⟨s⟩, ⟨x⟩, and ⟨z⟩) in native words are always alveolar [s, z], they do not happen in the northern and eastern accents where postvocalic ars are "hard" (guttural) and postvocalic sibilants may be, consistently or not, post-alveolar [ʃ, ʒ, ɕ, ʑ]. In the accents where postvocalic sibilants are always post-alveolar, such as those of Florianópolis and Rio de Janeiro, or in the accents influenced by them, any unstressed /a ~ ɐ/, [e̞ ~ ɛ] and [o̞ ~ ɔ] may be raised (like in Portugal), to [ɐ], [i] and [u], respectively (while this is true of all casual BP, it is especially characterist of those).

Similar alternation patterns to these exist in other Romance languages such as Catalan or Occitan. Although it is mostly an allophonic variation, some dialects have developed minimal pairs that distinguish the stressed variants from the unstressed ones. The vowel /ɨ/ is often elided in connected speech (it is not present in Brazilian Portuguese).

Some Brazilian dialects diphthongize stressed vowels to [ai̯], [ɛi̯], [ei̯], etc. (except /i/), before a sibilant at the end of a syllable (written ⟨s⟩, ⟨x⟩, ⟨z⟩, or rarely, ⟨sh⟩). For instance, Jesus [ʒe̞ˈzui̯s] 'Jesus', faz [ˈfai̯s] 'he does', dez [ˈdɛi̯s] 'ten'. This has led to the use of meia (meaning meia dúzia, 'half a dozen') for seis [sei̯s] 'six' when making enumerations, to avoid any confusion with três [tɾei̯s] 'three' on the telephone. In Lisbon and surrounding areas, stressed /e/ is pronounced [ɐ] or [ɐj] when it comes before an alveolo-palatal /ʎ/, /ɲ/, [ɕ], [ʑ] or palato-alveolar /ʃ/, /ʒ/ consonants followed by another vowel.

The orthography of Portuguese, which is partly etymological and analogical, does not indicate these sound changes. This makes the written language look deceptively similar to Spanish. For example, although breve ('brief') is spelled the same in both languages, it is pronounced [ˈbɾe̞βe̞] in Spanish, but [ˈbɾɛvi ~ ˈbɾɛv(ɨ)] in Portuguese. In Brazilian Portuguese, in the vast majority of cases, the only difference between final -e and -i is the stress, as both are pronounced as /i/. The former is unstressed, and the latter is stressed without any diacritical mark. In European Portuguese, final -e is usually not pronounced or is pronounced like [ɨ]), unlike i, which is pronounced [i].


Some of the most characteristic sound changes undergone by the consonants from Latin to Spanish and Portuguese are shown in the table below.

Latin Spanish Portuguese Examples Meaning
cl-, fl-, pl- ll- or pl ch-

clamāre → S. llamar, P. chamar
plumbum → S. plomo, P. chumbo
flammam → S. llama, P. chama
plēnvm → S. lleno, P. cheio (also pleno)

'to call'
'lead' (metal)

-lt-, -ct- -ch- -it-

mvltvm → S. mucho, P. muito
noctem → S. noche, P. noite
pectvm → S. pecho, P. peito


f- h-
(later silent)
or f-

fabvlāre → S. hablar, P. falar
filivm → S. hijo, P. filho
focvm → S. fuego, P. fogo

'to speak'

j(a)- ya- ja-

iam → S. ya, P.
iacere → S. yacer, P. jazer (both archaic)

'to lie, as in a grave'

-l- -l- (elided)

caelvm → S. cielo, P. céu (arch. ceo)
volāre → S. volar, P. voar

'to fly'

-li- -j- -lh-

alivm → S. ajo, P. alho
filivm → S. hijo, P. filho


-ll- -ll- -l-

castellvm → S. castillo, P. castelo


-n- -n- (elided)

generālem → S. general, P. geral
tenēre → S. tener, P. ter

'general' (adj.)
'to have'

-ni- -ni- -nh- ivnivs → S. junio, P. Junho 'June'
-nn- -ñ- -n-

ānnvm → S. año, P. ano
cannam → S. caña, P. cana



Peculiar to early Spanish (as in the Gascon dialect of Occitan, possibly due to a Basque substratum) was the loss of Latin initial f- whenever it was followed by a vowel which did not diphthongize. Thus, Spanish hijo and hablar correspond to Portuguese filho and falar (from Latin filivm and fabvlāre, 'son' and 'to speak' respectively). Nevertheless, Portuguese fogo corresponds to Spanish fuego (from Latin focvm 'fire').

Another typical difference concerned the result of Latin -l- and -n- in intervocalic position:

  • When single, they were retained in Spanish but elided in Portuguese. Often, the loss of the consonant was followed by the merger of the two surrounding vowels (as in the examples in the table above), or by the insertion of an epenthetic vowel between them (Latin arenam → Spanish arena, Portuguese arẽa, today areia 'sand').
  • When double, they developed into the Spanish palatals ⟨ll⟩ /ʎ/ (merged with /ʝ/ in most contemporary Spanish dialects) and ⟨ñ⟩ /ɲ/. Indeed, the Spanish letter ⟨ñ⟩ was originally a shorthand for nn. In Portuguese, -ll- and -nn- just became single, ⟨l⟩ /l/ and ⟨n⟩ /n/, respectively.
  • When followed by the semivowel i, l coalesced with it into a ⟨j⟩ /x/ in Spanish. In Portuguese, l and n followed by semivowel i were palatalized into ⟨lh⟩ /ʎ/ and ⟨nh⟩ /ɲ/, respectively.

Other consonant clusters of Latin also took markedly different routes in the two languages in their archaic period:

Origin Spanish Portuguese Meaning
argillam arcilla argila 'clay'
blandvm blando brando 'soft'
sevm queso queijo 'cheese'
ocvlvmoc'lu ojo olho 'eye'
hominemhom'ne hombre homem 'man'
tremvlāretrem'lare temblar tremer 'to tremble'

Learned words such as pleno, ocular, no(c)turno, tremular, and so on, were not included in the examples above, since they were adapted directly from Classical Latin in later times.

The tables above represent only general trends with many exceptions, due to:

  1. Other phonological processes at work in old Spanish and old Portuguese, which interfered with these.
  2. Later regularization by analogy with related words.
  3. Later borrowing of learned words directly from Latin, especially since the Renaissance, which did not respect the original sound laws.
  4. Mutual borrowing, from Spanish to Portuguese or vice versa.


Portuguese has tended to eliminate hiatuses that were preserved in Spanish, merging similar consecutive vowels into one (often after the above-mentioned loss of intervocalic -l- and -n-). This results in many Portuguese words being one syllable shorter than their Spanish cognates:

creído, leer, mala, manzana, mañana, poner, reír, venir (Spanish)
crido, ler, , maçã, manhã, pôr, rir, vir (Portuguese)

In other cases, Portuguese reduces consecutive vowels to a diphthong, again resulting in one syllable fewer:

a-te-o, eu-ro-pe-o, pa-lo, ve-lo (Spanish)
a-teu, eu-ro-peu, pau, véu (Portuguese)

There are nevertheless a few words where the opposite happened, such as Spanish comprender versus Portuguese compreender, from Latin comprehendere.

Different sounds with the same spelling[edit]

Since the late Middle Ages, both languages have gone through more sound shifts and mergers which set them further apart.


The most marked phonetic divergence between Spanish and Portuguese in their modern period concerned the evolution of the sibilants. In the Middle Ages, both had a rich system of seven sibilants – paired according to affrication and voicing: /s/, /ts/, /z/, /dz/, /ʃ/, //, and // (the latter probably in free variation with /ʒ/, as still happens today in Ladino) – and spelled virtually the same in Spanish and Portuguese.

Medieval Spanish and Portuguese Modern Portuguese1,2 Modern Spanish1
Spelling Pronunciation Pronunciation Examples Spelling Pronunciation Examples
s-, -ss- /s/ /s/ saber 'to know',
passar 'to pass'
s /s/ saber, pasar
-s- /z/ /z/ casa 'house' casa
ç/c /ts/ /s/ açor 'hawk', cego 'blind' z/c /θ/ or /s/ azor, ciego
z /dz/ /z/ fazer 'to do' hacer
x /ʃ/ /ʃ/ oxalá 'I hope; God grant' j/g /x/ ojalá
j/g /dʒ ~ ʒ/ /ʒ/ jogar 'to play', gente 'people' jugar, gente
ch /tʃ/ /ʃ/ chuva 'rain' ch /tʃ/ chubasco 'cloudburst'
(from Port. chuvasco)

1Before vowels; in the coda position, there are dialectal variations within each language, not discussed here.
2Modern Portuguese has for the most part kept the medieval spelling.

After the Renaissance, the two languages reduced their inventory of sibilants, but in different ways:

  • Devoicing in Spanish: the voiced sibilants written ⟨-s-⟩, ⟨z⟩ and ⟨j/g⟩ became voiceless, merging with ⟨s-/-ss-⟩, ⟨c/ç⟩ and ⟨x⟩, respectively. In many Spanish dialects, modern ⟨c/z⟩ /θ/ also merged with ⟨s⟩ /s/ (seseo). Later, the palato-alveolar fricative ⟨x⟩ /ʃ/ changed into the velar fricative /x/, while ⟨ch⟩ stay unchanged //. Spanish spelling has been updated according to these sound changes.
  • Deaffrication in Portuguese: the affricates written ⟨c/ç⟩, ⟨z⟩ and ⟨ch⟩ became plain fricatives, merging with the sibilants ⟨s-/-ss-⟩, ⟨-s-⟩ and ⟨x⟩ in most dialects, respectively. In spite of this, modern Portuguese has for the most part kept the medieval spelling.
  • Deaffrication in Portuguese: some rural hinterland northern Portuguese dialects as well the Mirandese language preserved the medieval distinction, still indicated by the spelling, with the former affricates being voiceless laminal, voiced laminal and still voiceless post-alveolar affricate /tʃ/, respectively, and the sibilants being voiceless apical, voiced apical and voiceless palato-alveolar. As much of Brazilian Portuguese, these dialects have alveolar coda sibilants, though a voiceless apico-alveolar fricative has a hushing-like sound, more similar to /ʃ/.

Other pronunciation differences[edit]

Spelling Pronunciation Notes
Spanish Portuguese
b [b ~ β] [b ~ β] (EP)
[b] (BP)
In Spanish and European Portuguese /b/ is lenited after a continuant.
d [d ~ ð] [d ~ ð] (EP)
[d ~ dʒ] (BP)
In Spanish and European Portuguese /d/ is lenited after a continuant.
In all Portuguese dialects, the consonants /t/ and /d/ have affricate allophones, happening when before a palatalizing /i/ ([i ~ i], [i ~ i], mainly in Brazil), or an elided /ɨ/ ~ /e̞/ ~ /ɪ/ or unstressed /i/ before another (that actually becomes /ɨ/ in Portugal), stressed one, leading to sandhi ([dVz] → [dz], [dVs] → [ts], [tVs] → [ts], both in Brazil and Portugal).
t [t] [t] (EP)
[t ~ tʃ] (BP)
g [ɡ ~ ɣ] [ɡ ~ ɣ] (EP)
[ɡ] (BP)
In Spanish and European Portuguese /ɡ/ is lenited after a continuant.
-l [l] [ɫ] (EP)
[w] (BP)
In European Portuguese syllable-final /l/ is velarized [ɫ] as in Catalan (see dark l), while in most Brazilian dialects and some rural European ones it is vocalized to [w]. Caipira rhoticizes to English-like ar, while portunhol da pampa velarizes it.
r-, -rr- [r] [ʁ] In Portuguese, r- and -rr- have several possible pronunciations. In most dialects, it is a guttural r ([ʀ], [ʁ] and [χ] in Portugal and Brazil, [x], [ɣ], [ħ], [h] and [ɦ] in Brazil), while in rural northern Portugal and southern Brazil it is a trilled r [r] (like in Galician). In some southern and western Brazilian dialects word final -r may be a tap (as in Portugal and Galicia), though English-like [ɹ], [ɻ] or [ɚ] is more common, while in northern and eastern dialects it is guttural. In Spanish, r- and -rr- have kept their original pronunciation as an alveolar trill [r]. Intervocalic -r- is an alveolar tap in both languages [ɾ].
v [b ~ β] [v] Originally, the letters ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ stood for distinct sounds pronounced [b] and [β], respectively, but the two eventually merged into a single phoneme in Spanish. In most varieties of Portuguese they remained separate phonemes, and the bilabial fricative [β] of Old Portuguese subsequently changed into the labiodental fricative [v], as in French and Italian.

Since no distinction is made anymore between the pronunciation of ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩, Spanish spelling has been reformed according to Classical Latin. In Portuguese, the spelling of these letters is based on pronunciation, which is closer to Vulgar Latin and modern Italian. This leads to some orthographic disparities:

  • Compare for example Spanish gobierno, haber, libro with Portuguese governo, haver, livro.
  • The endings of the imperfect indicative tense of 1st. conjugation verbs (with infinitives ending in -ar) are spelled with ⟨b⟩ in Spanish (cantaba, cantabas, cantábamos, and so on), but with ⟨v⟩ in Portuguese (cantava, cantavas, cantávamos, etc.)
  • The Spanish adjectival suffix -ble, as in posible (also used in English, "possible"), corresponds to -vel in Portuguese: possível.

In Spanish, the plosives b, d, g are lenited, usually realized as "soft" approximants [β̞, ð̞, ɣ̞] (here represented without the undertracks) after continuants. While similar pronunciations can be heard in European Portuguese, most speakers of Portuguese pronounce these phonemes consistently as "hard" plosives [b, d, ɡ]. This can make a Portuguese phrase such as uma bala ("a bullet") sound like una pala ("a shovel") to a Spanish-speaker.

Contact forms[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Cândido Figueiredo, Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa (Rio de Janeiro: Mérito: 1949); Francisco da Silveira Bueno, Grande Dicionário Etimológico-Prosódico da Língua Portuguesa (São Paulo: Saraiva, 1964).
  2. ^ Martínez 2010, p. 135; Veciana 2004, p. 15
  3. ^ Butt, John; Carmen Benjamin (2000). A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish (3rd ed.). New York City: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 394 (§28.6). ISBN 0-658-00873-0. 
  4. ^ Curiously, the Portuguese term is the origin of both the Spanish and, via French, the English term, according to Microsoft Encarta Dictionary, 2004. It is formed of em ('in', as a prefix), baraço (an old term for 'rope') and suffix -ada (which is the feminine form of a verbal ending equivalent to "-ed"), according to its entry in Houaiss Dictionary.
  5. ^ "Conjugação do verbo estar". Conjuga-me. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  6. ^ónicos
  7. ^ Verbix Conjugation
  8. ^ See a list at Wikipedia in Portuguese: List of contracted prepositions
  9. ^ Jacques De Bruyne, A Comprehensive Spanish Grammar (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), §752.
  10. ^ Aurélio defines the words pra¹ as a syncopated form of para, and pra² and pro as a contraction of pra¹ plus the article.
  11. ^ The phoneme represented by ⟨ll⟩ has merged with the one represented by ⟨y⟩ in most dialects, commonly realized as [ʝ], or, in River Plate Spanish, as [ʒ] or as [ʃ].


External links[edit]