Portuguese orthography

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The Portuguese orthography is based on the Latin alphabet, and makes use of the acute accent, the circumflex accent, the grave accent, the tilde, and the cedilla, to denote stress, vowel height, nasalization, and other sound changes. Accented letters and digraphs are not counted as separate characters for collation purposes.

The spelling of Portuguese is largely phonemic, but some phonemes can be spelled in more than one way. In ambiguous cases, the correct spelling is determined through a combination of etymology with morphology and common tradition, so there is not a perfect one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters or digraphs. Knowing the main inflectional paradigms of Portuguese, and being acquainted with the orthography of other languages of Western Europe, can be helpful in this regard.

A full list of sounds, diphthongs, and their main spellings, is given at Portuguese phonology. This article addresses the less trivial details of the spelling of Portuguese, as well as other issues of orthography, such as accentuation.

Letter names and pronunciations[edit]

Only the most frequent sounds are given below, since a listing of all cases and exceptions would be too cumbersome. Portuguese is a pluricentric language, and the pronunciation of some of the letters is different in European Portuguese (EP) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP). Apart from these variations, the pronunciation of most consonants is fairly straightforward, and similar to French or Catalan pronunciation. Only the consonants r, s, x, z, the digraphs ch, lh, nh, rr, and the vowels may require special attention from English speakers.

Although many letters have more than one pronunciation, their phonetic value is often predictable from their position within a word; this is normally the case for the consonants (except x). Since only five letters are available to write the fourteen vowel sounds of Portuguese, the orthography of the vowels is more complex, but even in this case pronunciation is predictable to a degree. Knowing the main inflectional paradigms of Portuguese can be helpful in this regard.

In the following table and in the remainder of this article, the phrase "at the end of a syllable" can be understood as "before a consonant, or at the end of a word". For the letter r, "at the start of a syllable" means "at the beginning of a word, or after l, n, s". For letters with more than one common pronunciation, their most common phonetic values are given on the left side of the semicolon; sounds to the right of it occur only in a limited number of positions within a word. Sounds separated by "~" are allophones or dialectal variants.

The names of the letters are masculine.

Letter European Brazilian Phonetic
values
Name Name (IPA) Name Name (IPA)
Aa á /a/ á /a/ /a/, /ɐ/ nb 3
Bb /be/ /be/ /b/
Cc /se/ /se/ /k/; /s/ nb 1
Dd /de/ /de/ /d/ ~ [dʑ] nb 2
Ee é /ɛ/ é or ê /ɛ/, /e/ /e/, /ɛ/, /i/ nb 3, /ɨ/, /ɐ/, /ɐi/
Ff éfe /ˈɛfɨ/ éfe /ˈɛfi/ /f/
Gg or guê /ʒe/, /ɡe/ /ʒe/ /ɡ/; /ʒ/ nb 1
Hh agá /ɐˈɣa/ agá /ɐˈɣa/ natively silent, /ʁ/ in loanwords nb 4
Ii i /i/ i /i/ /i/ nb 3
Jj jota /ˈʒɔtɐ/ jota /ˈʒɔtɐ/ /ʒ/
Kk capa /ˈkapɐ/ /ka/ nb 5
Ll éle /ˈɛlɨ/ éle /ˈɛli/ /l/ ~ [ɫ ~ w] nb 6
Mm éme /ˈɛmɨ/ éme /ˈẽmi/ /m/ nb 7
Nn éne /ˈɛnɨ/ éne /ˈẽni/ /n/ nb 7
Oo ó /ɔ/ ó or ô /ɔ/, /o/ /o/, /ɔ/, /u/ nb 3
Pp /pe/ /pe/ /p/
Qq quê /ke/ quê /ke/ /k/
Rr érre or /ˈɛʁɨ/, /ˈʁe/ érre /ˈɛʁi/ /ɾ/, /ʁ/ nb 8
Ss ésse /ˈɛsɨ/ ésse /ˈɛsi/ /s/, /z/ nb 9, /ʃ/, /ʒ/ nb 10
Tt /te/ /te/ /t/ ~ [tɕ] nb 2
Uu u /u/ u /u/ /u/ nb 3
Vv /ve/ /ve/ /v/
Ww dâblio or duplo vê /ˈdɐβlju/ dáblio or duplo vê /ˈdaβʎu/ nb 5
Xx chis /ʃiʃ ~ ʃis/ xis /ʃis/ /ʃ/, /ks/, /z/, /s/, /ʒ/ nb 10 nb 11
Yy ípsilon or i grego /ˈipsɨlɔn/ ípsilon /ˈipsilõ/ nb 5
Zz /ze/ /ze/ /z/, /s/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/ nb 10
Listen to the alphabet recited by a native speaker from Brazil. Note: The alphabet is spoken in a Brazilian dialect where the 'E' is pronounced as 'É'

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Before the letters e, i, y, or with the cedilla.
  2. ^ Allophonically affricated before the sound /i/ (spelled i, or sometimes e), in BP.
  3. ^ May become an approximant as a form of vowel reduction when unstressed before or after another vowel. Words such as bóia and proa are pronounced [ˈbɔj.jɐ] and [ˈpɾow.wɐ].[1]
  4. ^ Silent at the start or at the end of a word. Also part of the digraphs ch, lh, nh. See below.
  5. ^ Not part of the official alphabet before 2009 (see above)[citation needed]. Used only in foreign words, personal names, and hybrid words derived from them.
  6. ^ Velarized to [ɫ] in EP and conservative registers of southern BP. Vocalized to [u̯], [ʊ̯], or seldom [o̯] (as influence from Spanish or Japanese), at the end of syllables in most of Brazil.
  7. ^ Usually silent or voiceless at the end of syllables (word-final n is fully pronounced by some speakers in a few loaned words). See also the section on Nasalization, below.
  8. ^ At the start of syllables (in all dialects) or at the end of syllables (in some dialects of BP), a single r is pronounced /ʁ/ (see Portuguese phonology for variants of this sound). Elsewhere, it is pronounced /ɾ/. Word-final rhotics may also be silent when the last syllable is stressed, in casual and vernacular speech, especially in Brazil (pervasive nationwide, though not in educated and some colloquial registers) and some African and Asian countries.
  9. ^ A single s is pronounced voiced /z/ between vowels.
  10. ^ The opposition between the four sibilants /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/ is neutralized at the end of syllables; see below for more information.
  11. ^ The traditional pronunciation of the letter x between vowels is /ʃ/, but in loanwords from Latin or Greek it may represent other sounds: /ks/ (the most common), /z/ (in words that begin with ex- or hex- followed by a vowel, and in compounds made from such words), or /s/ (in a very small number of words, such as trouxe and próximo). It is always pronounced /ʃ/ at the beginning of words and after consonants.

Digraphs[edit]

Portuguese additionally makes use of five digraphs,[citation needed] pairs of letters which represent a single sound, different from the sum of their components. Digraphs are not included in the alphabet.

Grapheme Pronunciation
ch ʃ
lh ʎ
nh ɲ
rr ʁ
ss s

The digraph ch is pronounced as an English sh by the overwhelmingly majority of speakers. The digraphs lh and nh, of Occitan origin, denote palatal consonants that do not exist in English. The digraphs rr and ss are only used between vowels. The pronunciation of the digraph rr varies with dialect (see the note on the phoneme /ʁ/, above).

Diacritics[edit]

Portuguese makes use of six diacritics: the cedilla (ç), acute accent (á, é, í, ó, ú), circumflex accent (â, ê, ô), tilde (ã, õ), grave accent (à), and diaresis (ü).

Grapheme Pronunciation
á a
â ɐ, ɐ̃
ã ɐ̃
à a
ç s
é ɛ
ê e, əj
í i
ó ɔ
ô o
õ õ
ú u
ü ʉ

The cedilla indicates that ç is pronounced /s/ (due to a historical palatalization). By convention, s is written instead of etymological ç at the beginning of words.[example needed]

The acute accent and the circumflex accent indicate that a vowel is stressed, and also the quality of the accented vowel, more precisely its height: á, é, and ó are low vowels (except in nasal vowels), while â, ê, and ô are high vowels. They also distinguish a few homographs: cf. por "by" with pôr "to put", pode "[he/she/it] can" with pôde "[he/she/it] could".

The tilde marks nasal vowels before glides such as in cãibra and nação, at the end of words, before final -s, and in some compounds, like romãzeira "pomegranate tree", from romã "pomegranate", and vãmente "vainly", from "vain". It usually coincides with the stressed vowel, unless there is an acute or circumflex accent elsewhere in the word, or if the word is compound, e.g. órgão "organ", irmã + zinha ("sister" + diminutive suffix) = irmãzinha "little sister".

The grave accent marks the contraction of two consecutive vowels in adjacent words (crasis), normally the preposition a and an article or a demonstrative pronoun: a + aquela = àquela "at that", a + a = à "at the", and so on. It does not indicate stress.

The graphemes â, ê and ô typically represent oral vowels, although before m or n followed by another consonant the vowels represented are nasal. Elsewhere, nasal vowels are indicated with a tilde (ã, õ).

Stress[edit]

Below are the general rules for the use of the acute accent and the circumflex in Portuguese. Primary stress may fall on any of the three final syllables of a word, but occurs mainly on the last two. A word is called oxytone if it is stressed on its last syllable, paroxytone if stress falls on the syllable before the last (the penult), and proparoxytone if stress falls on the third syllable from the end (the antepenult). Most words are stressed on the penult.

All words stressed on the antepenult take an accent mark. Words with two or more syllables, stressed on their last syllable, is not accented if ending with any consonant letter but m and s, or when ending in -i, -is, -im, -u, -us, -um, except in hiatuses as in açaí, but the paroxytones words may be accented when ended in those cases for differentiating from oxytones words, as in lápis.

Monosyllables[edit]

Monosyllables are typically not accented, but those whose last vowel is a, e, or o, possibly followed by final -s or final -m, may require an accent mark.

  • The verb pôr is accented, to be distinguished from the preposition por.
  • The 3rd. person plural forms of the verbs ter and vir, têm and vêm, are accented to be distinguished from the 3rd. person singular of the same verbs, tem, vem. Other monosyllables ending in -em are not accented.
  • Monosyllables ending in -o or -os with the vowel pronounced /u/ (as in English "do"), or in -e or -es with the vowel pronounced /i/ (as in English "be") or /ɨ/ (approximately as in English "roses"), are not accented. Otherwise, they are accented.
  • Monosyllables containing only the vowel a take an acute accent, except for the contractions of the preposition a with the articles a, as, which take the grave accent, à, às, and for the following clitic articles, pronouns, prepositions, or contractions, which are not accented: a, da, la, lha, ma, na, ta; as, das, las, lhas, mas, nas, tas. Note that most of these words have a masculine equivalent ending in -o(s), also not accented: o(s), do(s), lo(s), lho(s), mo(s), no(s), to(s).

Polysyllables[edit]

  • The endings -a, -e, -o, -as, -es, -os, -am, -em, -ens are unstressed. The stressed vowel of words with such endings is assumed to be the first one before the ending itself: bonita, bonitas, gente, viveram, seria, serias (verbs), seriam. If the word happens to be stressed elsewhere, then it requires an accent mark: será, serás, até, séria, sérias (adjectives), Inácio, Amazônia/Amazónia. The endings -em and -ens take the acute accent when stressed (contém, convéns), except in 3rd. person plural forms of verbs derived from ter and vir, which take the circumflex (contêm, convêm). Words with other endings are regarded as oxytone by default: viver, jardim, vivi, bambu, pensais, pensei, pensou. They require an accent when they are stressed on a syllable other than their last: táxi, fácil, amáveis.
  • Rising diphthongs (which may also be pronounced as hiatuses) containing stressed i or stressed u are accented, so that they will not be pronounced as falling diphthongs. Exceptions are those where the stressed vowel forms a syllable with a letter other than s. Thus, raízes (syllabified as ra-í-zes), incluído (u-í), and saíste (a-ís) are accented, but raiz (ra-iz), sairmos (a-ir) and saiu (a-iu) are not. (There are a few more exceptions, not discussed here.)
  • The stressed diphthongs ei, eu, oi take an acute accent on the first vowel whenever it is low.

Aside from these cases, there are a few more words that take an accent, usually to disambiguate frequent homographs such as pode (present tense of the verb poder) and pôde (past tense of the same verb). Note also that the accentuation rules of Portuguese are somewhat different from those of Spanish (e.g. English "continuous" is Portuguese contínuo, Spanish continuo, and English "I continue" is Portuguese continuo, Spanish continúo, in both cases with the same syllable accented in Portuguese and Spanish).

Personal names[edit]

The use of diacritics in personal names is generally restricted to the letter-diacritic combinations above, and often also by the applicable Portuguese spelling rules.

Portugal is more restrictive than Brazil in regard to given names. They must be either Portuguese or adapted to the Portuguese orthography and sound, and should also be easily discerned as either a masculine or feminine name by a Portuguese speaker. There are lists of previously accepted names, and names not included therein must be subject to consultation of the national director of registries.[2] Brazilian birth registrars, on the other hand, are likely to accept names containing any (Latin) letters or diacritics, limited only to the availability of such characters in their typesetting facility.

Consonants with more than one spelling[edit]

Most consonants have the same values as in the International Phonetic Alphabet, except for the palatals /ʎ/ and /ɲ/, which are spelled lh and nh, respectively, and the following velars, rhotics, and sibilants:

Velar plosives[edit]

Phoneme Default Before e or i
Spelling Examples Spelling Examples
/k/ c, q[plosive note 1] casa, quatro qu quente, aqui
/ɡ/ g gato, grão gu guerra, guitarra

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ in some Latinisms

Rhotics[edit]

The alveolar tap /ɾ/ is always spelled as a single r. The other rhotic phoneme of Portuguese, which may be pronounced as a trill /r/ or as one of the fricatives /x/, /ʁ/, or /h/, according to the idiolect of the speaker, is either written rr or r, as described below. For this phoneme, the phrase "at the start of a syllable" can be understood as "at the beginning of words and after /l/, /z/, /ʒ/ or a nasal vowel". At the end of a syllable or between syllables when not preceded by /l/, /z/, /ʒ/ or a nasal vowel, in some dialects, it is commonly realized as /ɹ/ or /ɻ/. Although more common in the end of a syllable, /ɹ/ and /ɻ/ are not broadly used between syllables, being restricted to few accents.

Phoneme Start of syllable[rhotic note 1] Between vowels End of syllable[rhotic note 2]
Spelling Examples Spelling Examples Spelling Examples
/ʁ ~ x ~ h ~ r/ r rosa, tenro rr carro r sorte, mar

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ only when it is the first sound in the syllable (in which case it is always followed by a vowel). For instance, a word like prato is pronounced with a tap, /ɾ/
  2. ^ in some dialects; in the others, the r is usually a tap at the end of syllables

Sibilants[edit]

For the following phonemes, the phrase "at the start of a syllable" can be understood as "at the start of a word, or between a consonant and a vowel, in that order".

Phoneme Start of syllable1 Between vowels End of syllable
Spelling Examples Spelling Examples Spelling Examples
/s/ s, c3 sapo, psique,
maçã, cedo
ss, ç2, c3, x4 assado, passe,
açorda, alperce
próximo
s, x5, z6 isto,
externo,
paz
/z/ z zumbido,
zero
z, s, x7 prazo, azeite,
rosa, Brasil,
exemplo
s, x8, z8 turismo,
ex-mulher,
felizmente
/ʃ/ ch, x chuva, cherne,
xarope, xisto
ch, x fecho, duche,
caixa, mexilhão
s, x5, z6 isto,
externo,
paz
/ʒ/ j, g3 jogo, jipe,
gente
j, g3 ajuda, pajem,
agenda
s, x8, z8 turismo,
ex-mulher,
felizmente
1 including consonant clusters that belong to a single syllable, like psique
2 before a, o, u. Ç never starts or ends a word.
3 before e, i
4 only in a very small number of words derived from Latin, such as trouxe and próximo
5 only in words derived from Latin or Greek, preceded by e and followed by one of the voiceless consonants c, p, s, t
6 only at the end of words and in rare compounds
7 only in a few words derived from Latin or Greek that begin with ex- or hex- followed by a vowel, and in compounds made from such words
8 only in a few compound words

Note that there are two main groups of accents in Portuguese, one in which the sibilants are alveolar at the end of syllables (/s/ or /z/), and another in which they are postalveolar (/ʃ/ or /ʒ/). In this position, the sibilants occur in complementary distribution, voiced before voiced consonants, and voiceless before voiceless consonants or at the end of utterances.

Vowels[edit]

The vowels in the pairs /a, ɐ/, /e, ɛ/, /o, ɔ/ only contrast in stressed syllables. In unstressed syllables, each element of the pair occurs in complementary distribution with the other. Stressed /ɐ/ appears mostly before the nasal consonants m, n, nh, followed by a vowel, and stressed /a/ elsewhere, although they have a limited number of minimal pairs in EP.

In Brazilian Portuguese, both nasal and unstressed vowel phonemes that only contrast when stressed tend to a mid height, though [a] may be often heard in unstressed position (especially when singing or speaking emphatically). In pre-20th-century European Portuguese, those tended to be raised to [ə], [i] (now [ɯ̽] except when close to another vowel) and [u]. This still is the case of most Brazilian dialects, where the word elogio may be variously pronounced as [iluˈʒiu], [e̞lo̞ˈʒiu], [e̞luˈʒiu], etc. Some dialects, such as those of Northeastern and Southern Brazil, tend to do less pre-vocalic vowel reduction and in general the unstressed vowel sounds adhere to that of one of the stressed vowel pair, namely [ɛ, ɔ] and [e, o] respectively.[1][3]

In the educated speech used in Rio de Janeiro, most often accepted as standard or close to it, vowel reduction is used less often than in colloquial and vernacular speech, though still more than the more distant dialects, and in general mid vowels are dominant over close-mid ones and especially open-mid ones in unstressed environments when those are in free variation (that is, sozinho is always [sɔˈzĩɲu], even in Portugal, while elogio is almost certainly [e̞lo̞ˈʒi.u]). Mid vowels are also used as choice for stressed nasal vowels in both Portugal and Rio de Janeiro, though not in São Paulo and southern Brazil, while in Bahia, Sergipe and neighboring areas mid nasal vowels supposedly are close-mid, like those of French. Veneno can thus vary as EP [vɯ̽ˈne̞nu], RJ [vẽ̞ˈnẽ̞nu], SP [veˈnenʊ] and BA [vɛˈnɛ̃nu] according to the dialect. /ɐ̃/ also got significant dialectal variation, respectively in the same of the last sentence, banana [bəˈnɐnə], [bə̃ˈnɜ̃nə], [bɜˈnənə] and [bɜ̃ˈnɜ̃nɐ].[3] By assimilation of nasality it varies the most, but while stressed and not followed by a nasal consonant /ɐ̃/ is generally [ɜ̯ɜ̃ɰ̃] in Brazil.[4]

Vowel reduction of unstressed nasal vowels is extremely pervasive nationwide in Brazil, in vernacular, colloquial and even most educated speech registers e.g. então [ĩˈtɐ̃w], camondongo [kɐmũˈdõɡu].[1] This is slightly more resisted, though also present, in Portugal.

Diacritics[edit]

The pronunciation of the accented vowels is fairly stable, except that they become nasal in certain conditions. See the section on Nasalization, for further information about this regular phenomenon. In other cases, nasal vowels are marked with a tilde. The diacritic ` is only used in the letter A and is merely grammatical, meaning a contraction between two equal letters - such as adverb "to" and feminine pronoun "the", e.g. vou a a cidade => vou à cidade "I'm going to the city" - not affecting pronunciation at all. The umlaut (trema) was official prior to the last orthographical reform, and can still be found in older texts or used by people not accustomed to the new rules. It meant that the usually silent U between Q or G and I or E was in fact pronounced, like in the words liqüido "liquid" and sangüíneo "related to blood". Some words have two acceptable pronunciations, varying largely by accents.

Grapheme Pronunciation
á a
â ɐ, ɐ̃
ã ɐ̃
à a
é ɛ
ê e, əj
í i
ó ɔ
ô o
õ õ
ú u
ü ʉ

Diphthongs[edit]

The pronunciation of each diphthong is also fairly predictable, but one must know how to distinguish true diphthongs from adjacent vowels in hiatus, which belong to separate syllables. For example, in the word saio /ˈsaiu/ ([ˈsaj.ju]), the i forms a clearer diphthong with the previous vowel (though a slight yod also in the next syllable is generally present[1]), but in saiu /sɐˈiu/ ([sɐˈiw]), it forms a diphthong with the next vowel. As in Spanish, a hiatus may be indicated with an acute accent, distinguishing homographs such as saia /ˈsaiɐ/ ([ˈsaj.jɐ]) and saía /sɐˈiɐ/.

Oral
Grapheme Pronunciation Grapheme Pronunciation
ai, ái [ai ~ ɐi] au, áu [au ~ ɐu]
ei, êi [ei ~ eː], [əi]1 eu, êu [eu]
éi [ɛi], [əi]1 éu [ɛu]
oi [oi] ou [ou ~ oː]
ói [ɔi] óu [ɔu]
ui [ui] iu [iu]
Nasal
Grapheme Pronunciation Grapheme Pronunciation
ãe, ãi [ɐ̃ĩ] ão [ɐ̃ũ]
õe [õĩ] -

1 In central Portugal.

Nasalization[edit]

When a syllable ends with m or n, this consonant is not fully pronounced, but merely indicates the nasalization of the vowel which precedes it. At the end of words, this sometimes produces a nasal diphthong.

Monophthongs Diphthongs
Grapheme Pronunciation Grapheme Pronunciation
-an, -am, -ân, -âm1 /ɐ̃/ -am2 /ɐ̃ũ/
-en, -em, -ên, -êm1 /ẽ/ -em, -ém2 /ẽĩ/ ([ɐ̃ĩ])
-in, -im, -ín, -ím3 /ĩ/ -en-, -én-4
-on, -om, -ôn, -ôm3 /õ/ -êm2 /ẽĩ/ ([ɐ̃ĩ])
-un, -um, -ún, -úm3 /ũ/

1 at the end of a syllable

2 at the end of a word

3 at the end of a syllable or word

4 before final s, for example in the words bens and parabéns

The letter m is conventionally written before b or p or at the end of words (also in a few compound words such as comummente - comumente in Brazil), and n is written before other consonants. In the plural, the ending -m changes into -ns; for example bem, rim, bom, umbens, rins, bons, uns. Some loaned words end with -n (which is usually pronounced in European Portuguese).

Nasalization of u is left unmarked in the six words muito, muita, muitos, muitas, mui, ruim (the latter one only in Brazilian Portuguese).

The word endings -am, -em, -en(+s), with or without an accent mark on the vowel, represent nasal diphthongs derived from various Latin endings, often -ant, -unt or -en(t)-. Final -am, which appears in polysyllabic verbs, is always unstressed. The grapheme -en- is also pronounced as a nasal diphthong in a few compound words, such as bendito (bem + dito), homenzinho (homem + zinho), and Benfica.

Morphological considerations[edit]

Verbs whose infinitive ends in -jar have j in the whole conjugation. Thus, viagem "voyage" (noun), but viajem (3rd. pers. plur. of the present subjunctive of the verb viajar "to travel").

Verbs whose thematic vowel becomes a stressed i in one of their inflections are spelled with an i in the whole conjugation, as are other words of the same family. Thus, crio (I create) implies criar (to create) and criatura (creature).

Verbs whose thematic vowel becomes a stressed ei in one of their inflections are spelled with an e in the whole conjugation, as are other words of the same family. Thus, nomeio (I nominate) implies nomear (to nominate) and nomeação (nomination).

Etymological considerations[edit]

The majority of the Portuguese lexicon is derived from Latin, Greek, and some Arabic, so in principle this would require some knowledge of those languages. However, Greek words are Latinized before being incorporated into the language, and many words of Latin or Greek origin have easily recognizable cognates in English and other western European languages which are spelled according to similar principles. For instance, glória, "glory", glorioso, "glorious", herança "inheritance", real "real/royal". Some general guidelines for spelling are given below:

  • CU vs. QU: where u is pronounced syllabically it is written with c, as in cueca [kuˈɛkɐ] (underwear), and where it represents a labialized velar plosive, it is written with q, as in quando [ˈkwɐ̃du] (when).
  • G vs. J: etymological g changes into j before a, o, u.
  • H: this letter is silent; it appears only at the start of a word for etymology or by convention, in a few interjections, and as part of the digraphs ch, lh, nh. Latin or Greek ch, ph, rh, th, and y are usually converted into c/qu, f, r, t, and i, respectively.
  • O vs. OU: in many words has the variant oi, normally corresponds to Latin and Arabic au or al, and more rarely to Latin ap, oc.
  • S/SS vs. C/Ç: the letter s and the digraph ss correspond to Latin s, ss, or ns, and to Spanish s. The graphemes c (before e or i) and ç (before a, o, u) are usually derived from Latin c or t(i), or from s in non-European languages, such as Arabic and Amerindian languages. They correspond to Spanish z or c. At the beginning of words, however, s is written instead of etymological ç, by convention.
  • Z vs. S between vowels: the letter z corresponds to Latin c (+e, i) or t(i), to Greek or Arabic z. Intervocalic s corresponds to Latin s.
  • X vs. CH: the letter x derives from Latin x or s, or from Arabic sh, and usually corresponds to Spanish j. The digraph ch (before vowels) derives from Latin cl, fl, pl or from French ch, and corresponds to Spanish ll or ch.
  • S vs. X vs. Z at the end of syllables: s is the most common spelling for all sibilants. The letter x appears, preceded by e and followed by one of the voiceless consonants c, p, s, t, in some words derived from Latin or Greek. The letter z occurs only at the end of oxytone words and in compounds derived from them, corresponding to Latin x, c (+e, i) or to Arabic z.

Loanwords with a /ʃ/ in their original languages receive the letter x to represent it when they are nativised i.e. xampu (shampoo). While the pronunciations of ch and x, like in French, merged long ago, some Galician-Portuguese dialects like the Galician language, the portunhol da pampa and the speech registers of northeastern Portugal still preserve the difference as ch /tʃ/ vs. x /ʃ/, as do other Iberian languages and Medieval Portuguese. When one wants to stress the sound difference in dialects where it merged the convention is to use tch e.g. tchau (ciao) and Brazilian Portuguese República Tcheca (Czech Republic), though in most loanwords, it mergers with /ʃ/ (or /t/ e.g. moti for mochi), just as originally [dʒ] most often merges with /ʒ/. Alveolar affricates [ts] and [dz], though, are more likely to be preserved (e.g. pizza, Zeitgeist, tsunami, kudzu, adzuki, etc.)

Syllabification and collation[edit]

Portuguese syllabification rules require a syllable break between double letters cc, , mm, nn, rr, ss, or other combinations of letters which may be pronounced as a single sound, e.g. fric-ci-o-nar, pro-ces-so, car-ro, ex-ce(p)-to, ex-su-dar. Only the digraphs ch, lh, nh, gu, qu, and ou are indivisible. All digraphs are however broken down into their constituent letters for the purposes of collation, spelling aloud, and in crossword puzzles.

Other symbols[edit]

Apostrophe[edit]

The apostrophe (') appears as part of certain phrases, usually to indicate the elision of a vowel in the contraction of a preposition with the word that follows it: de + água = d'água. It is used almost exclusively in poetry.

Hyphen[edit]

The hyphen (-) is used to make compound words, especially animal names like papagaio-de-rabo-vermelho "red-tailed parrot". It is also extensively used to append clitic pronouns to the verb, as in quero-o "I want it" (enclisis), or even to embed them within the verb, as in levaria + vos + os = levar-vos-ia "I would take to you", "levar-vo-los-ia" = "I would take them to you" (mesoclisis). Proclitic pronouns are not connected graphically to the verb: não o quero "I do not want it". Each element in such compounds is treated as an individual word for accentuation purposes.

Quotation marks[edit]

In European Portuguese, as in many other European languages, angular quotation marks are used for general quotations in literature:

«Isto é um exemplo de como fazer uma citação em português europeu.»
“This is an example of how to make a quotation in European Portuguese.”

Although American-style (“…”) or British-style (‘…’) quotation marks are sometimes used as well, especially in less formal types of writing (due to being more easily produced in keyboards) or inside nested quotations, they are less common in careful writing. In Brazilian Portuguese, only American and British-style quote marks are used.

“Isto é um exemplo de como fazer uma citação em português brasileiro.”
“This is an example of how to make a quotation in Brazilian Portuguese.”

In both varieties of the language, dashes are normally used for direct speech, rather than quotation marks:

― Aborreço-me tanto ― disse ela.
― Não tenho culpa disso ― retorquiu ele.
“I’m so bored,” she said.
“That’s not my fault,” he shot back.

Brazilian vs. European spelling[edit]

Written varieties
Portuguese-speaking countries except Brazil before the 1990 agreement Brazil before the 1990 agreement All countries after the 1990 agreement translation
Different pronunciation
anónimo anônimo Both forms remain anonymous
Vénus Vênus Both forms remain Venus
facto fato Both forms remain fact
ideia idéia ideia idea
Silent consonants
acção ação ação action
direcção direção direção direction
eléctrico elétrico elétrico electric
óptimo ótimo ótimo very good
Diacritics
pinguim pingüim pinguim penguin
voo vôo voo flight
Non-personal and non-geographical names
Janeiro janeiro janeiro January
Further information: Spelling reforms of Portuguese

As of 2005, Portuguese has two orthographic standards:

  • The Brazilian orthography, official in Brazil.
  • The European orthography, official in Portugal, Macau, East Timor and the five African Lusophone countries.

In East Timor, both orthographies are currently being taught in schools.

The table to the right illustrates typical differences between the two orthographies. Some are due to different pronunciations, but others are merely graphic. The main ones are:

  • Presence or absence of certain consonants: The letters c and p appear in some words before c, ç or t in one orthography, but are absent from the other. Normally, the letter is written down in the European spelling, but not in the Brazilian spelling.
  • Different use of diacritics: the Brazilian spelling has a, ê or ô followed by m or n before a vowel, in several words where the European orthography has á, é or ó, due to different pronunciation.
  • Different usage of double letters: also due to different pronunciation, Brazilian spelling has only cc, rr and ss as double letters. So, Portuguese connosco becomes Brazilian conosco and words ended in m with suffix -mente added, (like ruimmente and comummente) become ruimente e comumente in Brazilian spelling.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • Bergström, Magnus & Reis, Neves Prontuário Ortográfico Editorial Notícias, 2004.
  • Estrela, Edite A questão ortográfica — Reforma e acordos da língua portuguesa (1993) Editorial Notícias
  • Formulário Ortográfico (Orthographic Form) published by the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1943 - the present day spelling rules in Brazil
  • Text of the decree of the Brazilian government, in 1971, amending the orthography adopted in 1943
  • Orthographic Agreement of 1945 (in Portuguese) - the present day spelling rules in all Portuguese speaking countries
  • Orthographic Agreement of 1990 (PDF - in Portuguese) - to be adopted by all Portuguese speaking countries

External links[edit]