Houaiss began his career in Rio de Janeiro as a professor of the Portuguese language, of which he eventually became a recognized authority. He left teaching in 1945 for the diplomatic service and served the Brazilian government as such until the 1964 military coup, when he was forced to retire with loss of political rights. During that period he was Brazilian vice-consul and representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland (1947 to 1949); third secretary of the Brazilian Embassy in the Dominican Republic (1949 to 1951) and in Athens, Greece (1951 to 1953); member of the permanent Brazilian delegation to the United Nations in New York City (1960 to 1964).
After leaving the diplomatic career he worked briefly as editor of the Brazilian newspaper Correio da Manhã (1964 to 1965). He joined the Brazilian Academy of Philology in 1960 and was elected a fellow of the exclusive Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1971, which he presided in 1996. He was the chief editor of the Brazilian encyclopedia Mirador. In 1990 he received the Moinho Santista Award. For 11 months, in 1992 and 1993, he served as the Minister of Culture under President Itamar Franco .
He was also one of the chief proponents of the international unification for the orthography of Portuguese, a project which he had joined in 1985, and led to the 1990 spelling reform treaty, which he too did not live to see implemented.
He is the author of several books and many essays, commentaries and articles on linguistics and other subjects. He is best known for his translation of James Joyce's Ulysses, and for supervising with Mauro de Salles Villar the creation of the Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa, one of the major reference dictionaries for the Portuguese language[according to whom?]. The dictionary, which he started compiling in 1985, was completed and published (with more than 220,000 entries) only after his death, in 2001. The Antônio Houaiss Institute was created in 1997 to continue that work.
- (2012) "Houaiss, Antonio". Itaú Cultural Encyclopedia Online, last updated 24/feb/2012.
- Vasco Mariz (1995), "Antônio Houaiss: uma vida." Ed. Civilização Brasileira
- "Antônio Houaiss - Biografia" Website of the Academia Brasileira de Letras, accessed on 2012-12-28.
- Folha da Manhã (2009) "Maior ideólogo da reforma ortográfica, Houaiss morreu sem ver resultado da obra" (Obituary). Folha Online, 2009-03-07.
- Antônio Houaiss (1966) "Ulisses" (Portuguese translation of James Joyce's Ulysses, 1922). Editora Civilização Brasileira, 960 pages. ISBN 8520000088.
- Antônio Houaiss and Mauro Villar (2001), "Grande Dicionário Houaiss Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa Archived November 20, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.". 3008 pages, Editora Objetiva,
- "Grande Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa" Description and history of the book in the Editora Objetiva website. Accessed on 2012-12-18.
- Instituto António Houaiss site. Accessed on 2012-12-27.