Portuguese language


Portuguese (português or língua portuguesa) is a Romance group language of Indo-European language family, Ibero-Romance sub-group. It developed from the medieval Galician-Portuguese language (Portuguese: galego-português or galaico-português, Galician: galego-portugués or galaico-portugués). Writing is based on the Latin alphabet. It is the second Romance language by the number of native speakers after closely related Spanish, and is one of the most widely-distributed languages of the world (6—8 places). Speakers of Portuguese are combined into the common term Lusophones named after ancient Roman province Lusitania. It included approximately the territory of the modern Portugal. And the whole part of Portuguese-speaking territories is called Lusophonie (similarly to the word Francophonie).

Geographical distribution

Portuguese is the official language of Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde (along with Cape Verdean Creole), Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, East Timor (along with Austronesian language Tetum (Tetun)) and Macao (along with Chinese). Nearly 80 % of all modern native speakers of Portuguese currently live in the Federative Republic of Brazil.

portuguese distribution

Closely related languages and mutual intelligibility

As it is originally the Romance language, the Portuguese language has much in common with other Romance languages. It is closely related to the modern Galician language, it derived from. Spanish is also highly close to Portuguese, distribution of which neighbors with Portuguese distribution both in Europe and South America. As contrasted with Spanish the Portuguese language is more archaic and conservative on the one hand, and contains a large number of phonetic innovations of ambiguous substrate origin (most probably Celtic) on the other. Structure of vowels, nasalization, reconstruction of open and closed vowels, not always corresponding to the etymology, places it in close with French and Catalan language. But the lexical composition of Portuguese as well as conjugation system are related to Spanish. Because of the strong positional vowel reduction in Portuguese, the Lusophones understand better spoken Spanish than vice versa. In places of significant influence of Spanish, for example in southern Brazil, the Lusophones understand Spanish on the spot. At the boundary of Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia developed mixed Spanish-Portuguese language Portuñol or Portunhol. However speakers of standard Spanish language badly understand spoken Portuguese but usually can understand written Portuguese.

Brief history of Portuguese


Little is known about nations lived in ancient times on the Iberian Peninsula. Presumably, a part of inhabitants  was closely related to Copts of the North Africa. North-end of the modern Portugal was populated by the Iberians, Lusitanians and Ligurians. Their languages left imprints in a modern toponyms. Ligurian origin suffixes -asco (Velasco, Nabasco); -antia, -entia: (Argança (Ârgantia), Palença (Pallentia)); -ас(е), -ic(e), -ос(е) (Queiraz, Queiriz, Queiroz, Moniz, Sabariz, Louriz, Candoz). Toponym Ambrões (Porto district) descended from Ambrones — a name identified by Ligurians themselves. Separate words remained from the Lusitanians , origin of which cannot be always explained, for example, veiga — meadow, barro — dirt, barranco — ravine, gordo — thick, cachorro — puppy. Iberian origin words were later borrowed from Spanish: zorra — fox, bezerro — calf, cincerro — rattle, gorra — cap, esquerdo — left, sapo — toad, piçarra — slate.

In the early VIII century BC Celts penetrated Portugal from behind the Pyrenees, who assimilated local tribes. It is evidenced by numerous toponyms with Celtic formants -briga (meant — altitude, castle): Conímbriga (modern Coimbra), Nertobriga, Turobriga, Lacobriga, Mirobriga, Arcobriga.

In 218 BC the Iberian Peninsula was invaded by Romans, who brought Latin language to the territory, which gave rise to the Romance (Latin) languages. The languages was distributed by Roman soldiers, settlers and merchants, who built Roman cities next to settlements of preceding civilizations. Romans got married to local women and Latin was gradually becoming the language of common use. Roman influence was great southwards rather than in the north. North tribes were left isolated and therefore managed to preserve their culture and customs.

Old Portuguese (or Galician-Portuguese – Portuguese: galego-português or galaico-português, Galician: galego-portugués or galaico-portugués)

Important date in the history was 1385 year — date of battle of Aljubarrota with the Spanish, which determined the existence of Portugal as an independent state. During this period Portuguese standard literary language was developed, first grammars and dictionaries appeared. Book printing became more popular. This period of Old Portuguese development (XIV—XVI centuries), together with Portuguese discoverers, the Portuguese language started its distribution in many regions of Asia, Africa and America.

Currently the majority of Portuguese speakers live in South America, in Brazil. By the XVI century Portuguese became a lingua franca in Asia and Africa, used not only by colonial administration and trade, but for the communication of local authorities with the Europeans of all nationalities. Its distribution was promoted by mixed marriages of the Portuguese with aboriginals and activity of Catholic missionaries. Missionaries contributed to the formation of Creole language Kristang (Port. cristão — Christian). This language was used in Asia up to XIX century. In some Christian communities of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia Portuguese language was preserved even when they were isolated from the Portugal. But in the second half of the XX century Portuguese almost disappeared in the given regions (except for the East Timor).

Modern Portuguese language

In the era of modern Portuguese emergence the language was enriched by variety of words from the Classical Latin and Greek, that is peculiar to the Renaissance. During XIX—XX Portuguese inherited many Gallicisms and Anglicisms. Differences between the literary standards of Portugal (and its colonies) and Brazil became obvious. More archaic variant of Portuguese was in Brazil influenced by Spanish and English-American lexicon. In XXI was a tendency towards approximation of all variants to the prevailing Brazilian standard, at least orthographically.

Colonization of Brazil

The most important stage of Portuguese distribution in the world was colonization of Brazil — enormous tropical territory in South America. At the time of colonization started (1530s) the population of Portugal numbered maximum 2 million people. Success of Portuguese consisted in fast miscegenation of white, black people and Indians into one nation — the Brazilians. Portugalization of Brazil ended in 1930—1960s, when primary languages of later immigrants — Italian and German were prohibited because of their association with fascism. Now the Portuguese language is native to 99,5 % Brazilian population.

Writing system of Portuguese

Standard Portuguese alphabet is based on the Latin and consists of 23 letters, having also letters with diacritical marks, which are not independent letters. These are: Á, Â, Ã, À, Ç, É, Ê, Í, Ó, Ô, Õ, Ú and Ü. In addition to there are digraphs nh, lh, ch, ss. Letters K, W and Y are used in foreign loan words.

Portuguese alphabet (alfabeto português)

A a B b C c D d E e F f G g H h I i
á é efe agá i
J j K k L l M m N n O o P p Q q R r
jota cá/capa ele eme ene ó quê erre
S s T t U u V v W w X x Y y Z z  
esse u dábliu,
xis ípsilon,
i grego

European Portuguese pronunciation

Vowels and diphthongs

Vowels and diphthongs


Portuguese consonants


  • a = [ə] in unstressed syllable or at the end of word, [á] or [ɐ] elsewhere.
  • Between vowels b is often pronounced as [β]; d = [ð]; g = [ɣ]
  • c = [s] before i or e, [k] elsewhere
  • e = [ə] in unstressed syllable or at the end of word, [é] or [ɛ́] elsewhere. Often pronunciation is scarcely distinguishable at the end of word.
  • gu = [gw] before i or e, [g] elsewhere
  • r = [ʀ] or [rr] initially, [r] elsewhere
  • l is often pronounced as [ɫ]
  • s = [s] initially, [z] between vowels and at the end of word following the vowel or before the word, beginning with the vowel, for example: os Estados Unidos [uz eʃtaduz uniduʃ], [ʃ] after vowel and before consonant, at the end of syllable.
  • z = [ʒ] at the end of word, [z] elsewhere

Brazilian Portuguese pronunciation

Vowels and diphthongs

Brazilian Vowels and diphthongs


Brazilian Consonants


  • e = [e] in unstressed syllable and not final position, [e] or [ɛ] in stressed syllable, [i] at the end of word
  • = [o] in unstressed syllable and not final position, [ɔ] or [o] in stressed syllable, [u] in final position
  • oa = [‘oa/’oṷṷa] in stressed syllable, oa and ua = [ṷa] in unstressed syllable
  • diphthongs ea, eo, ia, ie, io, oa, ua, ue and uo are used at the end of word and always in unstressed position. ua and uo also can be after g and q, elsewhere.
  • c = [s] before i or e, [k] elsewhere
  • d = [ʤ] before i or before e at the end of word in unstressed position, [d] elsewhere. In some regions of states Santa Catarina and Paraná at the north and north east of Brazil d in final position -de is pronounced as [d]. In these regions (excluding Paraná) di is pronounced as [di] or [dji].
  • g = [ʒ] before i or e, [g] elsewhere
  • gu = [g] before i or e, [gṷ] elsewhere
  • Triphthongs are formed by combining of gu, gü, qu, qü + diphthong, for example: saguão, agüei, sequóia.
  • l = [ṷ] after vowels.
  • m is nasalized at the end of syllable after a vowel, for example: cantam [´kãtãṷ], homem [‘omẽi ̭], sim [sĩi ̭].
  • n is nasalized at the end of syllable after a vowel or before a consonant, for example: cansar [kã’sa], alento [a’lẽtu].
  • nh = [~ii, ɲ], nasalizes preceding vowels, for example banha [‘bãiia]. In some north-east regions of Brazil inha = [ĩa] и -inho = [ĩu]. In some regions of Brazil nh = [ɲ]
  • qu = [k] before i or e, [kṷ] before a or o
  • r = [x~ʀ] (or [r~ɾ] in some regions) initially and after n
    r = [Ø~x~ʀ~r~ɾ] at the end of word and before a consonant. If the next word begins with a vowel, r = [r~Ø]
    r = [r] after consonants (excl. n)
    rr = [x~ʀ] (or [r~ɾ] in some regions)
    r = [ɽ] before consonants and at the end of word in São Paulo, south of Brazil, states Minas Gerais and Goiás
  • s = [s] at the beginning of words, [z] in position between vowels and voiced consonants. But, in some regions of Santa Catarina, Rio de Janeiro, north-east and north of Brazil s = [ʒ] before d, g, l, m, n, r and v, [ʃ] before c, f, p, qu and t, in final position.
  • sc (before e and i) and sç (before a and o) = [s]. In Rio de Janeiro sc/sç = [is], for example: nascimento [naisi’mẽtu]
  • t = [ʧ] before i or final unstressed e, [t] elsewhere. However, in some regions of Santa Catarina and Paraná, north-east and north of Brazil t in final position -te is pronounced as [t]. in the same regions (excl. Paraná) ti = [ti] or [tji]. Sound [ʧ] is also spelled as tch (for example, tchau), or tx in local words (for example, txukahamãe).
  • x = [ʃ] initially, in some regions of Santa Catarina, Rio de Janeiro, north-east and north of Brazil – before c, p and t
    ex + vowel = [z], for example: exame [e’zãmi], or [ʃ], for example: vexame [ve’ʃami]
    x = [ʃ], [ks] or [s], for example: relaxar [xela’ʃa], fixo [‘fiksu], auxiliar [aṷsi’li ̭a(x/r)]
    x = [ks] in final position
    x is not pronounced in exce…, exci…, exs…, for example: exceto [e’sɛtu], excitar [esi’ta], exsudar [esu’da]
  • z = [s] in final position and before voiceless consonants. in some regions of Santa Catarina, Rio de Janeiro, north-east and north of Brazil z = [ʒ] before voiced consonants, [ʃ] before voiceless consonants and in final position.
  • At the north-east of Brazil some letters are called differently: F (fê), J (ji), L (lê), M (mê), N (nê), R (rê), S (si) and Y (ipsilone).

Portuguese numerals

[col type=”one-fourth”]

1 – um
2 – dois
3 – três
4 – quatro
5 – cinco
6 – seis
7 – sete
8 – oito


[col type=”one-fourth”]

9 – nove
10 – dez
11 – onze
12 – doze
13 – treze
14 – catorze
15 – quinze
16 – dezasseis


[col type=”one-fourth”]

17 – dezassete
18 – dezoito
19 – dezanove
20 – vinte
30 – trinta
40 – quarenta
50 – cinquenta
60 – sessenta


[col type=”one-fourth last”]

70 – setenta
80 – oitenta
90 – noventa
100 – ce
1,000 – mil
one million – um milhão
one billion – mil milhões
one trillion – um bilião