A Guide to Portuguese - 10 facts about the Portuguese language

Useful facts about the Portuguese language. Carnival headdress © Yannik LABBE,  fotolia.com

Translation in Portuguese


Check the Portuguese-only version

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1. Where is Portuguese spoken?

There are eight members in the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries, Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa (CPLP): Portugal, Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, The Republic of Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and East Timor

It also shares official language status with Mandarin Chinese in Macau, a former Portuguese territory which was handed over to China in 1999

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2. How hard is it to learn?

If you know Spanish, Italian or French, you’ll notice some similarities with Portuguese. For example, each tense has six different endings

Some sounds can be harder to pronounce, but generally, pronunciation mistakes won’t change what you actually meant!

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3. What you already know about Portuguese

You’ll find many familiar words in Portuguese:
 televisão, estudante, universidade, mapa, problema and bicicleta

There are also many loan words from Arabic, French and, more recently, English

During the times of Portuguese exploration some words entered the English, such as
  cobra, flamingo and piranha

More recent imports include the Brazilian   Bossa Nova and the Brazilian cocktail  caipirinha

Or try this headline:
 Brasil vai negociar subsídios à agricultura com União Europeia
Brazil will negotiate agricultural subsidies with the European Union

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4. The most difficult words or tongue twisters

 O rato roeu a roupa do rei de Roma
The rat gnawed the king of Rome’s clothes
Arguably the most famous tongue twister

 A aranha arranha a rã. A rã arranha a aranha
The spider scratches the frog. The frog scratches the spider

 Anticonstitucionalissimamente is a long adverb meaning in a very unconstitutional way

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5. Know any good jokes in Portuguese?

Mother-in-laws, blondes, lawyers or corrupt politicians are often the butt of jokes:

Here is one about mother-in-laws:
  A sogra chega para uma visita surpresa. O genro abre a porta:
"Olà! Não nos vemos há tanto tempo! Quanto vais ficar conosco desta vez?"
A sogra sorri, querendo ser gentil:
"Até vocês se cansarem de mim."
"A sério? Não vais nem tomar um cafezinho?"
The mother-in-law comes for a surprise visit. The son-in-law opens the door:
"Hi! Long time no see! How long are you staying this time?"
The mother-in-law smiles, trying to be polite:
"Until you get tired of me."
"Really? You’re not even staying for a coffee?"

Joãozinho, Little John, is the most mentioned character in Portuguese jokes:
 Tia Lídia pergunta ao Joãozinho:
"O que vais fazer quando for grande como a titia?"
O Joãozinho responde:
"Um regime!"
Aunt Lidia asks Joãozinho:
"What are you going to do when you are big like Aunty?"
"Go on a diet!" he replies

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6. If I learn Portuguese, will it help me with any other languages?

Many words and aspects of Portuguese are shared with all the Romance languages, ie languages that came from Latin, such as Spanish, Italian and French

Head to the Spanish region of Galicia, on the other side of Portugal’s Northern border, and you’ll also hear  galego, which is the closest language to Portuguese and which shares the same origins

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7. What not to say and do

Beware of so-called false friends which can cause confusion

 Preservativo means condom, not preservative

 Pretender means to intend and not to pretend which is  fingir

In a job interview you may be asked:
  Você pretende se dedicar ao trabalho?
Do you intend to show dedication?

You may feel tempted to answer  não, no, wrongly assuming the question was about what you pretend rather than intend

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8. Famous quotations to impress the locals

 Se podes olhar, vê. Se podes ver, repara
If you can look, see. If you can see, notice
José Saramago, Nobel Prize in Literature 1998

  Nenhuma ideia brilhante consegue entrar em circulação se não agregando a si qualquer elemento de estupidez
No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some element of stupidity is mixed in with it
Fernando Pessoa, Portuguese poet and writer, 1888-1935

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9. First publication

Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Portuguese gradually developed into a language in what’s now northern Portugal and the Spanish region of Galicia

The first known documents written in Portuguese appeared in the 12th century. A lender's notice from 1175 is commonly, although not unanimously, quoted as the first Portuguese document

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10. How to be polite

There are different ways of saying you::  tu, for people you can be on first-name terms with, and  você, in other cases, although the latter is more widely used in Brazil. In both cases the plural is
 vocês

The polite way to address older people and adults you don’t know is  senhor (male) or  senhora (female)

Men greet other men with a handshake. In informal situations, women meeting men or other women will kiss them on the cheek, although it’s more of a quick touch of the cheeks

Portuguese key phrases. Washing line, the Alfama, Lisbon © BBC

Portuguese key phrases

Get started with 20 audio phrases

The Portuguese alphabet. Portuguese road sign © Eve, fotolia.com

The Portuguese alphabet

Get the lowdown on accents and nasal sounds

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