14 Portuguese Sayings You’ll Wish You’d Known Before
Actions speak louder than words.
Proverbs like this one play a big part in our emotional education from a very early age.
As children, there are sayings and quotes that teach us not to be judgemental (“Don’t judge a book by its cover”), to be cautious (“it’s better to be safe than sorry”), to be kind (“you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”) and to be determined and perseverent (“where there’s a will, there’s a way”).
These sayings have been passed by from generation to generation for many years… and we believe they should be honoured and incorporated in our daily speech, and especially, in our daily behaviour.
English, of course, is not the only language that has such interesting sayings. In fact, there are useful, wise expressions like these in every country and culture.
Today, we are bringing you the best Portuguese sayings ever so you can practice the language while learning about Portuguese values.
1. Quem vê cara não vê coração (Seeing a face is not the same as seeing a heart.)
Thinking about dumping your Tinder date because he doesn’t look as good in real life as in his profile picture? Portuguese people would not approve.
Similar to “don’t judge a book by its cover”, this Portuguese saying reminds us that there’s more to people than meets the eye.
2. Roupa suja se lava em casa (Dirty laundry must be washed at home.)
Imagine a couple in a restaurant. They begin a heated argument about a text the woman has just received from her young coworker when one of their friends leans over, puts his hand on the man’s shoulder, and says: Você está fazendo uma cena, roupa suja se lava em casa.(“You’re making a scene, don’t wash your dirty linen in public.”)
3. Antes só que mal acompanhado (It’s better to be alone than in bad company.)
If you’ve ever managed to get out of a toxic relationship, you know how wise this one is.
Having a partner can be a wonderful feeling, but if all they do is bring negativity to your life or try to bring you down, it might be time for you to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror, and repeat: antes só que mal acompanhado/a.
1. Filho de peixe, peixinho é (The son of a fish is a little fish.)
True, the literal translation of this Portuguese saying doesn’t make much sense, but hey, neither does “Barking up the wrong tree” or “Caught red-handed”.
A more natural English equivalent would be “Like father, like son”, or “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. The good thing about this one is that you can give it both a positive or a negative connotation depending on what the perceived similarity is!
2. A união faz a força (Unity equals strength)
Struggle and hardship are part of the human experience. There is simply no way to avoid suffering forever. But if there is a strong, loving family behind you to have your back, no fall can be too harsh.
As its English counterpart goes, “united we stand, divided we fall”.
1. Quem não arrisca não petisca (Those who do not risk, do not have a snack.)
So you want to get a raise but you’re afraid your boss will reject your request?
Are you having second doubts about your career choice and would like to try a more exciting path?
Portuguese people have a nice proverb for this kind of situation. Usually said to someone who is too afraid to try something new, this saying reminds us that in order to achieve great things we have to put ourselves out there!
2. Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois voando (It is better to have one bird in your hand than to see two birds flying.)
Or, as we say in English, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”.
As opposed to the previous expression, this one suggests that sometimes it’s better to play it safe. Thinking about changing jobs in the middle of a global pandemic? You may want to think twice. Your current job might not be the most exciting one in the world, but at least it’s something you can count on!
3. Para bom entendedor, meia palavra basta (For those who are wise, half a word is enough.)
Smart people do not need everything explained to them. They are clever enough to read the room and understand what is going on without a direct explanation.
So, if your friend has just walked out of her room wearing a dress so flashy it hurts your eyes, you don’t need to be cruel. Just say “a bit too much”, and she’ll know what you’re talking about. As the saying goes, if she is smart, just that comment will be enough!
1. São muitos anos a virar frangos (I’ve been turning chickens for many years.)
When a Portuguese speaker wants to say that he or someone else is very experienced, he can say that the person in question has spent “many years turning chickens”. Of course, the phrase is not literal. You can use it for all kinds of people, not just for those who excel at roasting chicken. So, if someone tells you something like “You are great at your craft”, you can use this phrase to mean “I know the ropes”.
2. Estar à sombra da bananeira (To be under a banana tree.)
Can you picture anything more relaxing than a carefree student sitting under the shade of a tree? Well, images can be misleading.
To say that someone is under a banana tree means that they are too relaxed when they shouldn’t be.
For example, you can hear a mother say to their child:
“O que você está fazendo, sentado à sombra de uma bananeira? Você deveria estudar para o exame de amanhã!”
1. Gira o disco e toca o mesmo (To play the same record over and over again.)
The Portuguese don’t “talk about the same thing nonstop”. They “turn the record and play the same song” again and again.
Is your friend still talking about the girl who dumped him two years ago after a two-month relationship? Use this phrase to tell him that he sounds like a broken record.
2. 2. Acordar com os pés de fora (To wake up with your feet sticking out.)
If you’ve ever woken up with freezing cold feet sticking out, you know what a bad start feels like. This saying is used metaphorically to say that someone has woken up in a bad mood.
Did someone just walk into the kitchen with a grumpy face? Ask them if they woke up with “os pés de fora”. We can’t promise this will improve their mood, but it’s surely a great way to start using Portuguese sayings in your everyday life.
1. Se o casamento fosse uma coisa boa, não precisaria de testemunhas (If marriage were a good thing, it wouldn’t need witnesses.)
The Portuguese have a great sense of humour, and they are not afraid to find laughter even in the most serious of topics. Besides, doesn’t this one have a point? Come to think of it, even the choice of the word “witness” makes it sound like one is talking about a crime!
2. Não há mulher bonita no dia do casamento, exceto a noiva (There’s no beautiful women on the wedding day, except the bride.)
If you’ve ever made the mistake of wearing a white dress to a wedding, you’ll know what this saying is about.
For Portuguese women, the wedding day is very important, and they don’t allow other women to upstage them. When the bride enters the room, all eyes should be on her. So, if you are ever invited to go to a Portuguese wedding, when choosing yout outfit, remember: Não há mulher bonita no dia do casamento, exceto a noiva.
If, like us, you think proverbs are a great way of learning about a culture and a language, give us a shout. Our native Portuguese teachers will be delighted to teach you to sound more natural in Portuguese using phrases like the ones above in real contexts, and discuss the nuances involved in all of them. Take a free trial lesson at the most convenient time for you and get started!