European Portuguese vs. Brazilian Portuguese: 4 Key Differences

Portuguese is a Romance language that originated in what is now Galicia and northern Portugal, and spread worldwide in the 15th and 16th centuries as Portugal established a colonial and commercial empire (which included present-day Brazil). Today, Portuguese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world with around 250 million speakers and, as a result, there are very interesting differences between the various Portuguese dialects.

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In this article, we will be focusing on two of the most prominent varieties: European Portuguese vs Brazilian Portuguese.

What it is that makes these two dialects so distinct? Is it the ‘accent’, that unattainable je ne sais quoi that every country, region, or even city seems to have? Well, to some extent, yes. But there are also more concrete linguistic differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese that go beyond mere ‘style’.

In this blog, we’ll be discussing the main phonetic, grammatical, and lexical differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese.

Are you ready? Let’s get started.

The accent

Even if you’re not an expert in the Spanish language, you may have noticed that there is a very noticeable difference in what a speaker from Spain and one from a Latin American country sounds like. When it comes to the Portuguese language, we can observe a similar phenomenon.

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The main difference between the accent of European Portuguese and that of Brazilian Portuguese has to do with vowel pronunciation. In general, European Portuguese has a more ‘nasal’ sound, while Brazilian Portuguese has a more ‘open’ vowel sound.

‘Open’, in fact, is a keyword when trying to describe the differences between European Portuguese vs. Brazilian Portuguese. While European Portuguese is usually described as closed, hushed and hermetic, as if people were speaking through murmured words and slightly clenched teeth. Brazilian Portuguese, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. Even if you don’t speak a word of Portuguese, if asked to describe the accent of a Brazilian speaker you would most probably use adjectives such as open, musical, and expressive.

The first difference between European Portuguese vs. Brazilian Portuguese, then, has to do with accent, that elusive and somewhat subjective sound quality that can be described as closed and quiet talking about the European variety, and open and rhythmical when discussing its Latin counterpart.

But there are also more objective linguistic differences between these two dialects, which we will be discussing next.

The Use of Gerunds

The second big difference between European and Brazilian Portuguese is in the use of gerunds, i.e., the -ing form of a verb which we use in English, for example, to talk about an action that is happening at the moment: I’m writing a blog about Portuguese.

In Portuguese, this termination is not -ing but -ando/endo, but there is an essential difference in how each of the two main varieties of Portuguese use this form:

European Portuguese: O que você está a fazer neste momento?

Brazilian Portuguese:  O que você está fazendo neste momento?

As you can see, when talking about a ‘progressive’ action, European Portuguese favours the use of the infinitive form over the continuous form.

While the use of the gerund would be considered absolutely correct, in recent years it has been replaced by the infinitive form in both written and spoken language.

Nowadays, most Portuguese speakers restrict the use of the gerund to describe ‘long action’. For example ‘ele está a chegar’, which means ‘he’s arriving’, would describe a very immediate action that takes place in a short time period, while ‘ele está chegando’ seems to describe an action that is further prolonged in time, maybe because the drive home is longer, or there’s been an unexpected delay.

Brazilian speakers, on the other hand, would use the gerund in both cases.

Tu or Vocé?

Tu and você are both singular, second-person subject pronouns, which means they are both the Portuguese equivalents of the singular “you”? So, why are there two of them?

When spoken informally in Portugal, the word tu is used.

For example:

Tu queres vir comigo? – “Do you want to come with me?”

Tu és bonita – “You are pretty.”

The use of você, then, would be limited to formal conversations in which one is addressing an elderly person or someone in a position of authority.

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Você está perdido? – “Are you lost?”

Você mandou para mim? – “Did you call for me?”

But, while European Portuguese uses two different forms of “you” depending on the level of formality expected in different conversations, Brazilian Portuguese uses only “você”, no matter if one is talking to one’s boss or to an attractive boy or girl at a party.

In Brazil, there is no such thing as ‘a formal you’. When Brazilians want to sound more formal, they simply address the person they are talking to with “Senhor” or “Senhora,” which means “Sir” or “Lady.”

Vocabulary differences

Flat or apartment? Truck or lorry? Trousers or pants?

There are many words in English that have different equivalents in British and American English. The same happens with Portuguese. While there are many words that have the same usage in both countries, there are also many common places, objects and concepts that have different, depending on which side of the Atlantic you find yourself.

Here are some examples of words that have different names in Portugal and Brazil:

Bathroom

Portugal: casa de banho

Brazil: banheiro

Breakfast

Portugal: pequeno almoço

Brazil: café da manhã

Screen

Portugal: ecrã

Brazil: tela

Bus

Portugal: autocarro

Brazil: ônibus

Mobile phone

Portugal: telemóvel

Brazil: celular

While using the ‘wrong’ variant may not always lead to misunderstandings, it can certainly be a dead giveaway that you are not familiarized with the regional variety.

So, if you want to sound like a true Portuguese speaker, make sure to use the right words for the right occasion!

Whether you are planning on learning European Portuguese or Brazilian Portuguese, it is important to be aware of the main differences between the two varieties. From vocabulary and grammar to accent, there are many aspects that set these two types of Portuguese apart.

But, with a little effort, you will be able to master both varieties in no time!

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