Portuguese Pronunciation Explained

portuguese pronunciationPortuguese pronunciation may at first glance seem difficult, but it is actually quite straight forward. Learn how to pronounce Portuguese words in no time with a few tips that are easy to remember!

When learning Portuguese pronunciation, pay attention to:

  1. Vowels
  2. Consonants
  3. Where a word is stressed.
  4. Word endings.
  5. If a word has written accents (little signs on top of a vowel).
  6. Keep in mind you typically pronounce every letter, except if a word begins with the letter H.

Once you have the basics down and get some practice, you will be able to read and speak Portuguese in no time!

A Bit About Portuguese

Portuguese is a Romance language that descends from Latin and it is spoken by roughly 220 million people in Brazil, Portugal, as well as in Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Macau, Equatorial Guinea, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, and São Tomé e Principe.

A reformed Portuguese orthography (nova ortografia), in which words are spelled more in accordance with their pronunciation, was adopted is Portugal in 1916. A slightly modified version was adopted in Brazil in 1943, and revised in 1970. A new orthography which aims to unify the written Portuguese of all the lusophone countries – or countries that speak Portuguese – was adopted in Brazil in 2009. Dates have not yet been set for its adoption in the other Portuguese-speaking countries.

There are some differences between Brazilian Portuguese and the Portuguese that is spoken in Portugal. However, the steps to learning Portuguese pronunciation here will serve as a good foundation for learning to speak either dialect.

Portuguese Broken Down

Following are basic rules to approaching the Portuguese pronunciation of vowels, consonants, and syllables. Practice learning these basic principles, and learning to read and speak Portuguese words and phrases will become easier!

Vowels

The Portuguese language uses five vowels, and additionally three diacritics (four with the tilde, see later step about nasal vowels).

A – Like in Father

  • Á – Normally like Why. When it is the last letter of a word, it is pronounced  like the A in Father
  • À – Like Father
  • Â – Like A, but longer

E – Either roughly like Any, or sometimes like Equal

  • É – Like Any
  • Ê – Like E, but longer, and never like in Equal or Any

I – Like in Equal

  • Ì – Also like in Equal

O – Like in Under or Over (Note: Try not to pronounce it ow or ou, but as a short and single sound, like the U in Under.)

  • Ó – Like Oyster. When it is the last letter of a word, like Under.
  • Ô – Like O, but longer, and never like in Under.

U, Ú, and Û – all variations of U in Portuguese are pronounced like in Foot.

Consonants

Portuguese uses the same consonant as English, except for K, W and Y, which are only used in foreign loan words. Here are some examples of the Portuguese pronunciation of the letters, using the letters and their application in English words as a reference.

  • B – Like in Believe.
  • C – When in front of E and I, the Portuguese pronunciation is like in Bicycle. Otherwise it is like in Cow.
  • ç – Always like in Bicycle.
  • D – Like in Devil, except when placed in front of an I or an E, in that case the D is pronounced like Jam.
  • F – Like in Fine.
  • G – When in front of E and I like in Protégé. Otherwise, the Portuguese pronunciation is like in Girl.
  • Gu – Normally like Good or Paraguay, but when in front of I or E, it is pronounced like the G in Girl.
  • H – It is never pronounced, like in Hour.
  • J – Like in Protégé
  • L – Like in Lovely, or when it is at the end of a syllable, it is pronounced like the W in Cow.
  • M – Like in Mouse, or when at the end of a word, it is similar to the NG in Song.
  • N – Like in Never, or when at the end of a syllable, it is similar to the NG in Song.
  • P – Like in Put.
  • Q – Only used in the combination qu-, which is pronounced like in Queen when in front of A, O or U, otherwise it is pronounced like C in Cow.
  • R – Normally like the Spanish R (rolled or not). When it is the first or the last letter of a word, after N, or written rr, however, it is pronounced like H in Home.
  • S – Like in Sun, or when it is between two vowels, it is pronounced like the Z in Zone.
  • T – A little like in Ten, but a little dry and can sound almost like a D. When in front -og, I, or an E, the T is pronounced like CH in Cheese.
  • V – Like in Vacant.
  • X – Like in Shower, or when at the end of a syllable, the Portuguese pronunciation is either like in Son or Xerox, depending on the word.
  • Z – Like in Zone, or when it is between two vowels, like Son.

Nasal Vowels

Nasal vowels in Portugeuse pronunciation occur when the diacritic ~ is used (ã, õ), or when a vowel is followed by an N or M, and the M is the last letter of the word.

The tilde (~) is normally used in combinations with other vowels, like in ação or mãe. In this case, both vowels are nasal. You make a nasal vowel by simply letting part of the air blowing out of you nose while pronouncing the vowel.

Normally the second to last syllable is always stressed, except in the following cases:

  • When one of the letters has a diacritic (ex.: á, â, or ã). In this case, the letter with the diacritic is always stressed (this does not apply for the rarely used diacritics à and ü)
  • When the last letter of the word is a consonant, but not m or s. In this case, the last syllable is stressed.
  • When the last letter is U or I. In this case the last syllable is stressed.

How Do I Say That? 

Let’s try to pronounce some words.

Remember, in Portuguese pronunciation, you want to place emphasis on to the second to last syllable.

Let’s Practice!

Me-sa, ca-ma, sa-co, te-cla-do, ca-ne-ta, con-to, li-vro, ca-mi-sa, sa-pa-tos, ga-ra-gem, sol-da-do, trans-for-ma, sis-te-ma, bo-la, me-ni-no, bor-ra-cha,

Now, practice pronouncing these words without the syllable separation:

Como, vida, convida, vandalismo, ambos, comerio, humorado, camioneta, conto, mulheres, compras, vendas.

Now let’s try some sentences!

Como tem passado?

Como ele come a comida.

As folhas do livro lembram outro livro velho.

Eles compram jornais e revistas.

The more your practice, the easier it will be to remember the rules to Portuguese pronunciation. Learning methods to memorization and language learning can also help make learning Portuguese faster and easier.

Now, that you understand the basics, we can cover the exceptions. Keep in mind, the rule of Portuguese pronunciation is to stress the second last syllable, but there are exceptions to the rule…

Words ending with L, Z, R, U and I, are stressed in the last syllable.

All you have to do is to remember these endings, and no matter how long the word is, you know that the last part of it is the one to emphasize. This rule is very important to getting Portuguese pronunciation right.

Let’s practice saying the following words now!

Jornal, papel, feliz, Brasil, Portugal, continental, rapaz, espanhol, azul.

Perfecting Your Pronunciation

In Portuguese pronunciation, as long as you stress the word in the right place, the rest of that word is typically almost silent. This is a tip to keep in mind when practicing and trying to perfect your Portuguese pronunciation.

This is a reason people say that Portuguese native speakers “swallow” their words. What they actually do is, they silence the last part of the word after the syllable that is stressed, or they run that word together with the next one. The more you practice, the easier you will find it to pick up Portuguese pronunciation, and you will be able to pronounce words without focusing on the rules before long. The more you practice, the more confident you will feel speaking the language, and feel comfortable speaking Portuguese.

Although studying a language is certainly the way to learn it, learning about language learning methods can also help to improve how quickly and easily you pick up a new language. A combination of both might be the perfect way to go to learning Portuguese pronunciation quickly and easily!