Many avid language-learners are turning their interest to Portuguese because of its widespread influence and inherent similarity to Spanish. If you are one of those eager to use your Spanish skills to learn Portuguese or are simply planning your next vacation to Brazil, the following question would naturally be: Should I learn Brazilian or European Portuguese? And what’s the difference, anyway?
We have put together a Beginner’s Guide to understanding the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese complete with examples and fun facts!
The Top 7 Differences Between Brazilian and European Portuguese
1. There are many more speakers of Brazilian Portuguese.
In 2017, the entire population of Portugal amounted to 10.31 million. That’s only half the population of Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo. In 2017, Brazil’s population came in at a whopping 209.3 million. In the Lusophone (Portuguese-speaking) world, you will find much more Brazilian influence than you will Portuguese.
2. Brazilians use você and Portuguese use tu.
In Portuguese, like in all Romance languages, there is more than one way to say “you”. Tu is the informal way and você is formal. However, the term você became so popular in Brazil that it is now commonplace to call everyone você (save some parts of the south which border Argentina).
In Portugal, tu is used in almost every situation, even with teachers and employers. Brazilians would immediately recognize the Portuguese accent for this simple detail.
However, it is important to note that SOME Brazilians (mostly in the northeast) do in fact use the pronoun tu, but most of them conjugate it as if it were você. For example, to ask “Are you going to the party?” some Brazilians might say colloquially “Tu vai para a festa?” instead of “Tu vais para a festa?”.
3. Portuguese don’t use the gerund.
Before you ask “What’s a gerund?”, it’s any nonfinite verb form, meaning action in continuation. For example, “writing” is the gerund of “to write”, and “doing” the gerund of “to do”. Brazilians use the gerund as much as English speakers do. The Portuguese, however, use a different grammatical structure that replaces the gerund with the preposition “a” followed by the infinitive.
Here’s an example:
“I am walking.” (English)
Estou caminhando. (Brazilian Portuguese)
Estou a caminhar. (European Portuguese)
“What are you doing?” (English)
O que você está fazendo? (Brazilian Portuguese)
O que estás a fazer? (European Portuguese) *Notice the tu form here!
4. The pronunciation is completely different.
In the same way that the British and American English have very distinct accents, so do the Portuguese and Brazilians.
Most second language-learners of Portuguese will notice that the Portuguese speak with their mouths closed and very short vowel sounds, where the Brazilians open their mouths and practically sing when they speak.
For example, take the word querido (dear). In Brazil, this word is pronounced kay-ree-doh with an elongated open vowel. In Portugal, it is pronounced kree-doh, where the r is rolled and gives an Eastern European/Russian effect.
Another difference is what the Brazilians call the “sh”. Take the word gostoso (delicious) for example. In Brazilian, the “st” combination has the same phonetics as English. In Portugal, it is pronounced go-shto-so.
Rio de Janeiro is the only place in Brazil you can find the “sh” trait, mostly because of the city’s Portuguese influence (as opposed to German and Italian in the south and African and Indigenous in the north).
5. Many basic vocabulary terms differ in Brazil and Portugal.
Everything from the way to say “Hi”, “Please”, and “Where is the bathroom?” changes from Brazil to Portugal. Here is a list of the most important everyday vocabulary terms that will help you survive conversations with both Brazilians and Portuguese.
casa de banho
café da manhã
se faz favor (sff)
6. The Portuguese are very literal, even in their language.
Whereas Brazilians are known to speak in a warm and welcoming tone in the Lusophone world, the Portuguese are known for being extremely literal.
For example, if a Brazilian asks a Portuguese “Qual é seu celular?”, literally meaning “What’s your cell?”, a Portuguese might respond “Samsung” instead of responding with their cell phone number. This is a cultural phenomenon known throughout Brazil (and the butt of many Brazilian jokes) because, in Portugal, all questions will be answered with direct responses; so ask carefully.
Similarly, if you find yourself asking for something in a restaurant in Portugal that they don’t have, they will respond “Não.” Brazilians might throw in a “Sorry, we ran out!” or “Maybe try next door.”, but in Portugal, there is minimal small-talk, or beating around the bush. It is what it is.
7. Brazilians are not strict when it comes to grammar.
As you may have noticed in #2, Brazilians are not very strict when it comes to grammar in the spoken language. When it comes to the imperative, conditional tenses, or even the use of indirect pronouns, Brazilians “estão nem aí” (a charming expression meaning “I really don’t care”.)
Let’s look at a grammar example.
You’re at the office and you tell your colleague “I’m going to look into it and I’ll get back to you.”
“Vou me informar e já te dou uma resposta.” (Brazilian Portuguese)
“Vou informar-me e darei-te uma resposta.” (European Portuguese)
For the grammar nerds, here we go:
This is just one example of thousands that demonstrate the grammatical differences between Brazilian and Portugal Portuguese.
Decide Which Portuguese is Right for You
There are many pros to learning both variations of Portuguese as the language continues to grow in both the business and pop culture worlds. However, we recommend you start with Brazilian Portuguese first since many language-learners say its easier to learn than European Portuguese.
Then, after you have mastered Brazilian Portuguese, you will only have to make slight vocabulary and grammar changes to speak European Portuguese. A WIN-WIN!