Quirks of Brazilian Portuguese

A good thing to know if you’re going to Brazil: coco means coconut, Cocó is the name of a river, and cocô means poop. I found this out when I announced to my Portuguese class that I drank água de cocô (poop water) when I meant água de coco (coconut water).

Another Portuguese note: the diminuitive is formed by adding -inho/a or -zinho/a. However, if you’re thinking of making “camisa” (shirt) into “camisinha” (little shirt), don’t, because camisinha means condom.

The first time I came to this internet cafe, the guy asked me my name so he could type it in the log. After I told him, he frowned, and then proceeded to explain how he couldn’t type it in correctly because the x key on his keyboard was broken. Since x, when word-initial in Portuguese, is pronounced sh, he thought my name started with x. I should start spelling it that way: Xayna. Wait, they don’t have a y in Portuguese either. Xeina. Maybe that’d work.

People here in NE Brazil do this thing where they turn a’s and u’s into dipthongs, so faz, luz, rapaz, and atrás (a as in father, u as in duke) are pronounced like faiz, luiz, rapaiz, and atrais. Now when I return to the U.S., my Brazilian friends, who are mainly from the south, are going to laugh at me for having a funny northeast accent.

If you’re not interested in linguistics, don’t read this one. All words in Portuguese end in either a vowel or r, l, n, m, s, or z. Noticeably absent are voiced and unvoiced word-final stops (b,d,g,p,t,k) so whenever Brazilians try to pronounce an English word ending in a stop, they either strongly aspirate or add an extra vowel after the stop. Add to that the absence of voiced and unvoiced th, word-final r and l sounds, and the vowel in the word “hut,” and the result? “Big Brother Brasil” comes out sounding like “Beeg-eh Brawdeh Brazew.” It’s hilarious. For those who don’t know, BBB is an enormously popular reality show here.

Easily confused words in Portuguese:

abacaxi/abacate – very similar pronunciation; means pineapple/avocado

pão/pau – one means bread, the other means wood

pais/país/pães – parents, country, and breads

caçar/casar – to hunt/to marry. The first has a soft s sound in the middle, the second a z sound. The reason this is so hard to remember is because the pronunciation is reversed in Spanish (cazar/casar).

sobrinha/sombrinha – niece/parasol

literal/litoral – literal/costal

soado/suado – sounded/sweaty

empregada – not pregnant; means female employee. Grávida is not grave or gravity, it means pregnant.

idoso – does not mean idiot or idiotic. Means old person.

  • David Dallas

    Nice post!!!

  • “Pau” means “Dick” too =)