What’s the difference between European and Brazilian Portuguese?
As a native Brazilian who has spent most of her life in Portugal, you could say my Portuguese is of the mid-Atlantic variety. So how do Brazilian and European Portuguese differ? Overall, there are far more similarities than differences between the two, but there are a few variations in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and spelling which are worth noting.
Differences in Portuguese pronunciation
If you could measure these on the same scale, which you obviously can’t, I would say the biggest differences lie in pronunciation. When I first arrived in Portugal, I had a very hard time understanding what people said. I needed subtitles to listen to the radio. The problem was not the way they pronounced words ending in s, like dois (two), pronounced doysh in Portugal and doyss almost everywhere in Brazil, or words ending in te like quente (hot), pronounced kenchy in Brazil (yes, the t becomes ch), while in Portugal you say kent. For me, the main difficulty was that many vowels sounded the same, if they were pronounced at all. Thus costeleta (pork chop), pronounced kostehlehtah in Brazil, sounded like cuhstluhtuh to me; salada (salad) pronounced sahlahdah in Brazil, sounded like slurduh to me; bolo (cake) pronounced bohloo in Brazil, sounded like burl.
Catching buses and insulting teachers
In terms of vocabulary, you need to pick up the differences fast or you won’t go far. In Brazil, to catch a bus/train you say pegar um ônibus/trem, while in Portugal you say apanhar um autocarro/comboio; a mobile phone in Brazil is a celular, but in Portugal it is a telemóvel. There are not that many lexical differences, though, and it is quite easy to come to grips with the most obvious ones.
What is slightly more complicated are words with more than one meaning, where some senses coincide and others don’t. A Brazilian friend of mine moved to Portugal and was looking for a school for her daughters. After being very impressed with a particular school in Coimbra, she commented to the headmistress ‘Essa pedagogia é bárbara!’, which in Brazil is a great compliment, meaning ‘This pedagogy is awesome!’. In Portugal, however, bárbaro is not ‘awesome’, and means only the more literal ‘barbaric’ – I will leave you to guess how the headmistress reacted.
There are also a few differences in grammar. Some are quite straightforward: for the present continuous, as in ‘I am almost finishing’, Brazilian Portuguese uses the gerund (Eu) estou quase terminando, while European Portuguese uses a preposition plus the infinitive (Eu) estou quase a terminar. Portuguese is a pro-drop language, which means you can omit the pronoun when it is obvious from the context, hence the Eu in brackets. However, the tendency to omit the pronoun is far greater in European Portuguese.
Arguably the most complicated difference in grammar is the position of clitic pronouns (i.e., pronouns that can be attached to verb endings via a hyphen or appear as separate words placed before the verb, depending on context). It took me years to understand the rules of European Portuguese: the clitic is connected to the verb like a suffix, unless there is a particle like a negative (and a huge list of many other particles) that brings it forward, in which case the hyphen is no longer necessary. Thus ‘I love you’ is Amo-te (pronounced uhmt), and ‘I don’t love you’ is Não te amo in European Portuguese. Notice the te (you) has been fronted (and also the omission of Eu). In Brazil, however, the clitic pronoun is usually placed before the verb no matter what: Eu te amo/Eu não te amo. It is only in formal or written language that people use clitics after the verb, so the European declaration of love would sound very pompous in Brazil.
Forms of address
One of the most exasperating differences are forms of address. In one of my first visits to Portugal, I was having dinner with my boyfriend and another couple, and the man asked A Ana quer mais café? (Would Ana like some more coffee?). I looked around to see if there was another Ana in the room apart from me, which was really silly, because it was just us having dinner at their place. Years later, I found out that this form of address is a friendly but formal way of talking to colleagues of equal standing in Portugal. In Brazil, you would never ever talk to someone in the third person in that way.
Spelling in Portuguese
Finally, spelling variances. The recent spelling reform has eliminated differences that were not essential. In Portugal people used to spell acto and in Brazil ato for ‘act’, but in neither variety the c was actually pronounced, so it was determined that the new spelling would be ato on both sides of the Atlantic. In Brazil people still used an accent in words like idéia (idea), but not in Portugal. As the two are pronounced the same way, the accent was removed and the new spelling admits only ideia. For words which are pronounced differently, however, the spelling differences remain. Thus ‘fact’ is spelled facto in Portugal where the c is pronounced and fato in Brazil, where it isn’t.
Whichever way you spell fact, the fact is that even after spending most of my life in Portugal, the minute I open my mouth people there can immediately tell I am Brazilian. On the other hand, in my native Brazil my fellow Brazilians sometimes wonder where I am from.
Explore Oxford Dictionaries Portuguese.