Are there differences between the Portuguese spoken in Portugal and the Portuguese spoken in Brazil? Is it the same language, two peas in a pod, or one language plus a variant?
Yes and no. 😶
Whether in Portugal, on the old European continent, or in Brazil, a distant but related country on the South American continent, the official language is called Português. But there are marked differences between the Portuguese spoken in Portugal and Brazilian Portuguese.
These are not slight differences that are parallel to American vs. British English, such as a different accent and preferred terms for this and that—these are much more pronounced distinctions in not only grammar, syntax, and pronunciation, but also in vocabulary!
These differences can be a real obstacle to communication between Brazilian and Portuguese people. They can understand one another, but the differences are noticeable enough to potentially hinder a positive, sound communication. 🤐
But what is the relationship between Brazil and Portugal? Why do they even share a language? 🗣️
In 1500, the Kingdom of Portugal aimed to expand its maritime empire. Accompanied by a crew of experienced captains such as Bartolomeu Dias, adventurer Pedro Álvares Cabral landed in Brazil, claiming the territory for the Portuguese crown.
Earlier, in 1497, Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s expedition to India had already found signs of land near his western route in the Atlantic Ocean. ⚓
Natives were enslaved, and many other slaves were also brought from Africa. However, permanent habitation by Portuguese settlers would only take place in 1532, when São Vicente was established.
Soon, the Portuguese colony gained its own identity, and in 1822, the Portuguese Monarchy declared the independence of Brazil from the crown. Later, in 1889 the country became a presidential republic following a military coup d’état.
Today, Brazil and Portugal share a privileged political and diplomatic relationship based on coordination, as well as economic, social, cultural, legal, technical, and scientific cooperation. 🌍
Portuguese culture is still very much alive in some parts of Brazil, due to the emigrant colonies. However, many Brazilian people have almost no contact with the European accent of their own language anymore, and there is almost no current Portuguese culture being consumed in the country.
In fact, just like in Portugal, American culture is the most consumed, mainly in the form of Hollywood movies. But since learning a language depends on listening to it, Brazilians aren’t among the most knowledgeable in English because most of these movies are dubbed instead of subtitled.
Not surprisingly, the people with the highest proficiency in English, according to the EF English Proficiency Index is the Netherlands—their own language does share many similarities with English and German.
Portugal, on the other hand, ranks 7th on the list, while Brazil ranks 58th.
In Portugal, foreign movies are subtitled, which favors how the Portuguese people master the English language—I guess we could say that watching subtitled movies pays off! 📽️
Surprisingly, Brazilian Portuguese has a much higher absorption of foreign terms (mostly English) than European Portuguese, which is much less permeable.
And it isn’t just anglicisms. Brazilians are more creative than that and they assimilate English words into their own vocabulary, even giving them new meanings to fit their needs.
For example, for Brazilian Portuguese speakers, a shower enclosure is called a box, a mall is called a shopping, and the verb blefando was born from the English word “bluff” with their own pronunciation and ending for the Brazilian gerund.
Phonetics: very different accents 🔊
Speaking of “bluff,” the change in pronunciation is one of the most significant differences between the Portuguese from Portugal and from Brazil.
In Portugal, we pronounce the tonic vowels more sharply. Perhaps because they are a more relaxed people, Brazilians pronounce words slowly, with more stressed and open vowels.
Although there are obviously regional differences in accents in both countries, people say the Brazilian accent is “sweeter” and softer than European Portuguese. Sounding more musical and rhythmic to us, the “Brazilian” accent is considered “Portuguese with a pinch of sugar” by the Portuguese people.
Many Brazilians, on the other hand, think that European Portuguese sounds harsher, like a Slavic language!
It’s not untrue that speakers of Slavic languages find it very easy to learn the Portuguese from Portugal. And it’s also true that people trying to learn our language tend to learn Brazilian Portuguese more easily than the Portuguese from Portugal.
More differences 🔀
But it’s not the accent/phonetics that most confuses students of Portuguese as a second language. There are some important differences between the two spellings.
In Portugal, with the new spelling agreement, “mute” (unpronounced) consonants have been eliminated in writing, for example:
✍️ acção (action),
✍️ reacção (reaction),
✍️ decepção (disappointment).
These words have lost the letters c and p because they weren’t pronounced, and the new spelling is:
Of course, the difference is only in spelling, since these consonants were mute, the words continue to be read as before.
In Brazil, such words are still written with the consonants, and in some words, they are in fact audible consonants, as is the case of decepção.
We’ve already seen that Brazilians are creative in adapting and assimilating words from other languages, notably English, but an even greater demonstration of creativity is the transformation of nouns into verbs.
The new words that thus come to life don’t exist in European Portuguese because, in this respect, the language is a lot more rigid and closed.
Let’s say it’s your Portuguese friend’s birthday. In Portugal, you must use a verb, an article, and a noun to congratulate them (dar-lhe os parabéns). Brazilians simply turned the noun parabéns into a verb that didn’t exist in the language (parabenizá-lo). 🎁
As for idiomatic expressions, they are mostly different. At the lexical level there are numerous discrepancies and “false friends” (false cognates), and not even vocabulary escapes the discrepancy—let’s take a look: 👀
One of the greatest difficulties when trying to harmonize European and Brazilian Portuguese is the formal and informal speech, with the word “you” as the protagonist.
Brazilians use você (which means “you”) in their informal contacts, to people they feel intimate with, but also in more formal situations.
The word tu (which also means “you”!) is not as widely used, except for some regions. On the contrary, in Portugal the word tu is quite common in everyday conversation.
Colloquially, Brazilians conjugate verbs with tu and você the same way, but in Portuguese from Portugal this is wrong.
Because Brazilians know tu is used in Portugal, many come here and use it in every possible situation, which is really awkward to us!
Portuguese people have much more contact with Brazilians than the other way around, mainly due to the influence of TV, with Brazilian telenovelas (soap operas) occupying most of the prime time in the 80s and 90s. But also due to the written press, since many magazines and comic books of the time were published in Brazilian Portuguese by the old Editora Abril, with no adaptation or localization.
👄💬 First, because we are so used to listening to Brazilian soap operas, hearing tu (you) pronounced by our Brazilian brothers and sisters is weird—the word just doesn’t go well with that sweet accent!
👄💬 Secondly, tu always sounds rude or aggressive in Portugal if addressing older people, strangers, or in formal situations. And by older we mean anyone older than you, not just the elderly.
👄💬Last of all, tu in Portugal is employed exclusively when talking to friends, family members and other people of the same age in informal circumstances, but only if there’s a certain degree of intimacy.
But if you are a Brazilian Portuguese speaker and are already considering abolishing tu altogether and just use você in all situations, you should know that the Portuguese avoid using você when talking directly to people, with a few exceptions: if used directly in speech, it can convey rudeness or impoliteness.
We usually omit both pronouns and conjugate the verb in the third person singular.
To wrap things up…☜
Because we provide professional translation services, professional copywriting services, and professional transcreation services, among others, it’s common for clients from other countries to ask us for a translation into Brazilian Portuguese (PT-BR), or ask us if they can use a translation made in European Portuguese (PT-PT) in Brazil, or vice-versa.
The answer is clearly “no!”
Unless the message is intended to be only partially understood or the client intends to foster misunderstandings.
Those who can understand European Portuguese will easily understand Brazilian Portuguese, but the reverse is not always true.
As we have already seen, Brazilian Portuguese is better understood in Portugal than European Portuguese by Brazilians. And even when it comes to more technical language, this is still true—even technical terminology has many significant differences.
Generally speaking, the language is still the same, with many identical grammar rules and very similar vocabulary. What really differs is the accent and cultural heritage, as slang and other expressions are products of the different situations in which each country is inserted.
This is natural since, unlike dead languages like Latin, modern languages live and breathe, constantly changing and evolving—partly due to exposure to different cultures, partly due to the sign of the times, changes in mentality, progress, etc.
Therefore, European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese have differences that will continue to exist, come what may, because they are rooted in the identity of each people. And these differences must be respected.
So perhaps the most appropriate answer to the question we posed at the beginning of this article is that they are one and the same language, but they have evolved in different ways due to historical and cultural differences, so they cannot be confused, nor their discrepancies ignored.
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And for Portuguese learners, we highly recommend these two excellent video resources from TalktheStreets (https://www.youtube.com/@TalktheStreets):