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Brazilian Portuguese | European Portuguese

AS VOGAIS The Vowels

Auditory impression. European Portuguese will sound a little "fuller" or more lax than standard Brazilian, mainly because the Portuguese often drop certain unstressed vowels. Keep this in mind when you're imitating the pronunciation!

European Portuguese vowels have two variants: STRESSED vowels and unstressed vowels. STRESSED vowels are accented in pronunciation (like the "e" in ho-tel or the "o" in o-pera). If you're unsure, a good trick is to drop every vowel but the stressed one when pronouncing the word. If it sounds somewhat correct, you've probably stressed the right one ("ho-tl" sounds incorrect, whereas "h-tel" is on the right track).

Here are the stressed vowels, approximate values in English, and short Portuguese words where you can clearly hear the pronunciation:


Sounds like...
they, let
sore, sock *
*Speakers of American English: you say "sock" with the same "a" of father. Please listen extremely carefully to the "ó" in .

"E" and "O"
These two vowels each have two possible pronunciations.

Why are there two ways to pronounce "e" and "o"? Latin had two separate stressed sounds for each of the above vowels, but only the "e" and the "o" keep the same distinction in Portuguese.

>never fails
When you see ê, say "ey" (they)
When you see é, say "eh" (let)

When you see ô, say "o" (sore)
When you see ó, say "o"ck (sock)

Otherwise, there's no all-encompassing rule to determine when "e" and "o" have one sound or the other. You must generally learn to pronounce them word by word, although you will quickly pick up on patterns (one good reason to buy a Portuguese dictionary with phonetic spelling alongside each word!).

Unstressed Vowels

Sounds like...
*u and i don't appear at the end of native Portuguese words, but always have the same pronunciation anywhere in a word

Be sure to listen for the STRESS (the more pronounced/accented vowel). Notice that it doesn't fall on the highlighted syllable.

Also note that, fortunately for you, "i" and "u" always sound the same.

Try to approximate the shorter, purer Portuguese vowels: don't pronounce a "y" or "w" sound after e, i, o and u (keep your lip stiff from beginning to end).

AS CONSOANTES The consonants

The consonants will generally cause you less trouble, although you may run into a few difficulties.

The following consonants are pronounced like their English counterparts:

b, f, j, l, m, n, p, t, v
(more about l, m and n as you continue onto the lessons)
k and w are foreign/borrowed letters in Portuguese

"h" is silent
>example há
but "ch" sounds like "sh" in she
>example chá

and "lh" sounds like "lli" in million
>example alho
and "nh" sounds like "ni" in onion
>example vinho

"j" actually makes the sound of "s" in treasure
>example já

"r" can have a trilled sound at the beginning of a word (Scottish or Spanish rr) or a hard h-like sound, such as the "ch" in Scottics loch
>example rico
Between two vowels, before or after a consonant, or at the end of a word, exactly like the tt/dd in American English butter or ladder
>example caro, arte, branco, falar

"rr" has that same trilled sound
>example ferro

"c" and "g" have one variant before "hard" (back) a, o and u and another before "soft" (front) e and i:

hard c as "k" in king
>example caro, coro, curo
soft c as "s" in sing
>example certo, cinto
When c needs to make a soft "s" sound before a, o, or u, we write it ç
>example aço, lição

hard g as "g" in gather
>example gato, golfe, guru
soft g
as "s" in leisure (like Portuguese "j")
>example gente, giro

These rules also apply to "c" and "g" in English, but in Portuguese they are true in every case (there are no contrary examples like "give").

"d" has the same sound as the English counterpart unless it is between two vowels (intervocalic)

d as "d" in dare
>example dar
softened between vowels, as "th" in this
>example idade

"gu" and "qu" have one variant before "hard" (back) a, o and u and another before "soft" (front) e and i:

hard gu as "gw" (but with g pronounced further back in the throat)
>example água
soft gu as "gu" guide (same as hard "g")
>example guia

hard qu as "qu" in quick
>example quando
soft qu
as "qu" in quiche (same as hard "c")
>example que

When "gu" and "qu" need to make the hard sounds before e and i, we can write them and
>example freente, biline
But we don't usually write them in standard European Portuguese:
>example frequente, bilingue
(notice that the u is still pronounced even when not spelled ü)

s, x and z

s sounds like "s" in sing
>example si, mais
unless it's between two vowels where it sounds like "z" in zebra
>example asa
unless it comes before a voiced consonant, where it sounds like the "s" in pleasure
>example mesmo, desde
unless it comes before a voiceless consonant, or at the end of a word, where it sounds like the "sh" in she
>example estar, mais, dois

When we need the s to make the "sing" sound between two vowels, we write it ss
>example passo, esse

The unstressed "es" in esp- and est- is pronounced like the "ish" in fish.
>example estar, especial

x sounds like "sh" in she
>example baixo, xícara
but sometimes like "s" in sing between vowels
>example próximo

"ex" at the beginning of a word makes the sound "ease"
>example exacto

x also sounds like "x" in some words
>example xi

z sounds like "z" in zebra
>example luzes, zero

unless it's at the end of a word, then it sounds like the "sh" in she
>example luz

You will soon meet many of the words you see below in the lições. Using the rules and sound files above, determine the pronunciation of each one, then pronounce every one of these words aloud:

*the "sock" one

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