Short Portuguese Lessons

Sounds and Pronounciation

Note: This page is still under construction. So far only the consonant sounds are parcially available. I hope to include vowel sounds and Audio files in the near future. The section on Brazilian pronounciation is not available at the moment, but in any case, the consonant sounds are more-or-less the same all through the Portuguese-speaking world.

Contents:

Introduction

Alphabet

Consonants

Two-letter Combinations

Mute Consonants

Vowels

Dipthongs

Notes on the Brazilian pronounciation


Introduction

There are two major pronounciation standards for the Portuguese Language: the European (Portugal) and the Brazilian. I'll describe the phonetics of the European Standard, with special notes given to the Brazilian pronounciation. I'll try to describe the sounds using English equivalents, but on some ocasions I'll use also Spanish and even German or French.

It is not easy to describe the Portuguese phonetics. Not only there are accent variations, but the language itself has a great deal of irregularities and idiossincraties. No language is a stable entity, and as the pronounciation changes, things that today don't seem to be logic, probably had a good reason for being in times past. Nevertheless, the language is fairly WYSIWYR (What You See Is What You Read...), at least a lot more than a language like English.


Alphabet

The Portuguese Alphabet is just like the English Alphabet. The ordering of the letters is the same, and on a dictionary, the vowels with graphic signs are ordered as if they didn't have any. The Ç (cedilha) has no special status, and is treated like a normal C in a dictionary. The letters K,W, and Y, eventhough they are now part of the Portuguese Alphabet, are only used in foreign names and words, or words derived from these. For example: "Darwinismo" (Darwinism). They usually have the same pronounciation as in the original language.


Consonants

Most consonants are pronounced exactly like in English, and except for the X, they are absolutely regular in pronounciation. This does not mean that they are always pronounced the same way: it means that eventhough they might have different pronounciations, if you know some simple rules, you know which pronounciation to choose. There are also a few special Two-letter combinations, which should be taken into consideration. Due primarily to language change, in some situations, some consonants have become mute, not being pronounced nowadays. See Mute Consonants for more details.

B

Just like in English

C

Before "e" or "i" is pronounced like the "s" in English "save". Example: "cedo" (early).
Otherwise like English "k". Example: "cantar" (to sing).
(See Mute Consonants)

Ç

The "cedilha", as it is called, is only used before A,O,U, and as the same sound as the English "s" in "save". For example: "maçã" (apple).

D

In European Portuguese, it's just like in English.

F

Just like in English

G

Rules similar to the C: before "e" or "i" is pronounced like the Portuguese J (see below). Example: "gente" (people).
The combination GU+vowel deserves a special note:
  • If the vowel is A, the U is pronounced. Example: "guarda" (guard)
  • If the vowel is E or I, the U is not usually pronounced. Examples: "guerra" (war) and "guia" (guide).
    However, there are a few exceptions where the U is pronounced. These exceptions used to be marked with the "trema" (), but it is not used nowadays. Usually, if the E or I have an accent on them, then the U is pronounced. Example: "Linguística" (Linguistics).

Otherwise similar to the "g" in English "great". Example: "garra" (claw).

H

Never pronounced.
It is also used in some Two-letter combinations.

J

Always like the "s" in the English "measure"

L

If it starts a syllable, it has a sound similar to the Spanish "l". Example: "lado" (side).
At the end of the syllable, the sound is closer to the "ll" in the English "Hall". (In Brazil, the final L is pronounced like the vowel "U", forming a dipthong.) Example: "farol" (lighthouse).
It is also used in one of the Two-letter combinations.

M

Is it starts a silable, it's just like in english. Example: "macaco" (monkey).
At the end of a syllable it is not pronounced, and indicates that the preceding vowel is nasal. Example: "jardim" (garden).

N

At the beginning of a syllable it's just like in English. Example: "nada" (nothing).
If it ends a syllable, and the syllable is not the last from the word, the N is not pronounced, and indicates that the preceding vowel is nasal. Example: "andar" (to walk).
There a few rare words (most of them came directly from Latin), that end in an N. In these cases, it is pronounced. (At least for now: the tendency is for this N to nasalise the preceding vowel)
It is also used in one of the Two-letter combinations.

P

Just like in English.
(See Mute Consonants)

Q

It never occurs alone, but always in the combination QU+vowel.
The rules are similar to the ones for GU+vowel:
  • If the vowel is A or O, the U is pronounced. Example: "qualidade" (quality)
  • If the vowel is E or I, the U is not usually pronounced. Examples: "querer" (to want) and "mosquito" (mosquito).
    However, there are a few exceptions where the U is pronounced. These exceptions used to be marked with the "trema" (), but it is not used nowadays. Example: "tranquilo" (tranquil).

R

At the beginning of a word, or preceded by a consonant, is pronounced hard, like the Fench "r", or the "ch" in Scotish "loch". Examples: "rato" (mouse) and "genro" (son-in-law).
Otherwise it has a soft pronounciation, like the spanish "r" in "caro". Example: "pêra" (pear).

S

This consonant can have 4 different sounds, depending on its position:
  • Between two vowels in the middle of a word it sounds like Z. Example: "casa" (house)
  • Starting a word or sylable (preceded by a non-vowel) it sounds like the "s" in the English "say". Examples: "sapo" (toad) and "manso" (tame)
  • If it ends a syllable, and the next letter is a B,D,G,L,M,N,R,V,Z it sounds like the J (see above). Example: "Lisboa" (Lisbon)
  • If it ends a sylable or an isolated word, and the next letter is a C,F,P,T it sounds like the "sh" in English "shine". Examples: "isto" (this) and all the plurals.

T

In European Portuguese, it's just like in English.

V

Just like in English

X

At the beginning of a word, it is pronounced like CH. For example: "xadrez" (chess).
At the end of a word it is pronounced like "ks" in English. For example: "sílex" (flintstone).
In other positions there is no general rule, and there is even some variation among different people. Some possible sounds:
  • It sounds like the English "ks" in "táxi" (taxi)
  • It sounds like the Z in "exame" (exam)
  • It sounds like the SS in "máximo" (maximum)
  • It sounds like the CH in "México" (Mexico).

Z

At the end of a word, it sounds like CH. Example: "luz" (light).
Otherwise it's just like in English. Example: "zero" (zero).


Two-letter combinations

CH

Like the english "sh" in "shine". Example: "chá" (tea).

SS

Like the english "s in "save". Example: "passo" (step).

NH

Just like the Spanish Ñ in "niño", or the French "gn" in "Champagne".
In English, it is similar to the "ny" in "canyon".

LH

Like the "ll" in Old French, or the "ll" in "the official" Spanish pronounciation. (Which few Spanish-speakers seem to use nowadays...)
Also like the "gl" in Italian "Caglari".
Unfortunately, there is no English equivalent...


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Last updated: 97/04/04

Dario Oliveira Teixeira
spl@um.geira.pt