Comprido, Longo & Curto

When it comes to qualifying something according to length, you might come across these three adjectives:
longo, comprido e curto long, long and short
You can see that longo and comprido both mean long, but they tend to be used in different contexts. Let’s take a better look at each of the three adjectives below.

Longo

Due to the similarity to the English word long, you might be tempted to always use this one, so you have to be careful. We mainly use longo when qualifying distances or periods of time.
Não faço planos a longo-prazo I don't make long-term plans
Foi uma longa reunião It was a lengthy meeting
A distância é longa até Madrid It's a long distance to Madrid
An exception would be, for example, when talking about sentences/texts: Eu escrevo textos longos I write long texts

Comprido

Comprido is used more often when referring to body parts, clothing and other relatively small things such as beds, couches, wires, among others.
Eles têm cabelo comprido They have long hair
Os meus braços são compridos My arms are long
As mangas estão demasiado compridas The sleeves are too long
Usei o lápis mais comprido I used the longer pencil
Quero um tapete comprido para a sala I want a long carpet for the living room
Be aware of the similarity with the word cumprido: they’re homophones, which means that despite sounding almost the same, they’re actually very different words as cumprido means accomplished/achieved.

Despite the aforementioned differences between comprido and longo, they do have some overlap in meaning and use. Longo, in particular, may be heard in contexts where comprido is expected to fit better (such as describing body parts). However, the other way around (comprido taking over from longo) doesn’t usually work as well and can be more jarring to a native speaker.

Curto

As mentioned before, curto is the opposite of the two adjectives above. You can use it whether you’re talking about distances, time, or objects. Let’s stay in the context of the examples used earlier to make things clearer.
Tivemos um curto debate We had a short debate
A distância é curta The distance is short
Eles têm o cabelo curto They have their hair short

Comments:

    • Hello Richard!
      By body attributes, we actually meant body parts – that was a mistake, so thank you for pointing it out. We’ve also updated the Learning Note to make things clearer and added 2 examples as well.

      This is a bit confusing, as it doesn’t follow any particular rules, so let us know if you need any help with this subject.

  • In my mind, I’m thinking that “longo” is reserved for things that are properly measurable rather than just perceived as relatively “long” — is that right?

    (I’ve only just reached this lesson, so may have got the wrong end of the stick here)

    • And maybe also “long” in an abstract sense??????

      I have just learned that “comprido/a” has nothing to do with “comprar”!

    • Hello Alison!

      I’m going to reply to both your comments here.

      “Comprido” has nothing to do with the verb “comprar”. However, “comprado” – past participle of “comprar” does. One simple letter can make a lot of difference.

      Now, the short answer to your question is: well, no. The long answer is a bit more complicated.
      Both “longo” and “comprido” have the same origin, they’re synonyms and can be often used interchangeably. In some situations, though, we refrain from using one or the other. How do people know which one is better? First, “comprido” is more commonly used with tangible things, «things that are properly measurable» to use your own words. Second, there’s also the way it sounds when you say it. Let me give you 2 examples:

      “Que dia tão comprido!” / “Que dia tão longo!” (“What a long day!”)
      “É uma distância comprida até à Lua.” / “É uma longa distância até à Lua.” (“It’s a long distance to the moon.”)

      All 4 are fine and have the same meaning. However, the ones with “longo” sound a little bit better to our ears, especially the moon one. It’s something that eventually becomes intuitive, the more you hear it.

      Did that clear your confusion? Let me know! 🙂

      I’m also going to correct the article as I’ve noticed the word “relatively” might cause some confusion.

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