What’s the difference between European Portuguese vs Brazilian Portuguese? For starters, European Portuguese is the variant spoken in Portugal and is more similar to the dialects spoken in Africa and Asia. (It is sometimes called Continental Portuguese, or even Portuguese Portuguese! 😄 ) Given the size and population of Brazil, however, the Brazilian Portuguese set of dialects are the most famous across the world, including online and in the entertainment industry.
Some compare the distinction between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese to that between American and British English, or between Latin American and European/Castilian Spanish. Practice Portuguese only teaches European Portuguese, but if you are arriving here with a background in Brazilian Portuguese, it can be helpful to understand the differences.
For native Portuguese speakers, the various dialects are mutually intelligible. As a non-native, hearing multiple versions can sometimes add extra confusion and complexity to the learning process, particularly when it comes to the pronunciation differences. If you’re planning to spend time in Portugal, or you just want to learn more about the Portuguese language as a whole, it’s important to understand the many unique characteristics of European Portuguese. We’ll take a look at some of the primary differences in spelling, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation.
Bear in mind that EP and BP each include their own variety of dialects as well, so there will be some generalizations for simplicity’s sake. For that same reason, we tend to lean toward the “Lisbon accent” and dialect in Learning Notes and Units.
In the examples below, we labeled the Brazilian pronunciations with BP (Brazilian Portuguese). Any examples without this indication are in EP (European Portuguese).
With the Acordo Ortográfico de 1990 (Orthographic Agreement of 1990), also known as the Novo Acordo Ortográfico New Orthographic Agreement, which went into effect in 2008, the written forms of both dialects became practically the same. Many people and publications in Portugal refuse to write under this new agreement, so it’s very likely that you’ll still come across the “old” versions of some words.
One major change was the removal of mute consonants in European Portuguese, mostly p‘s and c‘s, making it more similar to the Brazilian version. For example, ótimo great used to be written as “óptimo” and ação action used to be “acção”. Words such as facto fact and contacto contact retained the c in European Portuguese because c is not a mute consonant in such cases.
The pronouns Tu/Teu vs Você/Seu
A major difference between European Portuguese vs Brazilian Portuguese involves the use of second-person pronouns. In European Portuguese, we use the personal pronoun tu you in informal contexts and with people close to us. We use the “treatment pronoun” você you when speaking to our elderly relatives or people we’re not close with. (These are often referred to as “you, informal” and “you, formal” for simplicity.)
In Brazilian Portuguese, however, você has replaced tu for the most part, and has become an informal way of talking to someone in the second person. Alternatively, and because some people are offended by você, both dialects sometimes make use of o senhor/a senhora to refer to “you”. When using você in either dialect, you conjugate the corresponding verb in the 3rd person.
Tu fizeste o almoço You made lunch
Você fez o almoço BP You made lunch
Similarly, the possessive pronoun/determiner teu, used in Portugal, is replaced with seu in BP:
O teu pai ligou? Did your father call?
(O)* Seu pai ligou? BP Did your father call?
* In BP, the definite articles o/os/a/as that should come before the pronoun are usually not spoken.
In European Portuguese, we use the demonstrative pronouns este, esta, and isto to refer to objects close to us (“this“), and esse, essa, and isso to refer to objects that are a bit further away (“that“). In BP, este and isto are rarely used. Instead, you hear the expressions “esse aqui” or “isso aqui” to refer to objects that are close by, as if saying “that here”. Similarly, for objects not in reach of the speaker, BP combines aí there with esse and isso, becoming “esse aí” or “isso aí”, as if saying “that there”.
O que é isto? What is this?
O que é isso aqui? BP What is this?
One of the more obvious differences between the two dialects is the use of the gerúndio gerund. Brazilian Portuguese makes extensive use of this kind of non-finite verb, while European Portuguese prefers to use the “a + infinitive” structure instead. You can read more in this Learning Note on the Present Continuous.
Ele está a dançar He is dancing
Ele está dançando BP He is dancing
Eu continuo a achar que é mentira I still think it's a lie
Eu continuo achando que é mentira BP I still think it's a lie
Clitic pronouns before the verb
In the Clitic Pronouns unit, we mention that these types of pronouns can appear in three different positions: before, in the middle, or after the verb. In Brazilian Portuguese, the proclitic (before) position is the standard way, while the enclitic (after) position is the standard in European Portuguese.
Amo-te I love you
Te amo BP I love you
Ele disse-me He told me
Ele me disse BP He told me
Eu dou-te os parabéns I congratulate you
Eu te dou os parabéns BP I congratulate you
The pronouns o, os, a, and as are still present in BP, but they are usually replaced with the pronouns ele, eles, ela, and elas. For example:
Eu vi-o ontem I saw him yesterday
Eu vi ele ontem BP I saw him yesterday
When it comes to indirect object pronouns, lhe is rarely found in Brazilian Portuguese. Instead, speakers use the structure “para + personal pronoun”. For example:
Eu contei-lhe o que aconteceu I told him what happened
Eu contei para ele o que aconteceu BP I told him what happened
The verb ter as haver
In certain situations, Brazilian Portuguese makes use of the verb ter in place of the verb haver.
Há muito pó neste quarto There's a lot of dust in this room
Tem muito pó neste quarto BP There's a lot of dust in this room
Há muitos estrangeiros em Portugal There are a lot of foreigners in Portugal
Tem muito estrangeiro* em Portugal BP There are a lot of foreigners in Portugal
* The use of singular instead of plural forms is also very common.
Using the preposition em instead of a
In this Learning Note, you learn how the preposition em in, at combines with the definite articles o themasc. and a thefem. to form the contractions no in the and na in the. Brazilian Portuguese makes use of these contractions in a way that EP doesn’t. For example:
Vou a casa dos meus pais I'm going to my parents' house
Vou na casa de meus pais BP I'm going to my parents' house
Fui ao cinema I went to the movie theatre
Fui no cinema BP I went to the movie theatre
There are many differences between the lexicons of European Portuguese vs Brazilian Portuguese, particularly with neologisms. Over the years, BP has incorporated and adapted English words into its own vocabulary. You’ll notice some of them in the list below. Words such as time (BP), trem (BP), and esporte (BP), while spelled differently, sound almost the same as their English equivalents and have no relation to the European Portuguese words.
- Grass: relva grass gramaBP grass
- (Hitch a) ride: boleia ride caronaBP ride
- Santa Claus: Pai Natal Santa Claus Papai NoelBP Santa Claus
- Juice: sumo juice sucoBP juice
- Sport: desporto sport esporteBP sport
- Cancer: cancro cancer câncerBP cancer
- Bus: autocarro bus ônibusBP bus
- Cell phone: telemóvel cell phone celularBP cell phone
- Train: comboio train tremBP train
- Team: equipa team timeBP team
Finally we’ve made it to perhaps the most noticeable difference between European and Brazilian Portuguese: the way they sound. We’ll highlight a few of the characteristic differences in the phonetics of each dialect. (You can also read a little more about what distinguishes European Portuguese in this Learning Note about vowel pronunciation.)
- In European Portuguese, reduced vowels are barely noticeable – it’s as if we swallow them! In Brazilian Portuguese, the vowels sound much more open, making it seem like every syllable is stressed compared to the European variant.
- In BP, the l at the end of a word is often vocalized like a u.
- In BP, the r at the end of a word is usually suppressed.
- In European Portuguese, you will hear the phonemes that correspond to the letters d and t pronounced like: de di and te ti . In BP, however, they are pronounced like djiBP and tjiBP .
- There are a variety of pronunciations for the letter s in European Portuguese, including the “sh” pronunciation when s appears at the end of a word or in the middle before a consonant. In BP, however, the s is pronounced like a z in these contexts.
Regarding stressed syllables, there’s one major difference when it comes to some “palavras esdrúxulas” – words in which the stressed syllable is the antepenultimate (third from the last) one. In both EP and BP, an accent is present, but the particular accent can vary. Let’s start with a few words that have the same spelling in EP and BP:
The difference appears in certain words that use the acute accent (´) in European Portuguese, but the circumflex accent (ˆ) in Brazilian Portuguese. Consequently, the pronunciation of the word is different too, as the stressed syllables are open in EP and nasalized in BP. For example:
- tónica tonic tônicaBP tonic
- académico academic acadêmicoBP academic
- demónio demon demônioBP demon
- António AntônioBP
Compare European Portuguese vs Brazilian Portuguese in Conversation
The rest of our content sticks to EP, but we released these 4 special episodes featuring both European and Brazilian Portuguese speakers. Can you hear the differences? Enjoy!