Portuguese minimal pairs

Minimal Pairs

Have you heard of Minimal Pairs? A minimal word pair consists of two words that vary by only a single sound. For example, conta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio calculation and conto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio tale – the only difference is in the final sound (the vowel sounds represented by a and o). Practicing with Portuguese minimal pairs is a great way to perfect your pronunciation and comprehension because it teaches you to hear the subtle differences between similar sounding words. As you’ll see in the examples below, even a tiny change in pronunciation means you could be saying something much different from what you intend to say!
While we’re at it, let’s also make a distinction between minimal pairs, homophones, and homographs.

  • Homophones are words with the same exact pronunciation but different meanings
  • Minimal pairs are words that have the same pronunciation except for only a single sound, also known as a fonema (phoneme). That single sound difference is the only thing that lets you know they are two different words – they are minimally different.
  • Homographs are words that are written the same exact way but pronounced differently. Some minimal pairs can also be homographs but that’s not the norm.

Let’s dive into some Portuguese minimal pairs!

Open vs. Closed Vowels

à paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio vs. a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio

      • paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio give da paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of the
      • às paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio to the as paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the
      • para - para paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio stop - to
      • falámos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio we spoke falamos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio we speak

é Play normal audio vs. ê Play normal audio

      • paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cathedral paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio be
      • erro - erro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I make mistakes - mistake
      • sede - sede paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio headquarters - thirst
      • céu paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sky seu paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio yours

ó Play normal audio vs. ô Play normal audio

      • paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio alone sou paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I am
      • olho - olho paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I look - eye
      • pós paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio post pôs paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio put
      • sóis paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio suns sois paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio you are
      • avó paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio grandmother avô paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio grandfather

Oral Vowels vs. Nasal Vowels

a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio vs. an Play normal audio

      • casado paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio married cansado paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio tired
      • sei paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I know sem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio without

a paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio vs. ã Play normal audio

      • manha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio slyness manhãmorning
      • campanha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio campaign Campanhã paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Portuguese parish

é Play normal audio /ê Play normal audio vs. en Play normal audio

      • meta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio goal menta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio mint
      • peso paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio weight penso paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bandage
      • cedo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio early sendo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio being
      • violeta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio violet violenta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio violent

í Play normal audio vs. in Play normal audio

      • si paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio (pronoun) sim paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio yes
      • fica paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio stay finca paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio stick
      • vida paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio life vinda paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio arrival
      • lido paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio read lindo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio beautiful

ô Play normal audio vs. on Play normal audio

      • sou paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I am som paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sound
      • coxa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio thigh concha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio shell
      • roubo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio robbery rombo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio breach
      • pois paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio since pões paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio you put

u Play normal audio vs. un Play normal audio

      • o paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the um paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio one
      • fuga paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio escape funga paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sniffle
      • tuba paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio tuba tumba paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio tomb
      • mudo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio mute mundo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio world

Nasal Vowels vs. Nasal Vowels

en Play normal audio vs. an Play normal audio

      • entro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I enter antro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio den
      • tento paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I try tanto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio so much

on Play normal audio vs. un Play normal audio

      • pomba paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio dove pumba paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio (interjection)

Reduced Vowels

A reduced vowel is another name for a weak sounding vowel. The examples below are not pairs but trios that only sound different because of the reduced vowel.

      • da paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of (female) de paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of do paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio of (male)
      • fala paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio speaks fale paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio speak (formal) falo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I speak
      • faça paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio do (formal) face paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio regarding faço paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I do
      • salta paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio jumps salte paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio jump (formal) salto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio jump (noun)
      • riscas paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio stripes risques paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio scratch (verb) riscos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio scratches

Consonants

Now we’ll move on to some Portuguese minimal pairs that let us distinguish between similar consonant sounds.

n vs. nh

      • mana paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sis (from 'sister') manha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio slyness
      • sono paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio sleep sonho paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio dream
      • tina paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bowl tinha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio had
      • Hispânia paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Hispania (Roman province) Espanha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Spain
      • Tânia paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio (person's name) tenha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio have (formal)

ss / ç vs. z

      • caço paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I hunt caso paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio case
      • assar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio roast azar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio bad luck
      • ouça paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio listen ousa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio dare

x vs. j

      • rixa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio fight rija paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio tough
      • acha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio thinks haja paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio there is
      • chato paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio boring jato paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio jet
      • queixo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio chin queijo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cheese

l vs. lh

      • falo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I speak falho paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio I miss
      • rola paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio turtle-dove rolha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cork
      • mala paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio suitcase malha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio mesh
      • vela paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio candle velha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio old (female)
      • Júlio paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio (name) julho paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio July
      • gálio Play normal audio gallium galho paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio twig

v vs. f

      • vaca paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cow faca paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio knife
      • varinha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio wand farinha paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio flour

 

Comments

  • This is a very challenging lesson…….pronunciation without context……..but it is extremely rewarding.
    It forces one to concentrate on the subtle differences which exist.
    For me too it taught me some useful words which I don’t believe I had encountered before.
    PP never fails to. impress.

  • Absolutely brilliant resource and one that I will return to many times. Any chance you could add avó and avô and três and treze to the list please?

    • Sure! Great ideas! I’ll add avó and avô to the Learning Note and work on getting them added to the Unit (there will be a delay before they start showing up). Três and treze are not strict minimal pairs because more than one sound differs, but they are pronounced similarly, so I will try to find a way to include them in the unit somewhere. Thanks!

  • Olá Rui & Joel,

    acho que isso é um exercício muito difícil mas também muito importante a fim de ser fluente. Muito obrigada!

    Como tenho lidado com a aprendizagem de línguas, deparei-me com o alfabeto fonético internacional (IPA), que considero muito útil quando se trata a pronúncia de palavras. Pode acrescentar isso neste capítulo?

    • Obrigado pelo comentário. Já se pensou em usar a notação IPA, mas como muitas pessoas podem não a conhecer, optou-se por usar os exemplos em áudio. De qualquer forma, juntámos o IPA à nossa lista de sugestões/ideias a possivelmente aplicar no futuro 🙂

  • é versus ê is almost imperceptible to me -at least for now.
    à versus a is completely imperceptible to me – again, at least for now.
    Is that common for English speakers from North America?

    • Jay, I was just going to direct you to the Pronunciation Guide for European Portuguese Vowels , but I see you already found it 🙂 For your reference (based on the table on this link): É and À (as well as Á) correspond to an open E vowel and an open A vowel, respectively; Ê corresponds to a medium E vowel. The unaccented A vowel can sound either way depending on the word, but on its own it’s a medium A. Rest assured that it’s not just North Americans struggling with all these sounds! It will get better, for sure.

  • It. Answers some of my questions and I’ll have to listen again and again to be able to understand, thanks very necessary!

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