European Portuguese pronunciation for consonants

Pronunciation Guide for European Portuguese Consonants

Portuguese and English share a common alphabet, for the most part, and many of the sounds associated with each consonant are quite similar. If you’re a native English speaker, the pronunciations to pay special attention to are those associated with the vowels, which we will cover in a separate learning note, as well as the following consonants / consonant digraphs: c, ç, ch, h, lh, m, n, nh, r, s, x, and z. This guide will serve as an overview of European Portuguese pronunciation for consonants, but you should also explore these links for more detailed explanations of some of the trickier sounds:

European Portuguese Pronunciation: Consonant Sounds

Letter Portuguese Example English Approximation Notes IPA Symbol
Bb Play normal audio boca Play normal audio mouth boat b
Cc Play normal audio cedo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio early less Before e or i s
casa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio house can Before a, o, or u k
Çç Play normal audio praça Play normal audio square, plaza less s
Ch Play normal audio chuva Play normal audio rain shoe
ʃ
Dd Play normal audio dedo Play normal audio fingernada paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nothing dead The Portuguese d is often pronounced with the tongue slightly more forward (touching the teeth more, approximating “th”) compared to the English d. d, d̪
Ff Play normal audio figo Play normal audio fig fig f
Gg Play normal audio gelo Play normal audio ice genre Before e or i
ʒ
gato Play normal audio cat gate Before a, o, or u
g
Hh Play normal audio hora Play normal audio hour hour Silent
Jj Play normal audio João Play normal audio genre
ʒ
Kk Play normal audio   Only appears in foreign loan words k
Ll Play normal audio lua Play normal audio moon lose
l
lh Play normal audio bacalhau paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio codfish Similar to the Spanish word “paella” No close approximation
ʎ
Mm Play normal audio mãe paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio mother mom Beginning or middle of word m
foram Play normal audio they werehomem paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio mansim paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio yes Similar to town, thing No close approximation. At the end of a word or syllable, the m and the preceding vowel are replaced by a nasal vowel or diphthong.
am → ɐ̃w
em → ɐ̃j
im → ĩ
om → õ
um → ũ
Nn Play normal audio nada paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio nothing nod Beginning or middle of word n
contacto Play normal audio contacttanto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio so muchsinto Play normal audio I feel Similar to thing No close approximation. Similar to m, at the end of a word or syllable, the n and the preceding vowel are replaced by a nasal vowel.
an → ɐ̃
en → ẽ
in → ĩ
on → õ
un → ũ
nh Play normal audio linha Play normal audio line Similar to canyon in English and baño in Spanish The Portuguese sound is produced slightly further back in the mouth, using the body of the tongue instead of the tip of the tongue. ɲ
Pp Play normal audio pai paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio father pie p
Qq Play normal audio queijo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio cheese key Q is always followed by a u, just like in English k
quarto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio room queen kw
Rr Play normal audio rua paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio street No close approximation. Beginning of word. Pronounced like a guttural r, somewhere between and r and a “thick” h. It is voiced with the tongue pulling back toward the uvula. Others pronounce it more rolled. (R varies quite a bit among dialects.)
ʁ
correr paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio run Double r is pronounced the same as above.
ʁ
caro paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio expensive ficar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Portugal Play normal audio Similar to water (American English) Between vowels, end of syllable, or end of word: pronounced as a flap/alveolar r. No close approximations in British English.
ɾ
Ss Play normal audio inglês paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio Englishisto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio this English Before an unvoiced consonant (c,ç,ch,f,p,q,s,t) or at the end of a word ʃ
casa paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio houseos amigos paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio the friends zoo Between vowels (even if the vowel sound is in the next word) z
desligar paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio turn off, disconnect genre Before a voiced consonant (b,d,g,j,l,lh,m,n,nh,r,rr,v,z) ʒ
Tt Play normal audio tosse Play normal audio cough tea t
Vv Play normal audio vinho paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio wine van v
Ww Play normal audio Only appears in foreign loan words
Xx Play normal audio xarope paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio syruptexto paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio text
baixo paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio shorttaxa Play normal audio tax
enxame Play normal audio mexer Play normal audio
shoe Beginning of a word, before a consonant, after a diphthong, between vowels(and first one is not e), after me, after en ʃ
exame Play normal audio exam zoo Between e and a vowel (except after me) z
xi Play normal audio taxi taxi There are some exceptions to the aforementioned x rules which do not follow a set pattern, such as the “ks” pronunciation in táxi. ks
Yy Play normal audio   Only appears in foreign loan words. Some English words that start with y are spelled with io in Portuguese, such as ioga Play normal audio yoga and iogurte Play normal audio yogurt
Zz Play normal audio dez paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio ten English Before unvoiced consonant (c,ç,ch,f,p,q,s,t) or at the end of a word ʃ
dez euros Play normal audio ten euros zoo End of word followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound z
felizmente Play normal audio fortunately genre Before a voiced consonant (b,d,g,j,l,lh,m,n,nh,r,rr,v,z) ʒ
zero paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio zeroazul paused audio playing audio Play slow audio Play normal audio blue zoo Everywhere else z

 

Comments:

  • I am picking up the sound of a d at the end of the words ending in r – ficar(d), correr(d). I cannot relate to the sound of American English “water””. Help!

    • It does sound similar to the type of “d” sound that you hear when there is a d or t between vowels in English words. Instead of a hard “d”, this sound is pronounced faster and lighter, with the tongue barely touching the roof of the mouth (basically ‘flapping’ against it).

      The Portuguese sound is represented by this IPA symbol [ɾ], which looks almost like an r, but is actually known as an “alveolar flap”. The sound that the t makes in the middle of “water” (in American English only) is the closest English sound we have to that. This video might help explain further (and will also give anyone from the UK examples of the American English “flap t” sound): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FDjhKY8HwM

  • Hi, it would be helpful if you added IPA symbols to your pronounciation lessons (and maybe even some other places, f.ex. for the conjugation endings in verbs sections). Thanks 🙂

    • Thanks for the feedback! I’ll add it to our suggestions. We thought about doing this, but thought that most people would not be familiar with the IPA symbols. I think in this context at least, it wouldn’t be too tricky to add a column for the IPA symbol, though. 🙂

  • I am struggling to pronounce “lh” correctly. I’ve looked at some Italian-language videos as the sound /ʎ/ occurs in many Italian words. The videos seem to guide me in the right direction and yet when I try it out on a native Portuguese speaker or some audio transcription software, I’m not saying it right. Do you have any tips on getting this sound to come out right? (My native language is English, which might be relevant.) I believe the tip of the tongue has to be down, but if you can give more specifics on what to do or don’t with my tongue position or breathing, it would be helpful. Thanks!

    • This is a tough one! The closest sound in English would be the /lj/ sound in million, which sounds almost like an L and a Y. With the Portuguese /ʎ/ sound, it’s similar to merging those sounds together into one.

      Use the blade and body (rather than the very tip) of your tongue and raise it up toward your palate. More specifically, it’s alveolo-palatal — you can see a side view of where the tongue goes at that link. It’s basically raised in between your hard palate and the ridge just behind your teeth.

      Your vocal cords will vibrate (it is a “voiced” sound) and the air will flow over the sides (rather than the middle) of the tongue.

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