As is the case with most languages, the same letter can be associated with different phonemes — that is to say, the same letter can be pronounced in many different ways. You’ve probably noticed that Portuguese is no exception. Two of these letters that have many variations are S and C:
- Sucesso Success – In this example, different letters/digraphs (s, c, and ss) have the same sound.
- Concessão Concession – Here we have the same letter (c), but two different sounds.
In this Learning Note, you’ll learn how to pronounce these letters by paying attention to how they are positioned within a word or phrase.
The Letter S
- ‘Se’ sound – At the beginning of a word or after a consonant (usually the letter n)
- ‘Ze’ sound – Between vowels it sounds like the letter z in English
(Notice in this last example that the same rule holds true between vowels in continuous speech, even if the vowel appears in the next word. The s at the end of ‘temos’ comes before the vowel á in ‘água’, so you hear it as a ‘ze’ sound.)
- ‘Sh’ sound – Before a consonant or at the end of a word
(Notice again in this last example that the rule holds true between words in continuous speech.)
Important Note: The ‘sh’-like sounds you hear in these words are not exactly the same. At the end of a word, it’s a subtle ‘sh’ sound. Before a consonant, it becomes more similar to a soft ‘j’ sound, like the sound made by the ‘s’ in “pleasure”. To compare, listen to these examples of words that contain both sounds:
The Digraph SS
The Letter C
- ‘Se’ sound – If followed by the vowels e or i
- ‘Sh’ sound – If followed by the consonant h, it forms the digraph ch which sounds like ‘sh’