How to Pronounce the Letter X in Portuguese

How to Pronounce the Letter X in Portuguese

Compared to some other languages, Portuguese pronunciation is relatively consistent, once you learn and follow the basic rules. A huge exception to this idea lies the letter X, which is one of the most challenging sounds – even for more intermediate learners.

That’s because this letter makes a several different sounds, and it varies unpredictably… for the most part. To get started, let’s see what Sherlock has to say on the topic:

(A special thanks to our friend Wayne Wilson for not only writing and animating this video, but for also providing the voice of Sherlock! Please help us thank him below or in the YouTube comments!)

As you saw in the video, there are 5 different ways to pronounce X in European Portuguese. But when you see a new word that contains this letter, how will you know which of the 5 pronunciations to use?

The only way to be fully sure is to memorize the individual words. But to hopefully give you a head start, let’s explore some of X’s common pronunciation patterns:

Group 1 – “sheesh”

Whenever the letter X appears on its own, as in a hyphenated word, or when you’re discussing the letter itself, the pronunciation will sound like “sheesh“:

o raio x x-ray

Not bad so far, right?

Group 2 – “-ks”

This pronunciation sounds exactly like in English. Unfortunately, this sound occurs less predictably than some of the other groups. So when you hear this pronunciation, you might want to make an extra effort to commit the individual word to memory rather than looking for a specific rule.

o maxilar jaw

o táxi taxi

xico toxic

o oxigénio oxygen

(Tip: Words that come from technology or international culture that contain X will usually use this pronunciation, like “fax”… not that anyone sends faxes anymore! 🙈)

Group 3 – “sss”

Similar to group 2, words that contain this X sound need to be memorized.

ximo maximum

próximo close to, by

Group 4 – “zzz”

When “ex” is followed by a vowel, the pronunciation will often sound like “zzz”:

o exame exam

existe exists

o exemplo example

exausto exhausted

exato exact

Group 5 – “shh”

X is usually pronounced as “shh” when X appears at the beginning of the word:

o xadrez chess

o xarope syrup

when X is preceded by a ditongodiphthong.
(Oversimplified, a “ditongo” is when 2 vowels combine to make a single syllable, instead of two separate syllables.):

o peixe fish

o caixote de lixo garbage bin

a ameixa plum

deixar to let, to allow, to leave something

when “ex” is followed by a consonant:

extra extra

extremamente extremely

exportação exportation

explorar to explore

exceção exception

excelente excellent

excêntrico excentric

a excursão excursion

As a last resort, when none of the more specific guidelines in the previous groups apply, when the x appears between vowels*, it will often fallback to this “shh” sound.:

a taxa rate

fixe cool

de luxo luxury

luxuoso luxurious

puxar to pull

relaxar to relax

* Unless the vowel before X is “e”, in which case the rule from Group 4 will likely apply. Que confusão!

We warned you this wouldn’t be easy, but hopefully some of these guidelines will make the struggle 5% easier 🤓

11 Responses to How to Pronounce the Letter X in Portuguese

  1. Wonderful detail! I have blundered with X and must tackle finally! Love the Sherlock! Perhaps, a lesson on the subject! Thank you for your enthusiasm and excellent work!

  2. Thank you so much. I’ve been banging my head against brick walls trying to figure out if there were any rules. I was beginning to think I had to learn each word with an x individually. Now, I just have to try to remembe the rules 🙂

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