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:
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.
(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.
Group 4 – “zzz”
When “ex” is followed by a vowel, the pronunciation will often sound like “zzz”:
Group 5 – “shh”
X is usually pronounced as “shh” when X appears at the beginning of the word:
…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.):
… when “ex” is followed by a consonant:
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.: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 🤓