Difference Between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese


Brazilian Portuguese and European

Brazilian vs European Portuguese

Portuguese may be the official language of Brazil, but it is not indigenous to the South American continent. The language actually stems from across the Atlantic, in Portugal. There are a few distinct differences in Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese, so if you have plans to travel abroad to Rio de Janiero for the 2016 Olympic Games, you may want to brush up on some Brazilian Portuguese. Here, we will explore the differences between the Portuguese of Brazil and the Portuguese of Europe.


The Portuguese influence in Brazil dates back to 1500 when it was accidently “discovered” by Pedro Álvares Cabral, a Portuguese military commander and explorer who was on the way to India. The Portuguese quickly set-up trade routes with Europe to capitalize on pau-brasil , a redwood valued for its dye, and for which the colony was named. For centuries, Brazil was a colony of Portugal until 1822, when it declared  independence.

According to historians, the first colonists were greeted by the Tupinambá, a native coastal tribe of Brazil. Jesuit priests studied the Tupi language, and then taught it to the colonists to establish communication.  Evidence suggests that the Portuguese worked with the natives to harvest redwood and, at one point tried to enslave the Tupi. After a short while, the Portuguese deemed them as “not suitable” for labor and turned to the African slave trade.

In the 1700’s, the Portuguese government mandated that the entire population speak their language to create unity between the colonists.  It is believed that this is when Brazilian Portuguese started to develop its own form and style, since only 30 percent of the colonist population had Portuguese ancestry. The remaining 70 percent of the population was of African or Amerindian decent, which indicates that the majority of the population learned Portuguese as a second language. In addition,  Brazilian Portuguese has historically adopted new words into its lexicon, whereas European Portuguese remained fairly static.

Blending Languages

The mix of Portuguese settlers, native inhabitants and African slaves produced the roots of modern day Brazilian Portuguese and its culture. Words and phrases from indigenous languages were adopted into the Brazilian language, but never made it back to the mother county. Here is an example of some of the Amerindian words absorbed by Brazilian speakers.

Amerindian Words English Translation
Abacaxi Pineapple
Mandioca Manioc flour
Caju Cashew
Tatu Armadillo
Piranha Piranha

It’s without question that the African influx made a significant impact in Brazil. To this day, Brazil has the highest African population outside of Africa than any country in the world. In fact, 300 Bantu words were adopted into the language. We’ve collected a small sampling of these words along with the English translation below:

Bantu Words in Brazilian Portuguese English Translation
Bunda Buttocks
Quiabo Okra
Moleque Young boy
Xingar Curse, insult

Key Differences

Today, native Portuguese speakers can effectively communicate with each other but will likely notice a dialectal difference in pronunciations, verb conjugations and forms of address. For example, the way the pronouns tu (Portugal ) and você (Brazil) are used can make or break a conversation. Both terms mean “you,” but in Brazil, você can be used both informally and formally to address friends, family members, associates and co-workers. In this, it is similar to English, which does not distinguish between formal and informal pronouns.

On the other side of the Atlantic, “tu” is used in casual situations. Not being aware of the formal and informal usage can confuse or offend some people. In Portugal, você is not used as often, preferring to conjugate tu using the third person singular form.  Similarly, tu is used in some parts of Brazil, but  is not as widespread.

Another key difference is vocabulary. If you have plans to travel, you may want to brush up on a few terms. For instance, if you want to take the train in Brazil, the word is trem, whereas in Portugal it is comboio. The same goes for the word for bus. In Brazil you’d take the onibus and in Portugal you’d ride the autocarro.

In addition to Amerindian and African languages, European languages like French and Italian influenced the Portuguese of Brazil. Ciao, Italian for goodbye is used and written in Brazilian Portuguese as “tchau.” Brazilian Portuguese is also known for following French suffixes.

Overall, historians and linguists do agree that Brazilian Portuguese bears a striking resemblance to European Portuguese of the 16th century. However, the differences can be compared to the differences between American and British English. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in learning Portuguese but aren’t sure which “version” to choose, go with the one that will have the most beneficial impact on your life and goals. Either way, it’s a beautiful language with a rich history that is worth embracing.

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Interpreters Unlimited provides written translation and spoken interpretation services for Brazilian and European Portuguese. For more information please call 800-726-9891 or fill out the form below.


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Marques, N. (n.d.). What’s The Difference Between Portuguese In Brazil And In Portugal? Retrieved August 12, 2016, from https://www.babbel.com/en/magazine/difference-between-brazilian-and-european-portuguese

De Andrade Tosta, A., & Coutinho, E. F. (n.d.). Brazil. Retrieved August 11, 2016, from https://books.google.com/books?id=XxUuCwAAQBAJ

New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/fodors/top/features/travel/destinations/centralandsouthamerica/brazil/riodejaneiro/fdrs_feat_129_9.html

Ferreira, F. (2002, December). The African Contribution to Brazilian Portuguese: To what extent did the speech of slaves influence the mother tongue? Bridgewater Review, 21(2), 7th ser. Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1057&context=br_rev

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