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Língua portuguesa

Number of native speakers

about 220 million

Official language in

Brazil (185 million), Portugal/Azores/Madeira (11 million), Angola (60 thousand), Mozambique (30 thousand), Cape Verde (25 thousand), East-Timor, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Principe, Macau, EU

Minority language in

Paraguay (750,000), South Africa (617,000), Uruguay (28,000), Goa (250,000)

Language of diaspora

France (750,000), US (365,000), Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany (about 80,000 each), Luxembourg (50,000), Venezuela

26 letters
Grammatical cases
Language code
pt, por
Linguistic typology
inflectional , pro-drop , SVO
Language family
Indo-European, Romance
Number of dialects
Several hundred dialects and creoles (European, Brazilian, African, Asian). One dialect regards itself as a language (Galician).

Longest word

chemistry, "tetrachlorodibenzoparadioxine"
politics, "deconstitutionalization"
medicine, "hyperparathyroidism"

Curious word or sentence

"he accepted", all 5 vowels in alphabetical order
a Brazilian fruit
The spider grabs the frog.
"Hey, look at that fight, look", Brazilian Portuguese


From a tiny corner of the Iberian Peninsula, Portuguese was spread far and wide by the ships of its sea-borne empire. On their way to Far-Eastern riches the Portuguese naus established trading posts and forts along the coasts of Africa, in India (Goa), China (Macao) and along strategically important shipping lines (Cabo Verde, East Timor). However, 90% of the sailors died on each trip, and no large population transfer occurred. In its more immediate neighbourhood, Portugal settled the Azores and Madeira, both now with their own dialects, and the islands were important bridge heads for further expansion. The real masterstroke of the Portuguese expansion was, however, Brazil, which became a melting pot of Indian, Portuguese and - thanks to a ruthless and large-scale slaving trade - African genes. In the process, the Portuguese language, European diseases and the bandeirantes slave captains decimated thousands of Indian languages, with only one serious competitor, the Tupi-based Lingua Geral, which was widely used in the Amazon area for a few hundred years. Today, the vast majority of Portuguese speakers are Brazilians, and where printing presses were once banned by royal decree, telenovela soap operas have now inversed the cultural flow between Portugal and its former colony.


  • 409 – 711

    Migration period
    Visigoth influence

  • 711

    Moorish invasion
    Arabic influence

  • 9-11th century

    Beginning reconquista: Galicia

  • 1095

    Independent Portugal

  • 12-14th century

    Language of lyrics

  • 1249

    End of reconquista

  • 1290

    First Portuguese university

  • 15-16th century

    Language of discoverers, traders and missionaries, Empire

  • 1419 – 1420


  • 1427 – 1431

    Azorean islands

  • 1498

    Calcutta, India

  • 1500

    Cabral-expedition: Brazil

  • 1510

    Goa (India)

  • 1557

    Macao (China)

  • 1580 ‒ 1640

    Union with Spain

  • 1755 ‒ 1779

    Pombaline reform period

  • 1807

    Napoleonic invasion, royal court moved to Brazil

  • 1822

    Brazilian independence

  • 1960 ‒ 1970

    Decolonization wars in Africa Exodus of millions of Portuguese

Chronological map showing linguistic evolution in southwest Europe.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Like its Romance sister languages, Portuguese has undergone a number of systematic sound changes during its evolution from common Latin roots. However, though lexically closest to Spanish, Portuguese is more akin to Italian and Catalan in terms of vowels, having retained the original Latin vowels where Spanish and French introduced diphthongs.

Writing system and pronunciation

Portuguese uses the ordinary Latin alphabet, but includes ç and allows accents on vowels. These accents are not simply stress markers, but have phonetic value.

  • a
  • á
  • à
  • â
  • ã
  • b
  • c
  • ç
  • d
  • e
  • é
  • ê
  • f
  • g
  • h
  • i
  • j
  • k
  • l
  • m
  • n
  • o
  • ó
  • ô
  • õ
  • p
  • q
  • r
  • s
  • t
  • u
  • ú
  • ü
  • v
  • w
  • x
  • y
  • z

Portuguese orthography is quite regular, and in most cases (standard) pronunciation can be predicted from the written word. The language has a high vowel/consonant-ratio, a trait that is emphasized in Brazilian Portuguese which has enslaved itself to an iambic-syllabic rhythm even to the point of inserting extra vowels in consonant clusters in the spoken language, e.g. pi-si-co-lo-gi-a instead of psicologia (psychology). In Portugal, on the other hand, the vowels are weakened to such a degree that the result sounds like an incomprehensible slur of consonants to Brazilian ears, e.g. Frnandpssoa instead of Fer-nan-do Pe-sso-a (a famous poet). Needless to say, the more rhythmic Brazilian variant has fostered a vibrant dancing culture, while the mournful and drawn melancholy of Portuguese fado is more inclined to induce weeping rather than dancing.


Noun phrase inflection:

Male Female
the black horse the round table
Singular o cavalo preto a mesa redonda
Plural os cavalos pretos as mesas redondas

Verb phrase inflection:

Portuguese has 3 regular conjugations (-ar, -er, and -ir), e.g. falar (talk), comer (eat) and dormir (sleep), as well as several dozen irregular verbs or verb groups. A semi-irregular feature is a vowel shift between root-stressed and endings-stressed forms, and between dark (a/o) and light (e/i) vowel endings.

Root-stressed Ending-stressed
I sleep
we sleep
Dark-vowel ending Light-vowel ending
I agree
he/she agrees
Singular Plural
1st person 2nd person 3rd person 1st person 2nd person 3rd person
Present como comes come comemos comeis comem
Imperfect comia comias comia comíamos comíeis comiam
Preterite comi comeste comeu comemos comestes comeram
Pluperfect comera comeras comera comêramos comêreis comeram
Future comerei comerás comerá comeremos comereis comerão
Present coma comas coma comamos comais comam
Imperfect comesse comesses comesse comêssemos comêsseis comessem
Future comer comeres comer comermos comerdes comerem
Conditional comeria comerias comeria comeríamos comeríeis comeriam
Imperative come (coma) (comamos) comei (comam)
Personal infinitive comer comeres comer comermos comerdes comerem

In addition, the following compound tenses can be formed with the auxiliary ter (have), with examples in the first person singular:

Indicative Subjunctive
Compound perfect preterite tenho comido tenha comido
Compound pluperfect tinha comido tivesse comido
Future perfect terei comido tiver comido
Compound conditional teria comido -

Word formation and lexicon

Portuguese is not a compounding language, allowing only prefixes (e.g. hiper- "hyper") and suffixes (e.g. -ização "-ization"), but not root compounding. Therefore, the longest words in the language are scientific words with Greek or Latin roots (chemistry, medicine, sociology).

Arabic words in European Portuguese

Deeply rooted in European Portuguese, are many Arabic words from over 500 years of Islamic rule and the reconquista. These words are often recognizable from their initial 'al-' (the Arabic article).

  • arroz
  • safra
  • aduana
  • alface
  • javali
    wild boar
  • maroma

Tupí words in Brazilian Portuguese

The Portuguese were at a linguistic loss when confronted with Brazilian nature and tens of thousands of animal, plant and place names were borrowed from Indian languages, first and foremost Tupí and its Jesuit-regularized version Lingua Geral.

  • capivara (the worlds largest rodent)
  • place-names ending in -açu ("big"), e.g. the giant waterfall Iguaçu ("big water")
  • mirim ("little"), e.g. táxi-mirim (mini-taxi)
  • capim (grass, slang usage: money)

Angolan words in Portuguese

The food and religion of Angolan slaves have become an essential part of the Brazilian soul, contributing cultural icons such as feijoada (bean stew) and exu (spiritistic daemon).


Portuguese has only 2 written standards used for teaching, European (Lusitan) Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, comparable to the orthographical-lexical split between British and American English, but also featuring some grammatical differences. The dialectal landscape of spoken Portuguese, however, is very varied in terms of accents and lexicon. There are 10 main dialect areas in Portugal and its islands. Among Portuguese dialects in Spain, Galician is prominent and sometimes considered a separate language for political reasons. In Brazil, dialects carry many lexical traces of Indian and African languages, as well as other European immigrant languages. In all corners of the former Empire, Portuguese dialects remain. The current revival of Portuguese in Angola and Mozambique is backed by a strong standardisation effort detrimental to the dialects. Finally, there is a number of surviving Portuguese creoles, that are not dialects, but languages evolved from Portuguese trading pidgins: Kabuverdiano (Cape Verde), Forro (São Tomé & Principe) and Papiamento (Dutch Carribean ABC islands).

Dialect map of continental Portugal with other Romance languages

Source: Wikimedia Commons

  • Portugués septetrional
  • Portugués central
  • Portugués litoral
  • Portugués meridional
  • Gallego occidental
  • Gallego central
  • Gallego oriental
  • Gallego jalimés
  • Mirandés
  • Asturiano occidental o Leonés
  • Asturiano central
  • Asturiano oriental
  • Montañés
  • Alto-Extremeño
  • Español septentrional
  • Español meridional
  • Español andaluz
  • Aragonés
  • Valenciano
  • Catalán occidental
  • Catalán oriental
  • Catalán septentrional
  • Alguerés
  • Balear
  • Gascón
  • Languedociano
  • Provenzal
  • Limosín
  • Auvernense
  • Vivaroalpino

Thematic words

Funny or odd traditional proverbs and idioms

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