Portuguese and Spanish are very closely-related languages. Already knowing one of them makes learning the other considerably easier. Many aspects of Spanish that we talked about in the “Spanish-English Differences” blog are applicable to Portuguese as well. However, Portuguese does have its own share of unique quirks. So let’s go over a few aspects of Portuguese you may find difficult, regardless of whether or not you already speak Spanish.
As with French and Spanish, Portuguese uses gendered nouns. In Portuguese, however, you always place a gendered article before a noun. This includes a person’s name. The masculine “o” precedes a male name, and the feminine “a” precedes a female name.
Just like in Spanish, masculine nouns normally end in “o” and feminine nouns in “a.” Also just like in Spanish, there are many exceptions to this rule. The Portuguese word “cinema” is masculine, despite ending in “a.” So “cinema” would take the masculine article (o cinema) and not the feminine article (a cinema).
Finally, some Portuguese numbers have different variants depending on the gender of whom or what you are counting. This is actually another trait that Spanish and Portuguese share. However, which numbers are gender-dependent isn’t consistent across the languages. The Portuguese “two” has gendered forms (dois/duas), but its Spanish counterpart (dos) does not.
European and Brazilian Portuguese:
There is a great deal of variation among Portuguese dialects. European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese, the two main dialects, are further apart in pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary than UK and American English or Castilian and Mexican Spanish. You’ll want to begin learning Portuguese in whatever dialect you think you will be using the majority of the time. If you’ll be living in Brazil, start with Brazilian Portuguese. If you do a lot of business with a company in Portugal, make European Portuguese your priority.
“We” is (sometimes) singular:
“A gente” is the Brazilian Portuguese informal first-person personal pronoun for “we.” Counter-intuitively, a gente is grammatically singular. Thus you can’t use a plural verb conjugation with it. You must use a singular verb form.
This familiar nemesis takes on an extra dimension with Portuguese. Because Portuguese is so closely-related to Spanish, many false friends exist between the languages. These are in addition to the false friends that exist between English and Portuguese, which may or may not line up with English-Spanish false friends. American English speakers are more likely to take Spanish before Portuguese, or at least to have a passing familiarity with Spanish. Always check whether a familiar-looking Portuguese word is a cognate or a false friend before using it. One perfect example: Exquisite means “beautiful” in English and Spanish; its Portuguese false friend translates as “weird.”
Ser and estar:
Let’s end with an example of one of the similarities between Portuguese and Spanish. The languages share a pair of verbs that are analogous to the different ways English uses “to be.” Ser refers to an essential characteristic or state of being. Estar describes a temporary condition or conveys a particular action.