What’s the difference between Portuguese (Brazil) and Portuguese (Portugal) and which one should I learn

What’s the difference between Portuguese (Brazil) and Portuguese (Portugal) and which one should I learn

The accent is the only big difference. It doesn’t really matter, especially in the beginning asSteve has said.

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I learned Brazilian Portuguese to a lower intermediate level and I now live in Portugal, trying to ‘convert’ my Portuguese to the European version. Here are some major differences:

  1. Accent: The accents are quite different. Most people think that Brazilian Portuguese sounds much nicer than European Portuguese, which is also my view. I’ve even heard Portuguese citizens say that. Brazilian Portuguese is more open-sounding and easier to understand. I learned Carioca pronunciation (spoken in and around Rio de Janeiro), which to my ears is even nicer because of the ‘ch’ sound for ti/te and the ‘ji’ sound for di/de. European Portuguese pronunciation is more closed and the final vowel syllables are often swallowed/stunted. The difference in sounds between the two is significant. Even once I had learned Brazilian Portuguese to a B1-ish level, sometimes when I lived in Geneva, before I moved to Portugal, I would hear European Portuguese being spoken (without ever having had much exposure to it) and not only could I not really understand it, it often took me a while to even identify the language. Multiple times I had the same experience where I was listening to someone speak on a bus and I thought, ‘I recognise some words and it kind of sounds like Spanish but it’s not Spanish. Oh, now it sounds like Russian. That’s weird. Oh! Now I get it, it’s European Portuguese!’

  2. Grammar: There are some significant differences here. In Portugal, the informal ‘tu’ is used for the second person singular, with ‘o senhor/a senhora’ often used as the formal. In Brazil, ‘você’ is used as the informal second person singular, even though it carries a formal sense in Portugal. In my experience, as someone used to using ‘você’ informally, this is the biggest challenge in my Portuguese speaking in Portugal. It’s as if, in English, people in Britain still used ‘thou’ in everyday speech (along with all its conjugations) while in the U.S. they did not. For the first personal plural, Brazilians often use ‘a gente’ (‘the people’) rather than ‘nós’ (‘we’). In practice, because ‘você’ and ‘a gente’ also take the same conjugation as he/she (‘ele’/‘ela’), and ‘vocês’ (the second person plural) takes the same conjugation as they (‘eles’/‘elas’), that means that in Brazilian Portuguese, you only really need to know three conjugations in each tense for each verb. In European Portuguese there are six. If you’re just starting out, and if you don’t know Spanish (which helps with tu/nós conjugations), that can make a big difference. There are some other grammatical differences too. For example, in Brazil, to express an action that is currently taking place (what we call the present continuous in English), you use the ‘standard’ to be + verb in its present participle form (recognisable from English/Spanish/Italian). So ‘I am speaking’ is ‘estou falando’. In Portugal they express this form a different way, and you say ‘estou a falar’. I’m sure there are more examples of grammatical differences but these are the main ones I have come across so far.

  3. Vocabulary: Some basic terms like ‘breakfast’ (‘café de manha’ in Brazil and ‘pequeno almoço’ in Portugal) and ‘bathroom’ (‘banheiro’ in Brazil and ‘casa de banho’ in Portugal) are different. I’m sure there are others. This is not a big deal; it’s just a matter of familiarising yourself with the differences.

As for which one to learn, that’s entirely up to you. Because of the accent/grammar reasons stated above, I think Brazilian Portuguese is easier to learn. If you intend to travel/live in either one of the two destinations, then you should obviously choose that version. If you hope to find Portuguese speakers in the U.S., then I’d go for Brazilian Portuguese. If you’re learning for fun and you are into Brazilian culture/music etc, then obviously go for Brazilian Portuguese. If you’re into the history of the Portuguese explorations, then maybe opt for the European version. In my experience, there are more materials available online in Brazilian Portuguese, and more Brazilians who want to do conversation exchanges.

Good luck! It’s a fun language to learn regardless of which one you choose. I have a special fondness for Brazilian Portuguese because it’s the first language I attempted to learn and because my wife has a degree in it and it’s her favourite language. But I am also committed to my attempted ‘conversion’ to European Portuguese and am enjoying engaging with that form of the language here in Lisbon.


As LILingquist said, the biggest difference is in accent. But again, there`s a lot of difference between Brazilian accents. There are differences with choice of words, expressions, and some syntaxical things. But again, these kind of things can be found inside the Brazilian territory. It IS the same language, even though some people try to argue with that, linguistically speaking is the same language, therefore both variations can be learned and you will still learn the same language.
But maybe you have some particularities, like you want to travel to Portugal, or maybe you are in love with the literature of Machado de Assis (as I am and will always be), maybe you love Fado or maybe you love Bossa nova, so it would be better to learn the respective variation. Maybe you really want to speak it, then probably you will find brazilian people since brazilian population is a lot bigger. The variation you should learn lays more in your interests than in anything else. When I started learn english I wanted to learn the british variation, but I loved Friends, House and Kerouac books, now I can understand both anyway.
That’s it, that’s all I can say. Good luck.

is this similar to Castillian Spanish and Spanish from Mexico for example they can both understand each other fine but the grammar is a bit different and the words?

Yeah, but I think it’s maybe more akin to Argentinian Spanish as opposed to European Spanish - i.e. there are some minor grammatical differences and a significantly different pronunciation as well as lexical peculiarities.

(Mexican is, I think, not quite so different at least in terms of grammar?)

I’d also be interested to know whether the Portuguese of Angola and Mozambique is closer to the Brazilian or European variety?

portuguese spoken in africa is more similar to the variety spoken in portugal in vocabulary and grammar

I found Mozambicans to be easier to understand than European Portuguese speakers, FWIW.

Yes, I think this is a good comparison, because of the pronoun differences (vos in Argentina) and the pronunciation (especially the ‘sh’ sound for ll in Argentina), which match some of the differences in the two major versions of Portuguese that I outlined above.

They speak European Portuguese with their own accent, and are often easier to understand than Portuguese people. Depending on who you’re talking to, you might be confronted with a lot of local words too, some of them being now understood in Portugal thanks to music. An example of this is the word “bué”, equivalent to “muito”.

Angola is the African country where the colonial language has spread itself the most, and the mother tongue of a lot of Angolans, including among the poorest, is Portuguese. But it’s an Angolan Portuguese, with many words coming from local languages such as Kimbundu near Luanda. I spent a few weeks there and could talk to people in the slums but sometimes some more educated people had to explain me what they meant.


The really interesting thing is that the grammar of languages like French and Portuguese didn’t become significantly changed or simplified when they were adopted by indigenous people in Africa. Yet the Dutch spoken by white colonists in South Africa transformed itself into Afrikaans within the space of about 150 years!

I don’t really know South Africa’s history but in French or Portuguese colonies, European teachers or priests where sent to teach the language, so maybe that prevented the language from transforming itself. Also, in a lot of countries, the colonial language only was the official language, and/or the lingua-franca. Some sort of “higher language”. There is still a lot of prestige associated with it. French spoken by educated African speakers is superb.


Yeah, I heard a French journalist claim recently that some of the most exciting French language literature today is being written by young African authors.

As for Dutch/Afrikaans, well, they still used the Dutch bible in their churches until (I think?) the early years of the 20th century. And I believe that standard Dutch was still being taught in schools at least until fairly late in the 19th century, and was regarded as the “correct” form for a very long time.

I believe that the development of Afrikaans, and the precise set of circumstances that lead to it, is of quite considerable interest to academic linguists. (For a long time it was a kind of taboo langauge because of it’s associations with apartheid in the 1970s and 80s. But today it has become kind of rehabilitated, I guess.)

The differences are there but they are far from being an obstacle to communication. I don’t see anyone raising the same issues with, eg. Spanish or English.

Comparable differences in grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation exist in the English Language without people dividing English in sub-language groups: Irish English, Scottish English, American English (plus addition of Southern dialects), South African English, Australian English, New Zealand English etc. Simple words like thongs, sick, biscuit, lift mean different things in different countries. Pronunciation and accents vary greatly even if you only travel a mere 20 km. Spelling and grammar also vary in English such as in the cases of theatre vs. theater, neighbour vs. neighbor, and the use of got vs gotten. All in all, it doesn’t matter as it is easy to understand what is being said or written.

Such a strict division implies a certain narrow-mindedness and ignorance regarding how languages, particularly global languages, work. Which one to learn? You simply learn Portuguese and acknowledge that there is no such thing as a standard form, not even within Brazil. ‘Tu’ is widely used in Southern Brazil and in some northeastern states with the same distinction between ‘tu’ and ‘você’ as in Portugal. Someone from Rio will pronounce the S at the end of words the same way a Portuguese would.

It is true that we Brazilians have a harder time understanding European Portuguese, and the reason for that is exposure. The Portuguese get plenty of exposure to Brazilian dialects, and thus have an easy time picking the meaning and words. But the thing is, Brazil is huge and Brazilian Portuguese can be surprisingly diverse. Despite that, most of our media is produced in the Southeast region, which means the Portuguese people are very used to one specific set of dialects.

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A short history: after the end of the 18th century, due to internal civil wars, the Portuguese Court moved to Rio de Janeiro, becoming effectively the first European empire whose capital was not in Europe, but in the richest ‘colony’ of the time. This naturally brought a part of the aristocracy, as well as artists, from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro. We should therefore assume that by the 1820s there was an influx of ‘European Portuguese’ back into Brazil, and that both variants would be still very, very similar; just diverging shortly thereafter, because they were clearly very different by the end of the 19th century.

Researchers therefore conjecture that the (mid-to-late) 18th-century pronunciation of Portuguese was pretty much what remained common in Brazil at that time — and is kept to these very days.

Why is that so? Brazil became independent and a sovereign nation with an Empire and an Emperor of his own; Portugal and Brazil led separate lives afterwards. The Court (and possibly many artists) remained in Rio de Janeiro, so for a while, many of the erudite speakers of Portuguese stayed in Brazil. In European Portuguese, pronunciation and grammar started to drift, in a way not very differently to what happened in Spain about the same time as well. European Portuguese became more guttural, harsher in tone; it accelerated its rhythm and pace (just like European Spanish), which made many end-of-word sounds be dropped or subsumed; it lost a lot of its melodic characteristic and became more monochordic. Its tone and gutturality and lack of melodic inflexion is often compared, strangely enough (but that’s how it sounds!) to Slavic and Middle-Eastern languages, even though Portuguese, being a Romance language, shares absolutely nothing with those languages. It’s just a consequence of having trading-off the melodic inflexions and a certain slow-paced way of speaking for the fast, terse way it is spoken today, accentuating gutturals, shortening vowels, dropping many end sounds, and so forth.

Brazilian Portuguese also treats neologisms differently. It is far more common for Brazil, especially during the 20th century, to have transliterated vocabulary from French and English into Portuguese, and that such words are used in everyday language; after decades of such usage, they have become commonplace. European Portuguese, by contrast, still maintains many transliterated words from the 19th century and early 20th century, but after perhaps WWII, and most certainly after the 1974 revolution, such practice became less and less common. As a consequence, Brazilian Portuguese has incorporated a rather large new vocabulary, especially in the areas related to innovation, science and technology, where language is advancing rapidly, while European Portuguese, in those cases, tends to stick to using the original French or English words. Interestingly, though, in very recent years, some neologisms were ‘imported’ from Brazil — not directly transliterated from other European languages, but coming to Portugal through Brazil — mostly because of its frequent usage in Brazilian soap operas which are so popular on both sides of the Atlantic: the largest influence that Brazilian Portuguese has had on European Portuguese is, without the shadow of a doubt, from Brazilian soap operas.


Amazing post!

Another excellent post but I still don’t see how there’s anything comparable in English to the tu/você situation in Portuguese. Your examples of differences in various forms of English are quite minor in comparison. As I said upthread, an English equivalent would be if some major part of the English-speaking world still used ‘thou’ in daily speech.

A native Portuguese speaker such as yourself can presumably easily overcome these differences. But for learners of Portuguese as a foreign language, the differences are not insignificant and yes, they can be an obstacle to communication. As I said upthread, even after learning Brazilian Portuguese to a lower intermediate level, I was sometimes unable to even identify European Portuguese as Portuguese when I overheard someone speaking it, let alone understand it.

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I give you the credit, you’re correct. But as you said:

“A native Portuguese speaker such as yourself can presumably easily overcome these differences. But for learners of Portuguese as a foreign language, the differences are not insignificant and yes, they can be an obstacle to communication”

Wouldn’t be the same to me as a non english speaker and easy for you those littles and ‘easy’ english differences since you’re a native speaker? However, again you are right!

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Thank you!