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If you’re planning a trip to Portugal or simply looking to connect with Portuguese speakers, incorporating idioms and colloquial expressions into your conversations can make a significant difference.
Learning these phrases will not only impress native speakers but also improve your idiomatic feel for the Portuguese language.
With that said, let me show you 20 Portuguese idioms and colloquial expressions that will make you stand out in any conversation.
1. Bater as botas
Literally, Knocking one’s boots off, this idiom is the Portuguese equivalent of Kicking the bucket and is used to express that someone is or has passed away.
While it may sound morbid, it’s a light-hearted way of talking about death in Portuguese.
2. Falar pelos cotovelos
Literally, To speak through one’s elbows, this expression refers to someone who talks excessively or is a chatterbox. If you encounter a talkative local, you can use this expression humorously to describe them.
3. Casa de ferreiro, espeto de pau
Literally, Blacksmith’s house, wooden spit, this idiomatic expression is the Portuguese equivalent of The shoemaker’s children go barefoot.
In other words, this idiom means that someone is proficient in their profession but neglects to apply that expertise in their personal life.
4. Quem não chora, não mama
Literally, If you don’t cry, you don’t get to suck, this expression is similar to the proverb The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Accordingly, this saying encourages people to speak up and ask for what they want or need. It emphasizes the importance of being assertive in to achieve one’s desires.
5. Quem tem boca vai a Roma
This Portuguese expression is similar to the saying Whoever has a mouth goes to Rome. It highlights the power of communication and how speaking up can open doors and create opportunities.
6. Cão que ladra, não morde
Just like the saying Barking dogs never bite, this expression refers to people who make a lot of noise or threats but rarely take real action.
7. Águas passadas não movem moinhos
Literally, Bygone waters won’t turn the mill, this Portuguese proverb is the equivalent of Let bygones be. In other words, it advises letting go of the past and not dwelling on things that cannot be changed.
8. Quem espera, sempre alcança
This Portuguese saying encourages patience and persistence and is similar to All good things come to those who wait.
9. Estar com a pulga atrás da orelha
Literally, To have a flea behind one’s ear, we use this expression to refer to someone skeptical about a situation or suspicious about someone.
10. Cada macaco no seu galho
Literally, Each monkey on its branch, this expression means that everyone should mind their own business or stick to their area of expertise.
11. Quem não arrisca, não petisca
Literally, No risk, no snacks, this idiomatic expression encourages taking risks to achieve rewards, much like the English saying, Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
12. Cuspido e escarrado
Sounding somewhat gross (Spat and slobbered), this one is used to say that someone closely resembles a parent or relative, both in appearance and behavior, like saying Spitting image in English.
13. Em terra de cego, quem tem um olho é rei
This saying suggests that even a person with limited abilities can excel in an environment where others have none, much like the English expression, In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
14. Pôr os pontos nos i’s
Being the Portuguese equivalent of Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, this expression means clarifying or resolving a situation by addressing all the important details.
15. Nem tanto ao mar, nem tanto à terra
Literally, Neither so much to the sea, nor so much to the land, this saying advises moderation and avoiding extremes in any situation.
16. Quem semeia ventos, colhe tempestades
Similar to the English saying, You reap what you sow, this phrase emphasizes the consequences of one’s actions. (It means, He who sows winds, reaps storms.)
17. A cavalo dado não se olha o dente
This expression advises against criticizing or being ungrateful for gifts or favors received and is the equivalent of Never look a gift horse in the mouth, or even, Beggars can’t be choosers. (The literal translation is Don’t look at the teeth of a gift horse.)
18. Mais vale tarde do que nunca
This timeless expression is the Portuguese equivalent of Never late than never and encourages embracing opportunities, even if they come later than expected.
19. Fazer alguma coisa em cima do joelho
Literally, Doing something on top of one’s knee, we use this idiom to refer to people rushing and doing things at the last minute.
20. Quem não tem cão, caça com gato
Literally, She who does not have a dog hunts with a cat, this saying compels you to make do with whatever is at hand, pretty much like the saying When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade.
Learning these Portuguese idioms and expressions will positively impress the locals and demonstrate your appreciation for their language and culture. By incorporating these sayings into your conversations, you’ll not only engage in meaningful interactions but also foster deeper connections with the people you meet.
So, dive into the rich world of Portuguese idiomatic expressions (go back to the top and give it another run), and let your language skills shine during your next Portuguese adventure!
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