Surprise surprise!

Do you know what constipado means in Portuguese? Probably not what you are thinking...

Get a list of 50+ Must-Know English-Portuguese False Friends and be surprised.

Are you struggling with your pronunciation?

That's because you have yet to learn the Sounds of Portuguese.

Learn more

This article is brought to you by StoryLift

Let the Power of Stories Lift Your Portuguese.

Learn more

The Portuguese Alphabet

What the Portuguese alphabet looks like, as well as what it sounds like, might be one of the first things you wonder about when you start learning the language. 

The Portuguese alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet and comprises 26 letters of which 5 are vowels and 21 are consonants. The letters K, Y, and W are only used for loanwords, meaning that only 18 consonant letters are, in fact, used to write Portuguese words. 

Let’s have listen to how the alphabet letters sound in Portuguese.

a (á)j (jota)s (ésse)
b (bê)k (capa)t (tê)
c (cê)l (éle)u (u)
d (dê)m (éme)v (vê)
e (é)n (éne)w (dáblio)
f (éfe)o (ó)x (xis)
g (gê)p (pê)y (ípsilon)
h (agá)q (quê)z (zê)
i (i)r (érre)

In addition to the alphabet letters, Portuguese uses diacritical marks to indicate stress, nasalization, and vowel height.

There are also a few so-called “digraphs”, that is, two-letter clusters that stand for one sound. Read on.

Alphabet letters vs. language sounds

It is useful to look into the relationship between letters and language sounds. Letters are a representation of the latter and we use them to register spoken language in a written format. 

More often than not, the relationship between alphabet letters and language sounds is not on a one-to-one basis. This is the case for both Portuguese and English, and many other languages.

For instance, there are in Portuguese 5 vowel letters, just as in English. Yet, these 5 vowels stand for 9 different vowel sounds. The opposite is also true. One vowel sound can be denoted by different vowel letters. 

The same goes for consonants. In Portuguese, there are more consonant sounds than consonant letters. Thus, consonants combine with other consonants to produce new consonant sounds. And vice-versa, the same consonant sound can be represented by different letters.

For instance, the letter x can render four (!) different sounds. Here’s a video for you.

Reading tips! Luckily, there are Portuguese spelling-pronunciation patterns that make this relationship between letters and language sounds more predictable. Learn more about it: Portuguese Pronunciation: A Helpful Guide to Portuguese Basic Sounds and Spelling Patterns.

Portuguese digraphs: beyond single letters

Digraphs are consonant pairs that render a specific sound. Here are 5 of them:

ssrrchnhlh
massacarroachoninhomilho

ss

This double-s always occurs between vowels (e.g., massa). It produces a voiceless s-sound as in simple.

rr

The double-r also occurs between vowels (e.g., carro). It is pronounced with the back of your throat, therefore, producing a guttural sound similar to the French r

ch

This digraph always produces a hushing sound, as in shave. It can occur both at the beginning or in the middle of words (e.g., acho, chapéu).

nh

This digraph (e.g., ninho) renders a nasal sound and it is somewhat close to the ng sound in words such as mingle, tango, or English

lh

The lh-digraph (e.g. milho) produces a sound similar to the l-sound, as in London, though slightly different.

Portuguese diacritics

Five diacritical marks are used in Portuguese to indicate stress, nasalization, vowel height, and other sound changes. Here’s a quick rundown:

Acute accent (´)Circumflex accent (^)Grave accent (`)Tilde (~)Cedilla  (ç)
avó
avo
avô
avó
irmã
irmão
caça
caca

Acute accent (´)

The acute accent indicates syllable stress and vowel height. 

Take the words avó (grandmother) and avo (fraction). Both words have exactly the same letters, but while in avo you stress the first syllable, in avó you’d stress the last one.

Also, the o in avo produces a closed-vowel sound, while the ó in avó produces an open-vowel sound.  

Circumflex accent (^)

The circumflex, as the acute accent, indicates syllable stress and vowel height. 

Take the same word avó as before, and also the word avô (grandfather). You’d stress both words on the last syllable, but there is still a difference in how you’d pronounce both words. 

While the ó in avó produces an open vowel sound, the ô in avô produces a slightly more closed-vowel sound.

Grave accent (`)

In Portuguese, the grave accent only denotes contractions, namely

  • à – contraction between the preposition a and the definite article a
  • contraction between preposition a and some pronouns, for instance, the demonstratives aquele/aquela (àquele/àquela).

Tilde (~)

The tilde indicates the nasalization of vowels and diphthongs (e.g., irmã, limão). 

Cedilla  (ç)

This diacritic is only used for the letter c, and only when the following letter is a hard vowel – a, o or u

Here’s how it works: the letter c before any hard vowel (e.g. caca ) produces a /k/-sound, as in catch. If you use the cedilla (e.g. caça), that same c will turn into an /s/-sound, as in soup

Further reading! Learn more about Portuguese diacritical marks word stress: Portuguese Word Stress and Accent Marks.

Portuguese Language Retreats

Lift your Portuguese to a new level in a peaceful, language-immersive environment. 

Learn more

Intensive Courses in Portugal

Get right on track towards fluency 

Learn more

Stay tuned for upcoming online courses and other learning materials.

Your opinion matters

Olá! Is there any topic you'd like me to cover in future posts? Feel free to suggest. I'm all ears.

Thank you for using Portuguesepedia. Até já, p

Share me