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Portuguese-Spanish Cognates and False Friends

Being familiar with Spanish gives those starting to learn Portuguese a huge head start – these languages are closely related and there are thousands of cognates between them.

Wondering about what a cognate is? 

Cognates are words that share a common origin, look alike, and often mean pretty much the same. Because both Portuguese and Spanish originate from Vulgar Latin, cognates between the two are abundant. 

You can think of cognates as true friends, as opposed to false friends.

What does this mean for you? Well, concerning vocabulary specifically, there’s a lot to benefit from if you know Spanish already.

In fact, Portuguese and Spanish share approximately 90% of their lexicon!

Now, because not all cognates are used with the same frequency in either language, the 90% figure is a bit overrated when it comes to everyday speech. 

Still, your pre-existent knowledge of Spanish is a vocab goldmine and you should take advantage of it when learning Portuguese*.

This article goes well beyond a random list with commonly used Portuguese-Spanish cognates. Instead, based on your previous knowledge of Spanish, it’ll help you recall thousands of Portuguese words at will without you having previously memorized them.

To be able to do that, you’ll need to become familiarized with a few groups of Spanish-Portuguese cognates.

After that, you’ll be able to easily convert Spanish words to their Portuguese counterparts – all it takes is a few minor tweaks in pronunciation and spelling.

Let’s get started.

* Knowing Spanish from before also makes your life easier in other regards, namely concerning Portuguese grammar. Learn more about the different ways these languages are similar: Portuguese vs. Spanish: How Similar Are They Actually?

PORTUGUESE-SPANISH COGNATES
1. Nouns2. Adjectives
-ção → -ción-ista → -ista
-são/-ssão → -sión-ente → -ente
-grama → -grama-vel → -ble
-dade → -dad-ar → -ar
-gem → -gen/-aje-ico/a→ -ico/a
-ismo → -ismo-ivo/a→ -ivo/a
-oso/a→ -oso/a
3. Verbs4. Adverbs
-ar → -ar-mente → -mente 
-er → -er
-ir → -ir
PORTUGUESE-SPANISH FALSE FRIENDS
Common false friends

! Achieve similar results departing from your English instead: English-Portuguese Cognates – the Words You Already Know (without Knowing It).

Portuguese-Spanish Cognates

1. Nouns

-ção → -ción

Nearly all cognates in this group are feminine words. 

Note how the word endings on the Portuguese side render a nasal diphthong (indicated by the tilde accent). A few examples:

resoluçãoresolución
açãoacción
condiçãocondición
relaçãorelación
atençãoatención
. . .

-são/-ssão → -sión

The endings of these cognates are very similar to the previous, the difference being that they take an s instead of a ç. Like before, the majority of the words in this group are feminine.  

Note that the Portuguese endings sound different depending on if they take a single or double s. Accordingly, a single s produces a voiced sibilant sound nonexistent in Spanish (as in zebra), whereas a double s renders an unvoiced one (as in simple). 

! Learn more about Portuguese phonology and spelling patterns in this article:  Portuguese Pronunciation: A Helpful Guide to Portuguese Basic Sounds and Spelling Patterns.

A few examples:

precisãoprecisión
decisãodecisión
conclusãoconclusión
confusãoconfusión
missãomisión
. . .

-grama → -grama

The cognates of this group have a masculine gender. Let’s look at a few examples:

telegramatelegrama
pictogramapictograma
diagramadiagrama
programaprograma
sismogramasismograma
. . .

-dade → -dad

Most of the cognates in this group are feminine. Also, note how that –e at the end of the Portuguese cognates is hardly pronounced: 

caridadecaridad
espiritualidadeespiritualidad
curiosidadecuriosidad
flexibilidadeflexibilidad
cidadeciudad
. . .

-gem → -gen/-aje

Most of the words in this group are feminine. Note the nasal sound produced by that final m:

aprendizagemaprendizaje
imagemimagen
virgemvirgen
paisagempaisaje
mensagemmensaje
. . .

-ismo → -ismo

The words in this group are also masculine. Note the voiced fricative sound (as in measure) rendered by the s that precedes the m (Portuguese cognates):

ativismoactivismo
sadismosadismo
moralismomoralismo
elitismoelitismo
pessimismopesimismo
. . .

2. Adjectives

-ista → -ista

Most of the adjectives in this group refer to people and, as such, they can often be treated as nouns as well. 

Also, these adjectives are unisex, that is, they keep the same form regardless of the gender they refer to (that’s normally the case for adjectives whose masculine form ends with an a-vowel). 

Reading tips! To learn more about gender in the Portuguese language read the following article: Disentangling Gender with Portuguese Masculine-to-Feminine Spelling Patterns.

Finally, note that the s in -ista (Portuguese cognates) renders an unvoiced fricative sound, much like sh does in sheep:

pessimistapesimista
violinistaviolinista
modernistamodernista
dentistadentista
altruístaaltruista
. . .

-ente → -ente 

Like the group above, these adjectives are also unisex (that’s normally the case for adjectives whose masculine form ends with an e-vowel). 

Again, note that you hardly hear that e-sound at the end (Portuguese cognates):

pertinentepertinente
impacienteimpaciente
suficientesuficiente
convincenteconvincente
prudenteprudente
. . .

-vel → -ble

Once more, these adjectives look the same whether they refer to masculine or feminine nouns (many adjectives whose masculine form ends with a consonant follow this pattern).

Note that dark l-sound at the end (Portuguese cognates):

miserávelmiserable
sensívelsensible
flexívelflexible
provávelprobable
favorávelfavorable
. . .

-ar → -ar

Also ending with a consonant, these adjectives remain unchanged regardless of the gender of the word they refer to:

popularpopular
familiarfamiliar
similarsimilar
circularcircular
nuclearnuclear
. . .

-ico/a→ -ico/a

Depending on the gender of the word they refer to, these adjectives end either in –o (masculine) or -a (feminine).

Note that the stress falls on the third-from-last syllable. In this case, all words have a diacritical accent indicating the stress:

magnético/amagnético/a
icónico/aicónico/a
problemático/aproblemático/a
automático/aautomático/a
lógico/alógico/a
. . .

Further reading! Learn more about Portuguese word stress and accent marks in the following article: Portuguese Word Stress and Accent Marks.

-ivo/a→ -ivo/a

Like the previous group, these cognates have masculine and feminine forms depending on the gender of the word they refer to:

agressivo/aagresivo/a
competitivo/acompetitivo/a
repetitivo/arepetitivo/a
expressivo/aexpresivo/a
creativo/acreativo/a
. . .

-oso/a→ -oso/a

Again, the cognates in this group will conform to the gender of the noun they refer to:

pretensioso/apretencioso/a
misterioso/amisterioso/a
vigoroso/avigoroso/a
curioso/acurioso/a
contagioso/acontagioso/a
. . .

3. Verbs

Portuguese, like Spanish, has its verbs classified into three groups, that is, those ending in -ar, -er, and –ir (infinitive form). 

Let’s look at a few cognate examples for each of these groups.

-ar → -ar 

amaramar
pensarpensar
nadarnadar
encontrarencontrar
respirarrespirar
. . .

-er → -er 

comercomer
beberbeber
fazerhacer
lerleer
sabersaber
. . .

-ir → -ir 

abrirabrir
decidirdecidir
dormirdormir
repetirrepetir
sairsalir
. . .

4. Adverbs

-mente → -mente 

Finally, our last group of cognates consists of adverbs, specifically adverbs of manner.

Again, note how you can hardly hear that –e at the end (Portuguese cognates):

intuitivamenteintuitivamente
rapidamenterápidamente
lentamentelentamente
formalmenteformalmente
facilmentefacilmente
. . .

Portuguese-Spanish false friends

False friends, or false cognates if you’d like, are words that look the same in either language but mean different things.

Let’s look at a few examples:

PortugueseSpanish false friendsPortuguese equivalents of the Spanish wordsSpanish equivalents of the Portuguese words
acordar
waking up

acordarse
recall
lembrar-sedespertarse
barata
cockroach

barata
cheap
barata*cucaracha
cadeira
chair

cadera
hip
ancasilla
cena
scene

cena
dinner
jantarescena
embaraçada
embarrassed

embarazada
pregnant
grávidadesconcertado
escova
brush

escoba
broom
vassouracepillo
escritório
office

escritorio
desk
secretáriaoficina
esquisito
weird 

exquisito
exquisite

requintado
raro
largo
large

largo
long
compridoamplio
oficina
workshop

oficina
office
escritóriotaller
polvo
octopus

polvo
dust
pulpo
propina
tuition fee

propina
tip
gorjetacuota
rato
mouse

rato
a little while (time)
momentoratón
roxo
purple

rojo
red
vermelhopúrpura
ruivo
redhead

rubio
blond
loiropelirojo
trair
betray

traer
bring
trazertraicionar
. . .

* barato/a in Portuguese means also cheap.

Reading tips! What about getting to know false friends between Portuguese and English? Here’s your read: 50+ English-Portuguese False Friends to Keep an Eye Out For.

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