“Is it easy to learn Portuguese if I know Spanish?”… “Are Portuguese and Spanish similar?”… “Spanish vs Portuguese – what’s the difference?”…
These are only some of the questions that I get from my students.
The answer is yes! There are many words that are the same.
But be careful! Very careful! There are also false friends and other differences that have to be learned.
“Rato” in Portuguese is “mouse”, but in Spanish, it is something very different! “Chupar las pilas” is okay to say in Spanish, but don’t even think about saying “chupar as p****” in Portuguese, when you’re just saying your batteries drain fast!
Therefore, if you are one of the people who wants to know the most relevant differences between Portuguese from Portugal and Castilian, you are in the right place.
Overview – Spanish vs Portuguese Language
Castilian and Portuguese are two rich languages and share a lot of history. Both come from Vulgar Latin, brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Roman conquerors from the 2nd century onwards, and which later developed and gave rise to other languages - such as Portuguese and Castilian.
This proximity in origin means that Portuguese and Spanish share a lot of lexicons, for example. In fact, 85% of the words are identical and have a common origin in both languages. This is good news for Spanish speakers who now want to learn Portuguese.
However, this is not the same as saying that the two languages are the same and that there aren’t certain difficulties, even for someone who already knows Spanish.
With so much richness, it’s always good to realize that Castilian and Portuguese are two sister languages, but distinct. Especially because there are certain differences that are quite significant and that can lead to funny or embarrassing situations.
Shall we see them?
Lexical differences – Spanish vs Portuguese
Despite having said that 85% of the words have a common origin and are quite identical, it is necessary to pay attention to the so-called “false friends”, in English. Otherwise, you can get into trouble.
Now let’s see some examples:
In modern Portuguese, “padre” means a priest, a person who administers the sacraments of a church. In Spanish, however, it means “father”.
Likewise, the word “embaraçada”, in Portuguese, means “embarrassed” or “disturbed”, while the similar word “embarazada”, in Castilian, means “pregnant”.
Another example is the word “rato”. This word, in Portuguese, is used to describe a “mouse”, in English. However, in Spanish “rato” means, “moment”, or “a while”, as in “a little while”.
I actually have a funny story about this. My friend Ana and I were in La Manga, Spain, on vacation. There, we had a lot of friends, and one of them, once walked by us and said:
“He, vamos a jugar un rato” (We are gonna play a bit)
Now, this was said very quickly and my friend didn’t understand, and with a very confused face, she looked at me and asked:
“O quê? Vão afogar um rato?” (What? Are they going to drown a mouse?)
This was even funnier because we were in the water. Anyway, we had a little laugh!
In addition to these examples, there are many more, so even those who already know Spanish have to be careful!
I created a list of 50 False Friends between Portuguese and Spanish, so if you want me to send it to you, just click the link.
Differences in speaking and writing – Spanish vs Portuguese
One of the biggest differences between Portuguese from Portugal (mainly) and Castilian is phonetics, which often translates into a difference in the way of speaking, and also of writing.
This makes Spanish speakers have more difficulty pronouncing certain words in Portuguese.
One of the biggest and most well-known differences is the pronunciation of the vowels – which in Spanish are much more open than in Portuguese from Portugal.
However, there are a few more, such as the following examples:
Ç vs Z
In Portuguese, the cedilla is used a lot, for example in “março” or “pontuação”, but in Spanish, this letter does not exist. Thus, in Spanish, it is replaced by a “c” or a “z”, as in “Marzo” (March) or “pontuación” (punctuation).
Ss vs S
In Spanish, the double letter s does not exist either. Therefore, words like “essa” are written and said as “esa” (that one).
Nh vs Ñ
In Portuguese, words with the sound “nh” are spelled with nh. However, those same words, in Spanish, are spelled with Ñ.
This letter does not exist in Portuguese. Examples of words like this are “Espanha” vs “España” (Spain), or “sonhar” and “soñar” (to dream).
Differences in grammar – Spanish vs Portuguese
The grammatical differences between Portuguese from Portugal and Castilian are not many, but there are some.
In Spanish, for example, sentences can start with an oblique pronoun, as in “Me gustas”. In Portuguese from Portugal, this is not correct. Here, it would be “Eu gosto de ti” – I like you.
Contractions of prepositions
The contractions of prepositions with articles, which happen both in Portuguese – as is the example of “em + o = no” and “de + aquela = daquela”, for example – are much rarer in Spanish. The exception is “a +el = al” and “de + el = del”.
In Portuguese, the tenses of the verbs are a little more complex. In Spanish, for example, the Personal Infinitive is not used, as in the phrase “Tens que comer para cresceres” (You have to eat, in order to grow). In Spanish, the impersonal infinitive would be used – “Tienes que comer para crecer” – or the subjunctive – “Tienes que comer para que crezcas”.
Differences in treatment – Spanish vs Portuguese
Formal vs Informal
While in Portugal the most formal form of address is used a lot – as when we are talking to someone we don’t know very well, or someone in some way in a superior position to us – in Spain, this is not so common. It is true that the form exists – the “usted” – but it is not used very much.
Therefore, it is customary that in Spain, even in conversations of a more formal nature, or that in Portugal would ask for the use of the formal treatment of the third person, only “tu” is used.
So, be careful when you come to Portugal! Don’t forget to use the most formal terms.
Conclusion – Spanish vs Portuguese
In conclusion, if you already know Spanish, you have some advantages when learning Portuguese. 85% of the words are common to both languages and even the grammar doesn’t differ much. However, beware of false friends and the other differences I told you about earlier.
I think these differences are what bring richness to languages, don’t you think? Tell me – did you already know these differences? Do you know of any others? Leave your answer in the comments below.
Also, don’t forget to download the free PDF “50 False Friends Between Portuguese And Spanish”, if you are interested 🙂
That’s it for now!