Learning the Brazilian alphabet is very important because its structure is used in every day conversation. Without it, you will not be able to say words properly even if you know how to write those words. The better you pronounce a letter in a word, the more understood you will be in speaking the Brazilian language. Pronunciation in Portuguese is very consistent.
Unlike English, each letter usually only makes one sound, and rarely strays from the rules. Consequently, knowing the Brazilian pronunciation of the various Portuguese vowels, consonants, diphthongs and diagraphs can be extremely useful in helping your improve your pronunciation:
|´ acute||the pronunciation is open as in café (coffee), avó (grandmother).|
|^ circumflex||the pronunciation is closed as in você (you), avô (grandfather).|
|` grave||a contraction of the preposition a (to) and the definite article à (to).|
|~ tilde||a nasal sound as in mão (hand).|
|.. two dots||the letter u is pronounced as in tranqüilo (quiet).|
|Dipthongs||English Approximation||Portuguese Usage|
|This sounds like the an in lang||mãe ('mother')|
|sounds like 'rang' as in the nasal sound|
or like the ow in frown but nasalized
|irmão, não ('no')|
|This is pronounced like the on in song but nasalized||limões ('lemons')|
|This is pronounced like the ow in crow||mandou ('he sent')|
|This is pronounced like the ay in day||dei ('I bought')|
|This is pronounced like ayooh (the first part rhymes with hay)||eu ('I')|
|This is pronounced like the ie in pie||pai ('father')|
The following chart gives a letter(s) a phonetic example of the sound it makes, and a close approximation in English. This is followed by and example of common usage in Portuguese. Keep in mind that these are approximations, and your understanding of pronunciation will grow as you gain experience speaking.
|[a, ɐ]||If this is stressed, it is pronounced like the a in father but shorter: fado (pronounced fahdoo). |
If it is unstressed, it is pronounced like the e in rather: mesa (pronounced meza) ('table')
|falar, cama, uma, pai|
|[b]||sounds like boy or big, or as in bank: obrigado (pronounced obreegahdoo) ('thank you').||bonito, bola|
|[k; s]||This can be soft, like the s in slow before an e or an i: cidade(pronounced seedahjee) ('city'). |
If the c has a cedilla (ç), it is always soft.
Hard, as in card before an o, a or u: cabeçada ('headbutt')
comer, casa, calor
|[sh]||sounds like 'sh' in shoe or champagne or shore: chuva(pronounced shoova) ('rain')||chocolate, chegar, chato|
|[d, dʒ]||sounds like d in sad: tenda ('tent'). |
It is palatised before i or a final unstressed e to sound like the ji in jinx: dificuldade (pronounced djeefeeculdahdjee ('difficulty').
dj like the 'j' in 'jeans'
|cidade, verdade, dia|
dar, doutor, data
|[e, ɛ, i,]||if this is stressed, it sounds either like the e in sell: perto (pronouncedperhtoo) ('near') or like the ey in prey: saber (pronounced sabeyr) ('to know'). |
If it is unstressed, it sounds like the ey in prey: bebida (pronounced beybeeda) ('drink').
At the end of a word e is pronounced like ee in peep: cidade (pronounced seedahjee ('city'). In penisular Portugese, however, the final e is not pronounced: tarde (pronounced tard) ('late/afternoon').
The word for 'and', e, is pronounced as ee in sweep.
e like in 'end'
é like the 'a' in 'share'
ê like the 'a' in 'make'
|pesar, pe, levar, ela, ate|
|[f]||sounds like frog or front or fair: fado (pronounced fahdoo)||falar, frente, fofo|
|[ɡ; ʒ]||This is soft before an e or an i, as in the English s in pleasure: gente (pronounced zhentjee) ('people').|
Hard before an o, u or a, as in get: gato (pronounced gahto) ('cat').
|[silent]||silent letter (no sound)||homem (pronounced omaing) ('man')|
|[i]||This is pronounced like the e in evil: decidir ('to decide'). |
When it is unstressed, it sounds like the i in pin: idade (pronounced idahjee) ('age')
|[ʒ]||Soft, as in the English s in pleasure or like 'zh' in azure: jovem (pronounced zhovaing)('young')||julho, jantar|
|[k]||sounds like kit||karaoke, workshop|
|[l]||As in look or low or long: mala ('suitcase'). |
At the end of a word it sounds fainter, like ow in cow: Brasil (pronounced brazeeow)
|[ly] ||sounds like 'lli' in billion: mulher (pronounced moolyair) (woman)||ilha, trabalho|
|[m]||Except at the end of the word, this is pronounced as in may: maio (pronounced myyoo) ('May'). |
At the end of a word it causes the preceding vowel to be nasalised: bem (pronounced beyng) ('well').
|[n]||sounds like 'n' in nose or nod||nadar, nunca|
|[nh] ||sounds like 'ni' in onion: banho(pronounced banyoo) ('bath')||vinho, amanha|
|[o, ɔ, u]||If this is stressed or has an acute accent (ó), it is pronounced like the o in opera, but closed before a nasal consonant: fome ('hunger'). |
When it is unstressed, it is pronounced like the oo in book: gato ('cat').
The commonest sound is similar to oh, like o in police: motorista ('driver').
|nova, sapato, obrigado|
|[p]||sounds like 'p' in pan or put||parar, pronto|
|[k]||follows by 'u' sounds like 'qu' in quart: quatro(pronounced kwahtroo) ('four').|
follows by 'u' + 'e/i' sounds like a silent 'u', e.g. queijo ('kay-zhoo')
any other time sounds like 'k' sound in kit or kick
|[ɾ, ʁ]||at the beginning of a word sounds aspirated and a bit like a hard 'h' in hat or hot or holiday|
any other time sounds like 'r' sound in read
|Rio ('hee-o'), rua|
compram, capoeira, contra
|[ʁ] ||sounds like 'h' in mayhem: carro (pronounced cahho) (car)||barrão, carro, cachorro|
|[s]||At the beginning of a word this is pronounced like the s in sun: socorro!(pronounced sockohroo) ('help!'). |
Between two vowels it is pronounced like the s in present: casa(pronounced caahzah) ('house').
At the end of the word it is pronouced like s in books: livros(pronounced leevroos) ('books').
In certain parts of Brazil s at the end of the word is pronouced like sh in push: livros (pronounced leevroosh) ('books').
|casa, mesa, coisa|
|[tʃ]||before a terminal 'e' or 'i' sounds like 'ch' in branch: vestido (pronounced vestcheedoo) ('dress')|
any other case sounds like 't' in time or take: tudo (pronounced toodooh)
|[u]||This is usually pronounced like the oo in roof: rua ('street'). |
In the following four groups however, it is not pronounced: gue, gui, que andqui
|mudar, mudo, charuto, nunca|
|[v]||sounds like 'v' in violin or veryo: videocassete (pronounced veedjeeocassetjee) ('VCR')||vida, vento|
|[w]||sounds like 'w' in wallet||webcam, show|
|[ʃ, ks]||At the beginning of a word this is pronounced like sh in push: xale (pronounced shal) ('shawl').|
In the prefix ex when followed by a vowel, it is pronounced like z in zoo:executivo (pronounced ezekootcheevoo) ('executive').
Within a word and between two vowels, it can be pronounced either like sh in push: roxo (pronounced hohshoo) ('purple'); or like the cks in racks: tóxico (pronounced tokseekoo) ('toxic').
Followed by ce or ci, it is not pronounced: excelente (pronounced eselentchee) ('excellent').
|baixa, roxo, excelente|
|[y]||sounds like 'y' in yellow||nylon, youtube|
|[z, s]||At the beginning and in the middle of a word, this is pronounced like z in zoo: zanga ('anger'); dizer (pronounced djeezeyr) ('to say') |
At the end of the word it is pronounced like the final English s: faz ('hedoes').
In some parts of Brazil it is pronounced like the s in pleasure: faz(pronounced fazh) ('he does').
|[s]||sounds like 'ss' in sing||começa, maça |
There are a few more important cases you should memorize. If a word ends with an "m" or "n" that is preceded by a vowel, the last letter is not pronounced and the vowel is nasalized. It sounds very similar to the "ão" in the list above. As you continue to learn Portuguese you will see that there are a few more pronunciations you will need to be familiar with. There are also several cases when you stray from the rules. But, even the exceptions to the rules are better governed by rules themselves than English.
In Portuguese words with more than one syllable, the second to last syllable (penultimate syllable) carries the emphasis. For example, the word "anda" means "walk" and is pronounced "AHN-dah" with emphasis on the penultimate syllable.
There are two exceptions to this rule. If the word has an accent mark, the syllable with the accent mark is emphasized. If the word ends with the letters "l","z", or "r", or the last vowel in the word is "u" or "i" then the last syllable is emphasized. This means that the word "andar" is pronounced more like "ahn-DAH" moving the emphasis to the last syllable. This second exception is often referred to as the "luzir" (loser) rule, and is a good way to help yourself remember how it works.
In Portuguese there are two genders. All nouns are either masculine (o) or feminine (a).