Tip 46. When the c is not there

Several words that are similar in Spanish and Portuguese differ essentially by the letter c, which appears in Spanish but not in Brazilian Portuguese (though other small differences may exist as well). Note these examples that appear frequently in both languages.

English Spanish Portuguese
active activo ativo
doctor doctor doutor
exact exacto exato
insect insecto inseto
product producto produto

English: If you use this product, the insects won’t bother you.
Spanish: Si usas este producto, los insectos no te van a molestar.
Portuguese: Se você usar esse produto, os insetos não vão incomodar.

Tip 45. Dust, people and octopuses: Three confusing words in Portuguese

When two languages are similar, like Portuguese and Spanish, it’s often the little things that make a big difference. Here are three words that Spanish speakers often get wrong when relying on Portuñol.

English Spanish Portuguese
people pueblo povo
dust polvo
octopus pulpo polvo


English: How can you sell this octopus covered in dust?
Spanish: ¿Cómo puedes vender este pulpo lleno de polvo?
Portuguese: Como é que você quer vender esse polvo cheio de ?

Tip 44. Development isn’t what you think in Portuguese

Today it seems like everyone is developing something of one kind or another. Innovators develop new products, engineers develop software and projects are constantly being developed. In fact, the Portuguese equivalents of “development” and “to develop” are two of the 400 most frequent words in Portuguese. But don’t be fooled into thinking that you can just use the Spanish word desarrollo with a Brazilian accent and be done with it. In Portuguese, “development” is desenvolvimento and “to develop” is desenvolver.

Example 1:
English: I am a software development expert.
Spanish: Soy experto en el desarrollo de software.
Portuguese: Sou especialista no desenvolvimento de software.

Example 2:
English: Brazil is going to develop a new program to fight hunger.
Spanish: Brasil va a desarrollar un nuevo programa para luchar contra el hambre.
Portuguese: O Brasil vai desenvolver um novo programa para combater a fome.

Tip 43. One more false friend: Tirar

In Portuguese, tirar means “to remove, to take off”. So, Portuguese tirar is close to Spanish quitar, not to Spanish tirar. Spanish tirar may correspond to Brazilian Portuguese jogar fora (“to throw out”), atirar (“to shoot”).

English: Take off your shoes and put your feet in the water.
Spanish: Quítate los zapatos y pon los pies en el agua.
Portuguese: Tira o sapato e põe o pé na água.

Sound Brazilian! Note that often Brazilians use the singular to refer to something in the plural, like the example above: o sapato and o pé actually refer to “shoes” and “feet.”

Sound Brazilian! In Brazil, you will have many opportunities to take pictures–tirar fotos in Portuguese. If you want to ask someone to take your picture, say, “Você pode tirar uma foto?

Tip 42. If you need something

Use the word precisar in Portuguese to talk about something that you need (usually necesitar in Spanish). In Brazil, if you need something or someone use de after precisar, but if you need to do something, don’t worry about that de.

Example 1:
English: I need one more towel, please.
Spanish: Necesito una toalla más, por favor.
Portuguese: Eu preciso de mais uma toalha, por favor.

Example 2:
English: I need to be at the airport at 3:00 pm.
Spanish: Necesito estar en el aeropuerto a las 3 de la tarde.
Portuguese: Eu preciso estar no aeroporto às 3 da tarde.

Tip 41. Make sure you accent the right syllable

There are a few words in Spanish and Portuguese that are written identically but the syllable you stress is different. As a Spanish speaker, when you hear them in Portuguese for the first time they can sound comical, which is how you sound to Brazilians when you pronounce Portuguese words with a Spanish accent. Here are the three most frequent words in Portuguese that are spelled the same but have a different accentuation.

English Spanish Portuguese
level nivel nível
police policía polícia
limit límite limite

English: The police also have limits.
Spanish: La policía también tiene límites.
Portuguese: A polícia também tem limites.

Tip 40. Forms of address

In Brazil, the forms o senhor, a senhora (which correspond to Spanish señor, señora) may not be used as much as their Spanish equivalents, depending on where a speaker is from, their age, etc. In general, the safest way to address someone is to use você. Even if a native speaker might use o senhor/a senhora in the same context, você is becoming more widely used and is generally accepted, except in very formal situations in which tourists would not often found themselves (such as talking to a state governor).

Sound Brazilian! Brazilians normally use first names, not last names. If you want to be formal, you may address someone as Doutor(a), Seu or Dona, but those are followed by the person’s first name. Lists of names are still alphabetized by first name. In informal conversations, Brazilians even refer to the president by his or her first name!

English: Ms. Smith, your car is the white Passat.
Spanish: Señora García, su carro es el Passat blanco.
Portuguese: Dona Cristina, o seu carro é o Passat branco.