Portuguese phonology

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The phonology of Portuguese can vary considerably between dialects, in extreme cases leading to difficulties in intelligibility. This article focuses on the pronunciations that are generally regarded as standard. Since Portuguese is a pluricentric language, and differences between European Portuguese (EP) and Brazilian Portuguese (BP) can be considerable, both varieties are distinguished whenever necessary.

One of the most salient differences between European and Brazilian Portuguese is their prosody.[1] European Portuguese is a stress-timed language, with reduction, devoicing or even deletion of unstressed vowels and a general tolerance of syllable-final consonants. Brazilian Portuguese, on the other hand, is of mixed characteristics, with a lighter reduction of unstressed vowels, less raising of pre-stress vowels, less devoicing and less deletions.

Brazilian Portuguese disalow some closed syllables:[1] coda nasals are deleted with concomitant nasalization of the preceding vowel, even in learned words; coda /l/ becomes [w], except for conservative velarization at the extreme south and rhotacism in remote rural areas in the center of the country, coda rhotic is usually deleted entirely when word-final, specially in verbs in infinitive; and /i/ can be epenthesized after almost all other coda-final consonants. This tends to produce words almost entirely composed of open syllables, e.g., magma [ˈmagimɐ]. In European Portuguese, similarly, epenthesis may happens with [ɨ], as in magma [ˈmagɨmɐ] and afta [ˈafɨtɐ].[2]

For more detailed information on regional accents, see Portuguese dialects, and for historical sound changes see History of Portuguese.


The consonant inventory of Portuguese is fairly conservative. The medieval Old Portuguese system of seven sibilants (/s z/, /ʃ ʒ/, /tʃ/, and apicoalveolar /s̺ z̺/) is still distinguished in spelling (intervocalic c/ç z x g/j ch ss s respectively), but is reduced to the four fricatives /s z ʃ ʒ/ by the merger of /tʃ/ into /ʃ/ and apicoalveolar /s̺ z̺/ into either /s z/ or /ʃ ʒ/ (depending on dialect and syllable position), except in parts of northern Portugal (most notably in the Trás-os-Montes region). Other than this, there have been no other significant changes to the consonant phonemes since Old Portuguese. However, several consonant phonemes have special allophones at syllable boundaries (often varying quite significantly between European and Brazilian Portuguese), and a few also undergo allophonic changes at word boundaries. Henceforward, the phrase "at the end of a syllable" can be understood as referring to a position before a consonant or at the end of a word.

Consonant phonemes of Portuguese[3][4][5][6]
Labial Dental/
Dorsal Post-
plain labialized
Nasal m n ɲ
Plosive voiceless p t k ()
voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ ()
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced v z ʒ
Approximant semivowel j w
lateral l ʎ
Rhotic trill/fricative ʁ
flap ɾ

Phonetic notes

  • Semivowels contrast with unstressed high vowels in verbal conjugation, as in (eu) rio /ˈʁi.u/ and (ele) riu /ˈʁiw/.[7] Phonologists discuss whether their nature is vowel or consonant.[8] In intervocalic position semivowels are amibisyllabic, they are associated to both previous syllable and to the next syllable onset.[9]
  • In most of Brazil and Angola, the consonant hereafter denoted as /ɲ/ is realized as a nasal palatal approximant [], which nasalizes the vowel that precedes it: [ˈnĩj̃u].[10][11]
  • Bisol (2005:122) proposes that Portuguese possesses labio-velar stops /kʷ/ and /ɡʷ/ as additional phonemes rather than sequences of a velar stop and /w/.[6]
  • The consonant hereafter denoted as /ʁ/ has a variety of realizations depending on dialect. In Europe, it is typically a uvular trill [ʀ]; however, a pronunciation as a voiced uvular fricative [ʁ] may be becoming dominant in urban areas. There is also a realization as a voiceless uvular fricative [χ], and the original pronunciation as an alveolar trill [r] also remains very common in various dialects.[12] A common realization of the word-initial /r/ in the Lisbon accent is a voiced uvular trill fricative [ʀ̝].[13] In Brazil, /ʁ/ can be velar, uvular, or glottal and may be voiceless unless between voiced sounds;[14] it is usually pronounced as a voiceless velar fricative [x], a voiceless glottal fricative [h] or voiceless uvular fricative [χ]. See also Guttural R in Portuguese.
  • /s/ and /z/ are normally lamino-alveolar, as in English. However, a number of dialects in northern Portugal pronounce /s/ and /z/ as apico-alveolar sibilants (sounding somewhat like a soft [ʃ] or [ʒ]), as in the Romance languages of northern Iberia. A very few northeastern Portugal dialects still maintain the medieval distinction between apical and laminal sibilants (written s/ss and c/ç/z, respectively).
  • As phonemes, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/ only occur in loanwords (e.g tchau and dee jay), with a tendency for speakers to substitute into fricatives in Portugal. However, [tʃ] and /dʒ/ are allophone of /t/ and /d/ before front high vowels in a number of Brazilian dialects.
  • In northern and central Portugal, the voiced stops /b/, /d/, /ɡ/ are usually lenited to fricatives [β], [ð], and [ɣ] respectively, except at the beginning of words, or after nasal vowels;[15][16] a similar process occurs in Spanish.

Further notes

  • Although nasal consonants do not normally occur at the end of syllables, syllable-final /n/ may be present in rare learned words, such as abdómen ([ɐbˈdɔmɛn] 'abdomen'). In Brazilian varieties, these words have a nasal diphthong ([abˈdomẽj̃]).[17] Word-initial /ɲ/ occurs in very few loanwords.[15]
  • While the sibilant consonants (/s z ʃ ʒ/) contrast word-initially and intervocalically, they appear in complementary distribution in the syllable coda. For many dialects (i.e., those of Portugal and of Rio de Janeiro and certain adjoining areas in Brazil), the sibilant is a postalveolar in coda position (e.g., pasto [ˈpaʃtu] 'pasture'; -ismo [ˈiʒmu] '-ism'; paz [pa(j)ʃ] 'peace'). In many other dialects of Brazil (e.g., some of the Southeast, Northeast, and North), the postalveolar variant occurs in some or all cases when directly preceding a consonant, including across word boundaries, but not word-finally (e.g., [ˈpaʃtʊ], [ˈiʒmu] ~ [ˈizmu], [pa(j)s]). In a number of Brazilian dialects, this "palatalization" is absent entirely (e.g., [ˈpastʊ], [ˈizmu], [pa(j)s]).[18][19] Voicing contrast is also neutralized, with [ʒ] or [z] occurring before voiced consonants and [ʃ] or [s] appearing before voiceless consonants and before a pause (e.g., pasta [ˈpaʃtɐ] or [ˈpastɐ], 'paste'; Islão (or Islã) [iʒˈlɐ̃w̃] or [izˈlɐ̃], 'Islam'). In European dialects, the postalveolar fricatives are only weakly fricated in the syllable coda.[15]
  • The consonant /l/ is velarized in European dialects. In most Brazilian dialects, /l/ is vocalized to [u̯] or [ʊ̯] at the end of syllables,[18] but in the dialects of the extreme south, mainly along the frontiers with other MercoSur countries (especially Uruguay), it has the full pronunciation or the velarized pronunciation.[20] In some caipira registers, there is a rhotacism of coda /l/ to retroflex [ɻ]. In casual BP, unstressed il can be realized as [ju], as in fácil [ˈfasju] ('easy').[21]
  • For speakers who realize /r/ as an alveolar trill [r], the sequence /sr/ (as in e.g., os rins) can coalesce into a voiced alveolar trill fricative [].[13]

Consonant elision

There is a variation in the pronunciation of the first consonant of certain clusters, most commonly C or P in , ct, and pt. These consonants may be variably elided or conserved. For some words, this variation may exist inside a country, sometimes in all of them; for others, the variation is dialectal, with the consonant being always pronounced in one country and always ellided in the other. This variation affects 0,5% of the language's vocabulary, or 575 words out of 110,000.[22] In most cases, Brazilians variably conserve the consonant while speakers elsewhere have invariably ceased to pronounce it (for example, dete(c)tor in Brazil versus detetor in Portugal). The inverse situation is rarer, occurring in words such as fa(c)to and conta(c)to (consonants never pronounced in Brazil, pronounced elsewhere). Until 2009, this reality could not be apprehended from the spelling: while Brazilians did not write consonants that were no longer pronounced, the spelling of the other countries retained them in many words as silent letters, usually when there was still a vestige of their presence in the pronunciation of the preceding vowel. This could give the false impression that European Portuguese was phonologically more conservative in this aspect, when in fact it was Brazilian Portuguese that retained more consonants in pronunciation.

Example words
Phoneme Example Gloss
/m/ mato [ˈmatu] 'bush'
/f/ fa(c)to [ˈfa(k)tu] 'fact'
/p/ pato [ˈpatu] 'drake'
/p/ pacto [ˈpaktu] 'compavement'
/b/ bato [ˈbatu] 'I strike'
/n/ nato [ˈnatu] 'innate' (m)
/t/ ta(c)to [ˈta(k)tu] 'tact'
/d/ dato [ˈdatu] 'I date' (time)
/ʃ/ chato [ˈʃatu] 'boring' (adj., m)
/ʒ/ ja(c)to [ˈʒa(k)tu] 'jet'
/ʁ/ rato [ˈʁatu] 'mouse' (m)
/k/ cato [ˈkatu] 'I pick up'
/ɡ/ gato [ˈɡatu] 'cat'
/l/ galo [ˈɡalu] 'rooster'
/ʎ/ galho [ˈɡaʎu] 'branch'
/s/ saca [ˈsakɐ] 'bag'
/v/ vaca [ˈvakɐ] 'cow'
/z/ zaca [ˈzakɐ] 'Buddhist high priest'
/ɲ/ pinha [ˈpiɲɐ] 'pine cone'
/ɾ/ pira [ˈpiɾɐ] 'pyre'

Allophones of laminal denti-alveolar stops

Unlike its neighbor and relative Spanish, Portuguese lacks a tendency to elide any stop, including those that may become a continuant (always fricative in Portuguese) by lenition (/b/ > [β], /d/ > [ð], /ɡ/ > [ɣ]), but it has a number of allophones to it.

In most Brazilian dialects, including the overwhelming majority of the registers of Rio de Janeiro (from where this process is said to have expanded to elsewhere in Brazil),[23] other fluminense-speaking areas, and São Paulo, as well some rural areas of Portugal, the dental stops are affricated to [tʃ] and [dʒ] before /i/, /ĩ/.[24] Post-alveolar affricates also appear in loanwords from languages such as English, Spanish and Japanese (though it is common in Portugal to merge them with the post-alveolar sibilants, as was done with the former native affricate sounds in the Middle Ages).


The two rhotic phonemes /ʁ/ and /ɾ/ contrast only between oral vowels.[25] Elsewhere, their occurrence is predictable by context, with dialectal variations in realization. The rhotic is "hard" (i.e., /ʁ/) in the following circumstances:

  • Word-initial;
  • Syllable-initial preceded by /l/ or /s/ (e.g., guelra 'gill', Israel);
  • Following a nasal vowel (e.g., honrar 'to honor');
  • In most Brazilian and some African dialects, syllable-finally (i.e., preceded but not followed by a vowel).

It is "soft" (i.e., /ɾ/) when it occurs in syllable onset clusters (e.g., atributo).[26]

The realization of the "hard" rhotic /ʁ/ varies significantly across dialects.

This restricted variation has prompted several authors to postulate a single rhotic phoneme. Câmara (1953) and Mateus & d'Andrade (2000) see the soft as the unmarked realization and that instances of intervocalic [ʁ] result from gemination and a subsequent deletion rule (i.e., carro /ˈkaɾɾo/ > [ˈkaɾʁu] > [ˈkaʁu]). Similarly, Bonet & Mascaró (1997) argue that the hard is the unmarked realization.

Brazilian rhotics

In addition to the phonemic variation between /ʁ/ and /ɾ/ between vowels, up to four allophones of the "merged" phoneme /R/ are found in other positions:

  1. A "soft" allophone /ɾ/ in syllable-onset clusters, as described above;
  2. A default "hard" allophone in most other circumstances;
  3. In some dialects, a special allophone syllable-finally (i.e., preceded but not followed by a vowel);
  4. Commonly in all dialects, deletion of the rhotic word-finally.

The default hard allophone is some sort of voiceless fricative in most dialects, e.g., [χ] [h] [x] etc., although other variants are also found (e.g., a trill [r] in certain conservative dialects down São Paulo, of Italian-speaking, Spanish-speaking, Arabic-speaking or Slavic-speaking influence, and the other trill [ʀ] in areas of German-speaking, French-speaking and Portuguese-descended influence throughout coastal Brazil down Espírito Santo, most prominently Rio de Janeiro).

The syllable-final allophone shows the greatest variation:

  • Many dialects use the same voiceless fricative as in the default allophone. This may become voiced before a voiced consonant, esp. in its weaker variants (e.g., dormir [do̞ɦˈmi(h)] 'to sleep').
  • The soft [ɾ] occurs for many speakers in Southern Brazil and São Paulo city.
  • An English-like approximant [ɹ ~ ɻ] or vowel (R-colored vowel) occurs elsewhere in São Paulo as well as Mato Grosso do Sul, southern Goiás, central and southern Mato Grosso and bordering regions of Minas Gerais. This pronunciation is stereotypically associated with the rural "caipira" dialect.

Throughout Brazil, deletion of the word-final rhotic is common, regardless of the "normal" pronunciation of the syllable-final allophone. This pronunciation is particularly common in lower registers, although found in most registers in some areas, e.g., Northeast Brazil, and in the more formal and standard sociolect. It occurs especially in verbs, which always end in R in their infinitive form; in words other than verbs, the deletion is rarer[27] and seems not to occur in monosyllabic non-verb words, such as mar.[28] Evidence of this allophone is often encountered in writing that attempts to approximate the speech of communities with this pronunciation, e.g., the rhymes in the popular poetry (cordel literature) of the Northeast and phonetic spellings (e.g., amá, sofrê in place of amar, sofrer) in Jorge Amado's novels (set in the Northeast) and Gianfrancesco Guarnieri's play Eles não usam black tie (about favela dwellers in Rio de Janeiro).[29][30]

The soft realization is often maintained across word boundaries in close syntactic contexts (e.g., mar azul [ˈmaɾaˈzuw] 'blue sea').[31]


Monophthongs of European Portuguese as they are pronounced in Lisbon, from Cruz-Ferreira (1995:91). The vowel transcribed /ɯ/ on this chart corresponds to the symbol /ɨ/ in this article.
Oral monophthongs of Brazilian Portuguese as they are pronounced in São Paulo, from Barbosa & Albano (2004:229)

Portuguese has one of the richest vowel phonologies of all Romance languages, having both oral and nasal vowels, diphthongs, and triphthongs. A phonemic distinction is made between close-mid vowels /e o/ and the open-mid vowels /ɛ ɔ/, unlike in Spanish, though there is a certain amount of vowel alternation. European Portuguese has also two near-central vowels, one of which tends to be elided like the e caduc of French.
Like standard Catalan, Portuguese uses vowel height to contrast stressed syllables with unstressed syllables; the vowels /a ɛ e ɔ o/ tend to be raised to [ɐ e i ɨ o u] (although [ɨ] occurs only in EP) when they are unstressed (see below for details). The dialects of Portugal are characterized by reducing vowels to a greater extent than others. Falling diphthongs are composed of a vowel followed by one of the high vowels /i/ or /u/; although rising diphthongs occur in the language as well, they can be interpreted as hiatuses.

The exact realization of the /ɐ/ varies somewhat amongst dialects. In Brazil, [a] and [ɐ] are in complementary distribution: [ɐ ~ ə] occurs in word-final unstressed syllables, while [ɜ ~ ə] occurs in stressed syllables before an intervocalic /m/, /n/, or /ɲ/.[32] In these phonetic conditions, [ɜ ~ ə] can be nasalized. unstressed [a ~ ə] occurs in all other environments.

In European Portuguese, the general situation is similar (with [ə] being more prevalent in nearly all unstressed syllables), except that in some regions the two vowels form minimal pairs in some European dialects.[33] In central European Portuguese this contrast occurs in a limited morphological context, namely in verbs conjugation between the first person plural present and past perfect indicative forms of verbs such as pensamos ('we think') and pensámos ('we thought'; spelled ⟨pensamos⟩ in Brazil). Spahr (2013:6) proposes that it is a kind of crasis rather than phonemic distinction of /a/ and /ɐ/. It means that in falamos there is the well known prenasal /a/-raising: [fɐˈlɐmuʃ], while in falámos there are phonologically two /a/ in crasis: /faˈlaamos/ [fɐˈlamuʃ].

English loanwords containing stressed /ʌ/ or /ɝ/ are usually associated with pre-nasal <a> as in rush,[34][35] or it's influenced by orthography as in clube (club),[36][37] or both, as in surf/surfe.[38] According to IPA transcriptions in Infopedia dictionary, some European speakers also associate it with <ei> diphthong as in râguebi [ˈʀɐjɡɯ̽bi] (rugby).[39]

Close-mid vowels and open-mid vowels (/e ~ ɛ/ and /o ~ ɔ/) contrast only when they are stressed.[40] In unstressed syllables, they occur in complementary distribution. In Brazilian Portuguese, they are raised to a high or near-high vowel ([i ~ ɪ] and [u ~ ʊ], respectively) after a stressed syllable,[40] or in some accents and in general casual speech, also before it.

European Portuguese possesses a near-close near-back unrounded vowel. It occurs in unstressed syllables such as in pegar [pɯ̽ˈɣaɾ] ('to grip').[3] There is no standard symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet for this sound. The IPA Handbook transcribes it as /ɯ/, but in Portuguese studies /ɨ/ or /ə/ is traditionally used. There are very few minimal pairs for this sound: some examples include pregar [pɾɯ̽ˈɣaɾ] ('to nail') vs. pregar [pɾɛˈɣaɾ] ('to preach'; the latter stemming from earlier preegar < Latin praedicāre),[41] [ˈse] ('be!') vs. [ˈsɛ] ('see/cathedral') vs. se [sɯ̽] ('if'), and pêlo [ˈpelu] ('hair') vs. pélo [ˈpɛlu] ('I peel off') vs. pelo [pɯ̽lu] ('for the'),[42] after orthographic changes, all these three words are now spelled pelo.

European Portuguese possesses quite a wide range of vowel allophones:

  • All vowels are lowered and retracted before /l/.[43]
  • All vowels are raised and advanced before alveolar, palato-alveolar and palatal consonants.[43]
  • Word-finally, /ɨ/ as well as unstressed /u/ and /ɐ/ are voiceless [ɯ̥̽, u̥, ə̥].[43]

Oral diphthongs

Diphthongs are not considered independent phonemes in Portuguese, but knowing them can help with spelling and pronunciation.

Diphthong Usual spelling Example Meaning Notes and variants
aj ai, ái pai 'father' In BP, it may be realized as [a] before a post-alveolar fricative,[44] making baixo realized as /ˈbaʃu/.
ɐj ai, ei plaina 'jointer' In Brazil it is mostly nasalised to [ɐ̃ȷ̃]. In central and southern Portugal, it is the standard pronunciation for the "ei" sound.
ej ei, êi rei 'king' There are very few minimal pairs for /ej/ and /ɛj/, all of which occur in oxytonic words. In northern Portugal this is the common pronunciation for "ei". In vernacular BP, "ei" may be realized essentially as [e] in some unstressed syllables,[44] and in non-final stressed syllables it is realized as [e] when the following syllable begins with /ɾ, ʃ, ʒ/ (for example, cheirei, deixei and beijei are realized as [ʃeˈɾej], [deˈʃej] and [beˈʒej] respectively); however, the pronunciation [ej] is often conserved in formalized speech, especially when the speaker is reading out from a text (as is the case of news reporters).
ɛj ei, éi geleia 'jelly' In Portugal it only occurs under "éi", in plurals like "anéis".
oj oi dois 'two' There are very few minimal pairs for /oj/ and /ɔj/, all of which occur in oxytonic words.
ɔj ói dói, herói 'hurts', 'hero'
uj ui fui 'I went' Usually stressed.
aw au, áu mau 'bad' Allophone [ɐu] in Portugal found, for instance, in the contractions ao and aos, but otherwise rare. It also occurs with a nasalized second part for ão.
al sal 'salt' Phonemically /al/. It occurs only in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [aɫ].
ɐw au saudade 'to miss' EP pronunciation for this word.
ew eu, êu seu 'his' There are very few minimal pairs for /eu/ and /ɛu/, all occurring in oxytonic words.
ɛw éu céu 'sky'
el mel 'honey' Phonemically /ɛl/. It occurs only in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [ɛɫ].
iw iu viu 'he saw' Usually stressed.
il mil 'thousand' Phonemically /il/. It occurs only in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [iɫ].
ow ou ouro 'gold' Merges with /o/ in several contexts,[44] particularly in the dialects of central and southern Portugal[45] and in vernacular Brazilian Portuguese.
ol polvo 'octopus' Phonemically /ol/. It occurs only in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [oɫ].
ɔw sol 'sun' Phonemically /ɔl/. It occurs only in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [ɔɫ].
uw ul sul 'south' Phonemically /ul/. It occurs only in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [uɫ].
wa ua quase 'almost' As the cases above, this and following cases are considered hiatus (unless they follow q or g) but pronounced as diphthongs.
ua qualidade 'quality' EP pronunciation for this word.
ue sequela 'sequela'
we ue lingueta 'latch'
wi ui, linguiça 'sausage'
wo uo aquoso 'aqueous'
uo aquosa 'aqueous'
wu uo iníquo 'iniquitous'

There are also some words with two vowels occurring next to each other like in iate and sábio may be pronounced both as rising diphthongs or hiatus.[46][47]

[j] and [w] are non-syllabic counterparts of the vowels /i/ and /u/, respectively. At least in European Portuguese, the diphthongs [ɛj, aj, ɐj, ɔj, oj, uj, iw, ew, ɛw, aw] tend to have more central second elements [i̠̯, u̟̯] - note that the latter semivowel is also more weakly rounded than the vowel /u/. In the Lisbon accent, the diphthong [ɐj] often has an onset that is more back than central, i.e. [ɐ̠j] or even [ʌj].[43]

Oral triphthongs

Triphthong Usual spelling Example Meaning Notes and variants
waj uai Paraguai 'Paraguay'
wej uei averiguei 'I verified' Realized as [wɐj] in central Portugal.
waw ual qual 'which' Phonemically /waw/. It occurs in BP; in Portugal, it is realized as a sequence [waɫ].
wiw uiu delinquiu '(he/she) transgressed'
wow uou enxaguou '(he/she) rinsed'

Nasal vowels

Portuguese also has a series of nasalized vowels. Cruz-Ferreira (1995) analyzes European Portuguese with five monophthongs and four diphthongs, all phonemic: /ĩ ẽ ɐ̃ õ ũ ɐ̃ĩ õĩ ũĩ ɐ̃ũ/. Nasal diphthongs occur mostly at the end of words (or followed by a final sibilant), and in a few compounds.

Barbosa & Albano (2004) analyze the nasalized monophthongs of São Paulo Brazilian Portuguese as phonetically nasalized before an archiphoneme /N/ or a heterosyllabic nasal consonant. Nasalized diphthongs in this variant of Brazilian Portuguese are formed by combining [ẽ], [ɐ̃], [õ], or [ũ] with the offglide [ɪ̯̃] (except with /ɐ̃ʊ̃/).[48]

Word IPA Gloss
cinto [ˈsĩⁿtʊ] 'belt'
sento [ˈsẽⁿtʊ] 'I sit'
santo [ˈsɐ̃ⁿtʊ] 'saint'
sondo [ˈsõⁿdʊ] 'I probe'
sunto [ˈsũⁿtʊ] 'summed up'

Nasal diphthongs

Most times nasal diphthongs occur at the end of the word. They are:

  • -ão or -am. [ɐ̃w]. Examples: pão ('bread'), cão ('dog'), estão ('they are'), vão ('they go'), limão ('lemon'), órgão ('organ'), Estêvão ('Steven'). When in the -am form (unstressed) they are always the 3rd person of the plural of an -ar verb, like estavam ('they were'), contam ('they account'), casam ('they marry').
  • -ãe [ɐ̃j̃]. It occurs only in mãe(s) ('mother[s]') and in the plural of some words ending in -ão, e.g., cães ('dogs'), pães ('breads'); and exceptionally non-finally in cãibra ('cramp').
  • -em [ẽj̃]. It occurs in Brazilian Portuguese and in non-standard European Portuguese (northernmost and southern dialects) in word-final syllables ending in -em like bem and sem, as well as verbs ending in -em (3rd person plural present indicative or verbs in -er and -ir). In standard European Portuguese, [ẽj̃] has merged with [ɐ̃j̃]; and it occurs duplicated in têm [ˈtɐ̃j̃ɐ̃j̃] (3rd person plural present indicative of ter), which in Brazilian is homophonous with tem (the 3rd person singular).
  • -õe [õj̃]. It occurs:
    • in the present indicative of pôr and its derivatives; in the 2nd person singular (pões [põj̃s], opões, compões, pressupões), in the 3rd person singular (põe [põj̃], opõe etc.), and non-finally in the 3rd person plural (põem [ˈpõj̃ẽj̃], opõem etc.).
    • in the plural of many words ending in-ão, e.g., limões ('lemons'), anões ('dwarfs'), espiões ('spies'), colhões ('testicles'), iões ('ions'), catiões ('cations'), aniões ('anions'), electrões ('electrons'), neutrões ('neutrons'), protões ('protons'), fotões ('photons'), positrões ('positrons').
  • -uim or -uin [wĩ] Examples: pinguim ('penguin'), ruim ('bad'), ruindade ('badness').
  • ui [ũj̃] occurs only in the words muito [ˈmũj̃tu] and the uncommon mui [mũj̃]. The nasalisation here may be interpreted as allophonic, bleeding over from the previous m.

[j̃] and [w̃] are nasalized, non-syllabic counterparts of the vowels /i/ and /u/, respectively. At least in European Portuguese, the diphthongs [ɐ̃j̃, õj̃, ũj̃, ɐ̃w̃] tend to have more central second elements [ĩ̠̯, ũ̟̯] - note that the latter semivowel is also more weakly rounded than the vowel /u/.[43]

Vowel alternation

The stressed relatively open vowels /a, ɛ, ɔ/ contrast with the stressed relatively close vowels /ɐ, e, o/ in several kinds of grammatically meaningful alternation:

  • Between the base form of a noun or adjective and its inflected forms: ovo /o/ ('egg'), ovos /ɔ/ ('eggs'); novo /o/, nova /ɔ/, novos /ɔ/, novas /ɔ/ ('new' masculine singular, feminine singular, masculine plural, feminine plural);
  • Between some nouns or adjectives and related verb forms: adj. seco /e/ ('dry'), v. seco /ɛ/ ('I dry'); n. gosto /o/ ('taste'), v. gosto /ɔ/ ('I like'); n. governo /e/ ('government') v. governo /ɛ/ ('I govern');
  • Between different forms of some verbs: pôde /o/ ('he could'), pode /ɔ/ ('he can');
  • Between some pairs of related words: avô /o/ ('grandfather'), avó /ɔ/ ('grandmother');
  • In regular verbs, the stressed vowel is normally low /a, ɛ, ɔ/, but high /ɐ, e, o/ before the nasal consonants /m/, /n/, /ɲ/ (the high vowels are also nasalized, in BP);
  • Some stem-changing verbs alternate stressed high vowels with stressed low vowels in the present tense, according to a regular pattern: cedo, cedes, cede, cedem /e-ɛ-ɛ-ɛ/; movo, moves, move, movem /o-ɔ-ɔ-ɔ/ (present indicative); ceda, cedas, ceda, cedam /e/; mova, movas, mova, movam /o/ (present subjunctive). (There is another class of stem-changing verbs which alternate /i, u/ with /ɛ, ɔ/ according to the same scheme);
  • In central Portugal, the 1st. person plural of verbs of the 1st. conjugation (with infinitives in -ar) has the stressed vowel /ɐ/ in the present indicative, but /a/ in the preterite, cf. pensamos ('we think') with pensámos ('we thought'). In BP, the stressed vowel is /ɐ̃/ in both, so they are written without accent mark.

There are also pairs of unrelated words that differ in the height of these vowels, such as besta /e/ ('beast') and besta /ɛ/ ('crossbow'); mexo /e/ ('I move') and mecho /ɛ/ ('I highlight [hair]'); molho /o/ ('sauce') and molho /ɔ/ ('bunch'); corte /ɔ/ ('cut') and corte /o/ ('court'); meta /e/ ('I put' subjunctive) and meta /ɛ/ ('goal'); and (especially in Portugal) para /ɐ/ ('for') and para /a/ ('he stops'). Since most polysyllabic homographs of this sort can be distinguished from context, the orthography does not differentiate them, with the exception of, optionally, fôrma ('mold') and forma /ɔ/ ('shape').

There are several minimal pairs in which a clitic containing the vowel /ɐ/ contrasts with a monosyllabic stressed word containing /a/: da vs. , mas vs. más, a vs. à /a/, etc. In BP, however, these words may be pronounced with /a/ in some environments.

Unstressed vowels

Some isolated vowels (meaning those that are neither nasal nor part of a diphthong) tend to change quality in a fairly predictable way when they become unstressed. In the examples below, the stressed syllable of each word is in boldface. The term "final" should be interpreted here as at the end of a word or before word-final -s.

Spelling Stressed Unstressed but not final Unstressed and final
Pronunciation Examples Pronunciation Examples Pronunciation Examples
a /a/ or /ɐ/ parto /a/

pensamos /ɐ/

/a ~ ɐ/ (BP) partir [ɐ ~ ə] (BP) pensa
/ɐ/ [ə] (EP) /ɐ/ [ə] (EP)
e /e/ or /ɛ/ pega /ɛ/

mover /e/

/e ~ ɛ/ (BP) pegar /ɪ ~ i/ (BP) move
/ɨ/ (EP) /ɨ/ (EP)
o /o/ or /ɔ/ bola /ɔ/

de /o/

/o ~ ɔ/ (BP) poder /ʊ ~ u/ (BP) pato
/u/ (EP) /u/ (EP)

With a few exceptions mentioned in the previous sections, the vowels /a/ and /ɐ/ occur in complementary distribution when stressed, the latter before nasal consonants followed by a vowel, and the former elsewhere.

In Brazilian Portuguese, the general pattern in the southern and western accents is that the stressed vowels /a, ɐ/, /e, ɛ/, /o, ɔ/ neutralize to /a/, /e/, /o/, respectively, in unstressed syllables, as is common in Romance languages. In final unstressed syllables, however, they are raised to /ɐ/, /i/, /u/. In casual BP (as well in the fluminense dialect), /e, ɛ/, /o, ɔ/ may be raised to /ɪ ~ i/, /ʊ ~ u/ on any unstressed syllable,[49] as long as it has no coda.

European Portuguese has taken this process one step further, raising /a, ɐ/, /e, ɛ/, /o, ɔ/ to /ɐ/, /ɨ/, /u/ in all unstressed syllables. The vowels /ɐ/ and /ɨ/ are also more centralized than their Brazilian counterparts. The three unstressed vowels /ɐ, ɨ, u/ are reduced and often voiceless, and in some cases elided in fast speech. It is also common for [ɨ] to be elided and at the end of a word its elision causes the previous consonant (if it is a plosive) to become aspirated like in tomate [tuˈmatʰ]. Unstressed ⟨o, u⟩ often cause the previous consonant to become labialized like in mato [ˈmatʷ] or in Portugal [pʷɾtʷˈɣaɫ].[citation needed]

There are some exceptions to the rules above. For example, /i/ occurs instead of unstressed /e/ or /ɨ/, word-initially or before another vowel in hiatus (teatro, reúne, peão). Also, /a/, /ɛ/ or /ɔ/ appear in some unstressed syllables, in EP. And there is some dialectal variation in the unstressed sounds: the northern and eastern accents of BP have low vowels in unstressed syllables, /ɛ, ɔ/, instead of the high vowels /e, o/. However, the Brazilian media tends to prefer the southern pronunciation. In any event, the general paradigm is a useful guide for pronunciation and spelling.

Nasal vowels, vowels that belong to falling diphthongs, and the high vowels /i/ and /u/ are not affected by this process, nor is the vowel /o/ when written as the digraph ⟨ou⟩. Nevertheless, casual BP may raise unstressed nasal vowels /ẽ/, /õ/ to [ɪ̃ ~ ĩ], [ʊ̃ ~ ũ], too.


In BP, an epenthetic vowel [i] is sometimes inserted between consonants, to break up consonant clusters that are not native to Portuguese, in learned words and in borrowings.[50][51] This also happens at the ends of words after consonants that cannot occur word-finally (e.g., /d/, /k/, /f/). For example, psicologia ('psychology') may be pronounced [pisikoloˈʒiɐ]; adverso ('adverse') may be pronounced [adʒiˈvɛχsu]; McDonald's may be pronounced [mɛ̞kiˈdõnɐ̞wdʒis]; and both rock and hockey are typically pronounced [ˈχɔki]. In northern Portugal, an epenthetic [ɨ] may be used instead, [pɨsikuluˈʒiɐ], ðɨˈβɛɾsu], but in southern Portugal there is often no epenthesis, [psikuluˈʒiɐ], dˈvɛɾsu]. Epenthesis at the end of a word does not normally occur in Portugal.

The native Portuguese consonant clusters, where there is not epenthesis, are sequences of a non-sibilant oral consonant followed by the liquids /ɾ/ or /l/,[50] and the complex consonants /ks, kw, ɡw/.[51] Some examples:

flagrante [flɡɾɐ̃tɨ], complexo [kõˈplɛ.ksu], fixo [ˈfi.ksu] (but not fião [fikˈsɐ̃w]), latex [latɛks], quatro kwau], guaxinim [ɡwaʃiˈnĩ]

Further notes on the oral vowels

  • Some words with /ɛ ɔ/ in EP have /e o/ in BP. This happens when those vowels are stressed before the nasal consonants /m/, /n/, followed by another vowel, in which case both types of vowel may occur in European Portuguese, but Brazilian Portuguese only allows high vowels. This can affect spelling: cf. EP tónico, BP tônico "tonic".
  • In most BP, stressed vowels have nasal allophones, [ɐ̃], [ẽ], etc. (see below) before one of the nasal consonants /m/, /n/, /ɲ/, followed by another vowel. In São Paulo, Southern Brazil,[52] and EP, nasalization is nearly absent in this environment.
  • Some BP speakers also diphthongize stressed vowels to [ai̯], [ɛi̯], [ei̯], etc. (except /i/), before a sibilant at the end of a stressed syllable (written s, x, or z). For instance, Jesus [ʒeˈzui̯s] ('Jesus'), faz [fai̯s] ('he does'), dez [dɛi̯s] ('ten'). This has led to the use of meia (from meia dúzia 'half a dozen") instead of seis [sei̯s] ('six') when making enumerations, to avoid any confusion with três [tɾei̯s] ('three') on the telephone.[53]
  • In Lisbon and surrounding areas, stressed /e/ is pronounced [ɐ] or [ɐi] when it comes before a palatal consonant /ʎ/, /ɲ/ or a palato-alveolar /ʃ/, /ʒ/, followed by another vowel.
  • In EP, if two adjacent syllables have the vowel /i/ as their vowel, the first /i/ vowel is often realized as [ɨ]: m[ɨ]nistro, F[ɨ]lipe, d[ɨ]ficuldade. There are, however, many exceptions (f[i]nito), as well as some variation (d[i]fícil or d[ɨ]fícil). A similar (but more widespread) phenomenon affects this vowel when it occurs in unstressed syllables and immediately before palatal or post-alveolar consonants: f[ɨ]lhote, m[ɨ]nhoca, b[ɨ]chano, t[ɨ]jolo. It also occurs before fricative codas (which are post-alveolar in EP): d[ɨ]stância.


Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. When two words belonging to the same phrase are pronounced together, or two morphemes are joined in a word, the last sound in the first may be affected by the first sound of the next (sandhi), either coalescing with it, or becoming shorter (a semivowel), or being deleted. This affects especially the sibilant consonants /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, and the unstressed final vowels /ɐ/, /i, ɨ/, /u/.

Consonant sandhi

As was mentioned above, the dialects of Portuguese can be divided into two groups, according to whether syllable-final sibilants are pronounced as postalveolar consonants /ʃ/, /ʒ/ or as alveolar /s/, /z/. At the end of words, the default pronunciation for a sibilant is voiceless, /ʃ, s/, but in connected speech the sibilant is treated as though it were within a word (assimilation):

  • If the next word begins with a voiceless consonant, the final sibilant remains voiceless /s, ʃ/; bons tempos [bõʃ ˈtẽpuʃ] or [bõs ˈtẽpus] ('good times').
  • If the next word begins with a voiced consonant, the final sibilant becomes voiced as well /z, ʒ/; bons dias [bõʒ ˈdiɐʃ] or [bõz ˈdʒiɐs] ('good days').
  • If the next word begins with a vowel, the final sibilant is treated as intervocalic, and pronounced [z]; bons amigos [bõz ɐˈmiɡuʃ] or [bõz aˈmiɡus] ('good friends').

When two identical sibilants appear in sequence within a word, they reduce to a single consonant. For example, nascer, deo, excesso, exsudar are pronounced with [s] by speakers who use alveolar sibilants at the end of syllables, and disjuntor is pronounced with [ʒ] by speakers who use postalveolars. But if the two sibilants are different they may be pronounced separately, depending on the dialect. Thus, the former speakers will pronounce the last example with [zʒ], whereas the latter speakers will pronounce the first examples with [s] if they are from Brazil or [ʃs] if from Portugal (although in relaxed pronunciation the first sibilant in each pair may be dropped). This applies also to words that are pronounced together in connected speech:

  • sibilant + /s/, e.g., as sopas: either [ʃs] or [s] or [ʃ];
  • sibilant + /z/, e.g., as zonas: either [ʒz] or [z] or [ʒ];
  • sibilant + /ʃ/, e.g., as chaves: either [ʃ] or [sʃ];
  • sibilant + /ʒ/, e.g., os genes: either [ʒ] or [zʒ].

Vowel sandhi

Normally, only the three vowels /ɐ/, /i/ (in BP) or /ɨ/ (in EP), and /u/ occur in unstressed final position. If the next word begins with a similar vowel, they merge with it in connected speech, producing a single vowel, possibly long (crasis). Here, "similar" means that nasalization can be disregarded, and that the two central vowels /a, ɐ/ can be identified with each other. Thus,

  • /a, ɐ/ + /a, ɐ/[a(ː)]; toda a noite [ˈtoda(ː) ˈnoi̯tʃi] or [ˈtoda(ː) ˈnoi̯tɨ] ('all night'), nessa altura [ˈnɛs au̯ˈtuɾɐ] or [ˈnɛs aɫˈtuɾɐ] ('at that point').
  • /a, ɐ/ + /ɐ̃/[ã(ː)] (note that this low nasal vowel appears only in this situation); a antiga ('the ancient one') and à antiga ('in the ancient way'), both pronounced [ã(ː)ˈtʃiɡɐ] or [ã(ː)ˈtiɡɐ].
  • /i/ + /i, ĩ/[i(ː), ĩ(ː)]; de idade [dʒi(ː)ˈdadʒi] or [di(ː)ˈdadɨ] ('aged').
  • /ɨ/ + /ɨ/[ɨ]; fila de espera [ˈfilɐ dɨʃˈpɛɾɐ] ('waiting line') (EP only).
  • /u/ + /u, ũ/[u(ː), ũ(ː)]; todo o dia [ˈtodu(ː) ˈdʒiɐ] or [ˈtodu(ː) ˈdiɐ] ('all day').

If the next word begins with a dissimilar vowel, then /i/ and /u/ become approximants in Brazilian Portuguese (synaeresis):

  • /i/ + V → [jV]; durante o curso [duˈɾɐ̃tʃj u ˈkuɾsu] ('during the course'), mais que um [mai̯s kj ũ] ('more than one').
  • /u/ + V → [wV]; todo este tempo [ˈtodw ˈestʃi ˈtẽpu] ('all this time') do objeto [dw obiˈʒɛtu] ('of the object').

In careful speech and in with certain function words, or in some phrase stress conditions (see Mateus and d'Andrade, for details), European Portuguese has a similar process:

  • /ɨ/ + V → [jV]; se a vires [sj ɐ ˈviɾɨʃ] ('if you see her'), mais que um [mai̯ʃ kj ũ] ('more than one').
  • /u/ + V → [wV]; todo este tempo [ˈtodw ˈeʃtɨ ˈtẽpu] ('all this time'), do objecto [dw ɔbˈʒɛtu] ('of the object').

But in other prosodic conditions, and in relaxed pronunciation, EP simply drops final unstressed /ɨ/ and /u/ (elision):

  • /ɨ/ + V → [V]; durante o curso [duˈɾɐ̃t u ˈkuɾsu] ('during the course'), este inquilino [ˈeʃt ĩkɨˈlinu] ('this tenant').
  • /u/ + V → [V]; todo este tempo [tod ˈeʃtɨ ˈtẽpu] ('all this time'), disto há muito [diʃt a ˈmũi̯tu] ('there's a lot of this').

Unlike French, for example, Portuguese does not indicate most of these sound changes explicitly in its orthography.


Primary stress may fall on any of the three final syllables of a word, but mostly on the last two. There is a partial correlation between the position of the stress and the final vowel; for example, the final syllable is usually stressed when it contains a nasal phoneme, a diphthong, or a close vowel. The orthography of Portuguese takes advantage of this correlation to minimize the number of diacritics.

Because of the phonetic changes that often affect unstressed vowels, pure lexical stress is less common in Portuguese than in related languages, but there is still a significant number of examples of it:

dúvida /ˈduvidɐ/ 'doubt' vs. duvida /duˈvidɐ/ 'he doubts'
ruíram /ʁuˈiɾɐ̃ũ/ 'they collapsed' vs. ruirão /ʁuiˈɾɐ̃ũ/ 'they will collapse'
falaram /faˈlaɾɐ̃ũ/ 'they spoke' vs. falarão /falaˈɾɐ̃ũ/ 'they will speak' (Brazilian pronunciation)
ouve /ˈovi/ 'he hears' vs. ouvi /oˈvi/ 'I heard' (Brazilian pronunciation)
túnel /ˈtunɛl/ 'tunnel' vs. tonel /tuˈnɛl/ 'wine cask' (European pronunciation)


Tone is not lexically significant in Portuguese, but phrase- and sentence-level tones are important. As in most Romance languages, interrogation on yes-no questions is expressed mainly by sharply raising the tone at the end of the sentence.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Parkinson, Stephen. "Phonology". In The Romance Languages edited by Martin Harris and Nigel Vincent. Routledge, 1988. Pp. 131–169.
  2. Veloso (2005:623–624)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Cruz-Ferreira (1995:91)
  4. Barbosa & Albano (2004:228–229)
  5. Sobre os Ditongos do Português Europeu. Carvalho, Joana. Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto. Page 20 (page 10 of PDF file). Citation: A conclusão será que nos encontramos em presença de dois segmentos fonológicos /kʷ/ e /ɡʷ/, respetivamente, com uma articulação vocálica. Bisol (2005:122), tal como Freitas (1997), afirma que não estamos em presença de um ataque ramificado. Neste caso, a glide, juntamente com a vogal que a sucede, forma um ditongo no nível pós-lexical. Esta conclusão implica um aumento do número de segmentos no inventário segmental fonológico do português.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bisol (2005:122). Citation: A proposta é que a sequencia consoante velar + glide posterior seja indicada no léxico como uma unidade monofonemática /kʷ/ e /ɡʷ/. O glide que, nete caso, situa-se no ataque não-ramificado, forma com a vogal seguinte um ditongo crescente em nível pós lexical. Ditongos crescentes somente se formam neste nível. Em resumo, a consoante velar e o glide posterior, quando seguidos de a/o, formam uma só unidade fonológica, ou seja, um segmento consonantal com articulação secundária vocálica, em outros termos, um segmento complexo.
  7. Rodrigues (2012:39-40)
  8. Bisol (2005:123)
  9. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:63-64)
  10. Thomas (1974:8)
  11. Perini (2002:?)
  12. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:5–6, 11)
  13. 13.0 13.1 Grønnum (2005:157)
  14. Barbosa & Albano (2004:228)
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Cruz-Ferreira (1995:92)
  16. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:11)
  17. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:22)
  18. 18.0 18.1 Barbosa & Albano (2004:229)
  19. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:13)
  20. http://www.ciberduvidas.com/pergunta.php?id=29411
  21. Major (1992:18)
  22. according to the "Nota Explicativa do Acordo Ortográfico da Língua Portuguesa", written by the Academia Brasileira de Letras and by the Academia de Ciências de Lisboa
  23. (Portuguese) Palatalization of dental occlusives /t/ and /d/ in the bilingual communities of Taquara and Panambi, RS – Alice Telles de Paula Page 14
  24. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:16)
  25. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:15)
  26. Bonet & Mascaró (1997:104)
  27. OLIVEIRA, Marco Antônio de. Phonological variation and change in Brazilian Portuguese: the case of the liquids. 1983. 270f. (Doutorado em Lingüística) – University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
  28. CALLOU, Dinah et al. O Apagamento do R final no dialeto carioca: um estudo em tempo aparente e em tempo real. DELTA. São Paulo, v.14, n. Especial, p. 61- 72, 1998.
  29. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:12) citing Callou & Leite (1990:72–76)
  30. Bisol (2005:215)
  31. Mateus & d'Andrade (2000:15–16)
  32. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  33. Spahr (2013:2)
  34. rush in Aulete dictionary
  35. rush in Priberam dictionary
  36. clube in Aulete dictionary
  37. clube in Priberam dictionary
  38. surf and surfe in Priberam dictionary
  39. râguebi in Infopédia dictionary
  40. 40.0 40.1 Major (1972:7)
  41. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  42. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  43. 43.0 43.1 43.2 43.3 43.4 Cruz-Ferreira (1995:92)
  44. 44.0 44.1 44.2 Major (1992:14)
  45. From the 1911 Orthographic Formulary: "No centro de Portugal o digrama ou, quando tónico, confunde-se na pronunciação com ô, fechado. A diferença entre os dois símbolos, ô, ou, é de rigor que se mantenha, não só porque, histórica e tradicionalmente, êles sempre foram e continuam a ser diferençados na escrita, mas tambêm porque a distinção de valor se observa em grande parte do país, do Mondego para norte." Available in http://www.portaldalinguaportuguesa.org/acordo.php?action=acordo&version=1911
  46. Solange Carlos de Carvalho, p. 32 - The unique kind of diphthong which doesn't swap with hiatus is that preceded by velar stops such as that in quando and água.
  47. The syllabic separation given by the dictionaries of Portuguese indicates these vowels in iate and sábio can be pronounced both as diphthong or hiatus.
  48. Barbosa & Albano (2004:230)
  49. Major (1992:10–11)
  50. 50.0 50.1 O alinhamento relacional e o mapeamento de ataques complexos em português, Tatiana Keller, PUCRS, p.64 (p.4 in the attached PDF doc). (Portuguese)
  51. 51.0 51.1 Verbal Stress Assignment in Brazilian Portuguese and the Prosodic Interpretation of Segmental Sequences, Cantoni & Cristófaro Silva, Faculty of Letters, Federal University of Minas Gerais (English)
  52. Produção da Fala. Marchal, Alain & Reis, César. p. 169.
  53. Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa, p. 1882


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  • Vázquez Cuesta, Mendes da Luz, (1987) Gramática portuguesa, 3rd. ed. ISBN 84-249-1117-2
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External links

he:פורטוגזית#הגייה וכתיבה