Spanish and Portuguese Consonants

Foreign Service Institute: From Spanish to Portuguese

Spanish Consonants with Counterparts in Portuguese

You can carry the following Spanish consonant sounds over into Portuguese with little or no modification.

b* d* g* p t k (of como) f s m n r (of pero)

*A special word needs to be said about the b, d and g sounds starred above. These symbols refer only to the often-called 'hard' varieties of these sounds, as heard in bien, donde and gano when these words occur first in an utterance. Portuguese does not have the 'soft' varieties of these sounds that occur between Spanish vowels and certain other places in that language.

Presumably you remember what is meant by 'soft' and 'hard' in this context. You probably know, for example, that the d of Spanish nada is considerably 'softer' than either d of donde. It is something like the th of English 'this'. Sometimes the Spanish speaker seems to pass over it so lightly, so softly, that it all but disappears, and you hear something which we might write as na'a. None of this ever happens in Portuguese. The d of the Portuguese word nada is a firm - a 'hard'- d sound much as we English speakers understand and recognize a d sound.

Likewise, the b of Spanish suba is considered to be a soft sound, since the speaker's lips do not close all the way during its production. But in the Portuguese word suba the lips are closed alI the way on the b sound and the result is a sound which is very nearly the sarne as our familiar English b sound.

The same comparison can be drawn with regard to the g. Observe, for example, the difference between the slightly soft g of Spanish pago and the harder g of Portuguese pago.

So, to summarize, you will always want to use the hard varieties of b, d and g in Portuguese, never the soft. You will experience most of your trouble with easily recognizable cognate words. Below are a few samples.


Spanish Portuguese
nada nada
boda boda
ida ida
seda sêda
mudar mudar
formado* formado
comido comido
lobo lôbo
Cuba Cuba
saber saber
sábado sábado
caber caber
entregar entregar
pegar pegar
digo digo
pago pago

* And many other such participial forms


Some Spanish consonants have counterparts in Portuguese which, though similar, are different enough to warrant special attention. We treat them below.

1. Spanish rr / Portuguese rr

Portuguese has a counterpart of the Spanish multiple trilled rr. For most Portuguese speakers the trilling is produced in the back of the mouth with the uvula, rather than in the front of the mouth with the tongue tipo ln the speech of many Brazilians, particularly from the Rio area, the sound is much like a slightly hoarse Spanish or English h sound with perhaps a bit of vocalization added. For others it more nearly resembles the voiced French r. Your best bet, of course, will be to imitate your native-speaking instructor.

The r appears where your Spanish experience would lead you to expect it.

a. Initially: roupa, ruim
b. Between vowels: carro, garrafa
c. Finally: senhor, comer

You should be particularly careful about this sound in familiar cognate words, a few of which are given below.

Spanish Portuguese
ropa roupa
revista revista
rápido rápido
río rio
repita repita
razón razão
carro carro
arroz arroz
corre corre
guerra guerra
torre torre
señor senhor
placer prazer
dar dar
comer comer
ir ir

And, of course, many other infinitives.


The r also appears in one place where you would not expect it: before consonants. Remember that in Spanish only the single flap r, not the multiple trill rr, is normally heard before consonants. Once again this new patterning will bear particular watching in cognate words.

Spanish Portuguese
cuarto quarto
carne carne
tercero terceiro
porque porque
barba barba
Carlos Carlos


2. Spanish l / Portuguese l

You can safely use the Spanish l sound in Portuguese except at the end of syllables. In that location you will need to change to a kind of l sound that is similar to the l sound often said by English speakers in words like fool, milk. (It may sound to you like a u or a w.) Repeat after your instructor and be alert to it in cognate words.

papel mal alguma
hotel mil falta
igual espanhol último
tal solteiro delgado


3. Spanish ll / Portuguese lh

If your Spanish ll is the variety that has a definite l coloring to it, i.e. the kind that might be shown phonetically as ly, you can safely carry it over into Portuguese. If it is the kind that resembles a strong English y sound, or if it is the 'Argentinian' type ll, you cannot carry it over.

Obvious cognates: milha, toalha, bilhete, falhar
Less obvious cognates: fôlha, coelho, olhar, velho


4. Spanish ñ / Portuguese nh

Although the Portuguese nh may be considered the counterpart of Spanish ñ, the two sounds are not quite so similar as they may first appear to be. Let us compare Spanish leño with Portuguese lenho. In the Spanish word you can feel your tongue making contact with the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth. In the Portuguese word the tongue approaches this position, but drops away without making contact. The result is something which may sound to you like a nasalized y sound. As usual, your best approach is to carefully imitate a native model.

lenho venho
unha senhor
tenho senhora


Portuguese Consonants Not Occurring in Spanish


1. sh - very similar to the sh of 'shape'. It has several spellings.

chega, acho, caixa


2. zh - close to the z of 'azure' or s of 'pleasure'

jantar, agência, João


3. v - Whether or not a real v sound exists in Spanish (in most dialects it does not), it certainly does exist in Portuguese. It often occurs where you have been used to saying a hard b or soft b in Spanish. Check the cognates below.

Spanish Portuguese
barrer varrer
vamos vamos
visitar visitar
vivir viver
vista vista
libro livro
haber haver
palabra palavra
deber dever
plus imperfect forms of regular -ar verbs:
tomaba tomava
fumábamos fumávamos
almorzaban almoçavam


4. z - Though this sound may be heard occasionally in Spanish, it is not considered by most laymen to be a Spanish sound. It is very much a Portuguese sound, however, and you will need to get used to using it. It is frequently found between vowels and at the beginning of words. This may be particularly annoying when the words are cognates whose Spanish counterparts have an s sound in the sarne location.

Spanish (s sound) Portuguese (z sound)
between vowels:  
casa casa
mesa mesa
azul azul
preciso preciso
riqueza riqueza
beginning of word:  
cero zero
zona zona

The z sound also appears between vowels when the second vowel begins the next word, as in /somos americanos/.


Observations on Major Brazilian Dialect Differences

1. For many speakers, particularly in the Rio area, a d before an i sound is modified to sound much like the English j of 'judge'. Note that the i sound is often represented in spelling by the letter e.

Examples: onde, de nada, dia, disco


2. Likewise, for most of these sarne speakers a t before an i sound is modified to sound much like an English or Spanish ch.

Examples: noite, leite, tia, tinha


Consonant Clusters

The only combinations of Portuguese consonants that will be new to you are initial pn and ps. They do not occur in Spanish, and they are not very common in Portuguese either. You will find them in just a few items like pneu (tire) and psicologia (psychology), and several related words. These clusters may sound strange at first, but they are not particularly difficult to master.

Examples: pneu, pneumonia, psicologia, psicólogo, psiquiatria

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