Spanish and Portuguese Diphthongs

Foreign Service Institute: From Spanish to Portuguese

Spanish Diphthongs with Counterparts in Portuguese

Most of the diphthongs that occur in Spanish also occur in Portuguese, but with different degrees of frequency. We will not bother to treat all of them here, but will make just a few comments about several of them.

Spanish ie and ue can be found in Portuguese, but not nearly so often as in Spanish. We have already seen that the Portuguese open e and open o sounds frequently appear when you are accustomed to hearing Spanish ie and ue.

On the other hand, the diphthongs ei and eu, which are somewhat limited in their occurrence in Spanish, are very common in Portuguese.

You should be particularly mindful of the ei, since it often appears in those positions where Spanish has a simple e sound. When this is the case, you will have to be doubly careful to add the '-i-glide' to the e sound and make it a genuine diphthong. It will sound much like the -ay of English bay. Compare these examples:


Spanish Portuguese English
quemar queimar  
dejar deixar  
madera madeira  
manera maneira  
primero primeiro  
verdadero verdadeiro  
caballero cavalheiro  
dinero dinheiro  
soltero solteiro  

Notice that many of these Spanish words end in -ero and -era.


The ei diphthong is also to be found in these verb endings:

mandei, mandarei (cf. Spanish mandé, mandaré)
falei, falarei (cf. Spanish hablé, hablaré)
cantei, cantarei (cf. Spanish canté, cantaré)

and others of the sort.

The most common occurrences of the eu diphthong are:

meu, seu (cf. Spanish mi, su)
eu (cf. Spanish yo)
deus, adeus (cf. Spanish dios, adiós)

the 3rd person, singular, past tense ending of regular -er verbs:
venceu (cf. Spanish venció)
valeu (cf. Spanish valió)
bebeu (cf. Spanish bebió)
comeu (cf. Spanish comió)
vendeu (cf. Spanish vendió)

Portuguese Diphthongs Not Occurring in Spanish

1. Oral Diphthongs

Among the new diphthongs are three involving the open vowel sounds e and o.


Ei, as in papéis, hotéis
Eu, as in céu, chapéu
Oi, as in dói, herói

Also new is ou, as in vou, sou. Note particularly its presence in trabalhou, falou, mandou and similar past tense items where Spanish has the single vowel -ó (cf. Spanish trabajó, habló, mandó).

2. Nasal Diphthongs ẽ ĩ õ ũ and ə̃

The nasal vowels ə̃, ẽ, and õ combine with the vowel sounds i and u to form four nasal diphthongs:

ə̃i, as in mãe, cães, pães
ẽi, (usually spelled em), as in vem, tem, bem, dizem
õi, as in põe, canções, botões, funções
ə̃u, as in não, pão, falam, saíram

A fifth diphthong, ũi, appears only in the word muito.

The ə̃u diphthong is very useful. It corresponds to the Spanish verb endings -án, -an, and -on. It also corresponds to Spanish noun endings -ón and -ión. Observe the samples below.

a. Third person plural verb forms:

Spanish Portuguese English
pasan passam  
pasaban passavam  
pasarán passarão  
pasarían passariam  
pasaron passaram  
van vão  
dan dão  
digan digam  
reciban recebam  
están estão  
son são  


b. Nouns:

Spanish Portuguese English
limón limão  
melón melão  
montón montão  
salón salão  
corazón coração  
condición condição  
destinación destinação  
sección seção  
lección lição  

(Many other nouns ending in -ón and -ión in Spanish will end in the diphthong -ə̃u in Portuguese.)


c. Others:

Spanish Portuguese English
tan tão  
san são  


The õi diphthong is heard in the common plural ending -ões, which corresponds to Spanish -ones and -iones. Compare these Spanish and Portuguese plurals of nouns listed in (b) above.

Spanish Portuguese English
limones limões  
melones melões  
montones montões  
salones salões  
corazones corações  
condiciones condições  
destinaciones destinações  
secciones seções  
lecciones lições  


The ẽi diphthong often corresponds to the Spanish verb-ending -en. Compare:

Spanish Portuguese English
viven vivem  
venden vendem  
manden mandem  
viviesen vivessem  


Diphthongs Restricted to Some Dialects

It is striking to the ears of Spanish speakers that in the speech of many Brazilians a stressed vowel before a final s sound is glided toward the i sound. The result is a diphthong.

Standard Spelling Possible Pronunciation
gás [gais]
mas [mais]
arroz [arrois]
nós [nois]
feroz [ferois]
eficaz [eficais]
vez [veis]
luz [luis]
pus [puis]
avestruz [avestruis]
voz [vois]
maçãs [maçə̃is]
irmãs [irmə̃is]
manhãs [manhə̃is]

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