Six Brazilian Portuguese mistakes common to English speakers

. Dec 29, 2019
Six Brazilian Portuguese mistakes common to English speakers Photo: Yuda Chen

Among the Western Romance tongues, Brazilian Portuguese is one of the most straightforward languages to pick up. It is forgiving, common usage involves a much smaller amount of verb tenses as some of its contemporaries (I’m looking at you, French and Spanish!), and the syntax is reasonably straightforward. However, it does have its pitfalls.

Proper pronunciation can be tricky, while colloquialisms and idiomatic Portuguese can take years to master. And even in the standard vocabulary, there are some irregular and tricky words that so often cause problems to non-native speakers.

</p> <h2>Ser and Estar</h2> <p>To be or not to be? In Portuguese, Hamlet&#8217;s question takes on a new dimension, as the language has two different translations for the standard verb &#8220;to be.&#8221; First, <em>ser</em> is a constant state of being, one that is inherent to the speaker&#8217;s nature. For instance, one would use <em>ser</em> to say &#8220;I am tall,&#8221; &#8220;I am shy,&#8221; or &#8220;I am from England.&#8221; These aspects of a person are not constantly subject to change. In fact, they help to describe the identity or personality of the speaker.</p> <p>The verb <em>estar</em> is for changing or temporary states of being. For example, Portuguese speakers use <em>estar</em> for when they are tired, hungry, happy, or in any fleeting mood. One is not tired by nature—it is a passing state. Rather, you feel tired, then you rest, and you are no longer tired.</p> <h2><em>Gente</em> and <em>pessoal</em></h2> <p>In Brazilian Portuguese, the words <em>gente</em> and <em>pessoal</em> have, strictly speaking, the same meaning. Both can simply be translated as &#8220;people.&#8221; However, many Brazilians informally use <em>gente</em> to mean &#8220;we,&#8221; and <em>pessoal </em>to mean &#8220;they.&#8221; There&#8217;s no rule or hint as to why this division is made, so it&#8217;s something you can only really pick up through practice.</p> <h2><em>Levar</em> and <em>trazer</em></h2> <p>Simply put, <em>levar</em> is the verb &#8220;to take,&#8221; while <em>trazer</em> is the verb &#8220;to bring.&#8221; Easy, right? Well, in English, the phrases &#8220;I&#8217;ll take a cake to the party&#8221; and &#8220;I&#8217;ll bring a cake to the party&#8221; are largely interchangeable. Not in Portuguese, where you can only take something <em>away</em>, and bring something <em>to</em> a given place. In this case, the equivalent of &#8220;taking a cake to the party&#8221; (using <em>levar</em>) would be grossly incorrect.</p> <p>Equally, Portuguese speakers cannot <em>bring </em>a piece of the cake home, they have to take it. A frustrating, yet common error made by most learners.</p> <div class="banner daily mt-5 mb-5 post"> <div class="row"> <div class="col-md-8"> <h3 class="titulo">BRAZIL DAILY</h3> <img class="mobile" src="" alt=""> <div class="subtitulo mb-2"> TUESDAY TO FRIDAY</div> <p style="margin-bottom: 0"> Our editorial team distills the most pressing issues facing Brazil, offering insightful commentary, analysis, and exclusive charts. We make sure you're up to date by the time you finish your coffee.</p> <p class="roxo"><strong>This Newsletter is for PREMIUM subscribers only.</strong></p> <a href="/newsletters/" class="seemore invert">Subscribe</a> </div> <div class="col-4 text-center desktop"> <img src="" alt=""> </div> </div> </div> <h2>Assume and <em>assumir</em></h2> <p>The most common use of the English verb &#8220;assume&#8221; is to presume, suppose, or take something for granted. This meaning is non-existant in Portuguese, where the equivalent <em>assumir</em> only means to take control of something or be given new power or responsibility, such as &#8220;assuming&#8221; political office.</p> <p>Therefore, the saying that &#8220;when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me&#8221; doesn&#8217;t work as well in Portuguese … or, does it?</p> <h2>Exit and <em>êxito</em></h2> <p>If you&#8217;re looking to leave a bar in Brazil, don&#8217;t ask for the <em>êxito</em>—the word you&#8217;re looking for is <em>saída</em>. <em>Êxito</em>, while coming from the same Latin root as &#8220;exit,&#8221; actually means &#8220;success.&#8221;</p> <h2>Pretend and <em>pretender</em></h2> <p>A classic false friend between English and Portuguese, the verb <em>pretender</em> is not used in the same way as &#8220;to pretend.&#8221; In fact, <em>pretender</em> used in place of &#8220;intend,&#8221; when you attempt or strive to do something. This meaning was once used in the English language but is long outdated. If you are trying to say &#8220;pretend,&#8221; however, you should use the Portuguese equivalent of the verb &#8220;to feign&#8221;—<em>fingir.</em>

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

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