portuguese alphabet

The Portuguese Alphabet: Everything You Need to Nail Your ABCs

A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now say it back in Portuguese to me.

Okay, so you’re not quite there yet.

Don’t fret—by the end of this blog post, you’ll be a Portuguese alphabet pro!

Knowing your letters is the first step towards proficiency, not just in writing but in speaking too.

You see, Portuguese is one of those languages where words are spelled exactly as they’re spoken. So grasping the way each vowel and consonant sounds in the dialect you’ve chosen to study is 100% to your advantage.

Whether this is your first dip into this fundamental subject or you’re looking for some guidance on how to pronounce and practice these letters, we’re about to cover everything you need to know about the Portuguese alphabet—from A to Z.

Learning and Practicing the Portuguese Alphabet

Let’s begin by focusing on some key strategies for learning and revising your Portuguese ABCs.

It’s a good idea to focus on the vowels first, not just because there are fewer letters to memorize, but also because their sounds will help you fine-tune your consonant pronunciation later on. Repeat the vowels to yourself several times, and make sure to mix things up a little. Recite them backward, jumble them up, say a single vowel three times before moving to the next—any pattern helps.

Once you feel confident with your vowels, add in the consonants. There are different ways you can do this:

  • You could memorize the consonants on their own, as you did with the vowels.
  • You could try your hand at reciting the alphabet in full.
  • Or, you could break the alphabet into groups of four to five letters. This is a memorization technique called chunking in which information is sorted into smaller groups before being added into larger units. It’s meant to help you retain information quicker.

From there, you’ll want to start putting this knowledge into practice. At this stage, along with pronunciation, you’ll be homing in on spelling and vocabulary building. Here are some ways to get the ball rolling:

portuguese alphabet

  • Make the most of all those amazing language learning resources you can find online. Start by trying FluentU, a program that turns real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—into language learning experiences.

    You can use interactive captions to listen to Portuguese words being pronounced and to see them used in other videos by native speakers. Whether you’re a visual learner who’s learning the ropes with FluentU’s videos, quizzes and exercises or you’ve been delving into a trove of educational YouTube channels, you’ll always find new ways to practice the alphabet, be it through spelling or just playing around with letters. A Portuguese program is in development so stay tuned for awesome content-driven learning, soon!

The Portuguese Alphabet: Everything You Need to Nail Your ABCs

Note: In this post, we’ll be using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which consists of symbols used worldwide to demonstrate different sounds.

The Portuguese Alphabet Overview 

Before we break things down, let’s take a look at the Portuguese alphabet in full.

A aB bC cD dE eF f
áe, éefe
G gH hI iJ jK kL l
agáijotacá/capaele
M mN nO oP pQ qR r
emeeneóquêerre
S sT tU uV vW wX x
esseu
dábliu,
dáblio,
duplo-vê
xis
Y yZ z
ípsilon,
ipsilão,
i grego

Note that the letters k, w and are only used for foreign terms. There are no Portuguese words with these letters.

You can get a better idea of how these letters sound by watching this video on the Brazilian Portuguese alphabet or this one on the European Portuguese alphabet.

Brazilian Portuguese Alphabet:

European Portugese Alphabet:

European Portuguese Alphabet Pronunciation

If you’ve chosen to learn European Portuguese, the way you’ll pronounce certain vowel and consonant sounds will vary from the Brazilian dialect.

So, to help with pronunciation, we’ll be explaining the different vowel and consonant sounds and rules you’ll need to know.

European Portuguese Vowels

Here are your basic vowels, with their respective phonetics:

aeiou
[a/ɐ][é/ɛ/ɨ][i][o/ɔ][u]

You’ll notice there are multiple sounds for a few of these. Essentially, some vowels are open, closed or muted, depending on the word being enunciated:

Vowel SoundPhoneticsExample word 
Open Aaarte (art)
Closed Aɐantigo (old, ancient)
Open Eémulher (woman)
Closed Eɛcomer (to eat)
Muted Eɨse (if)
Iiimagem (image)
Open Oɔsol (sun)
Closed Oocoelho (rabbit)
Uumúsica (music)

European Portuguese Consonants

Let’s take a look at the consonants and their respective phonetics:

bcdfgh
[b][s/k][d][f][g/Ʒ][silent]
jklmnp
[Ʒ][k][l][m][n][p]
qrstvw
[k][ʁ/r][s/ʃ/ʒ/z][t][v][w]
xyz
[ʃ/s/z/ks/gz][y][z, s]

As you can see, some consonant sounds are fairly straightforward:

ConsonantPhonetic SoundExample 
Bbbanho (bath)
Dddente (tooth)
Fffalso (false)
Hsilenthora (hour)
JƷjogar (to play)
Lllíngua (tongue, language)
Mmmomento (moment)
Nnnúmero (number)
Ppparte (part)
Qqquarto (room)
Tttigre (tiger)
Vvvídeo (video)

Others have more complex rules:

ConsonantSound RulesExamples 
Ck: when the C is followed by an A, O, U

s: when it follows E or I

k: casa (house), corpo (body), cuidado (care, caution)

s: centro (center), cintura (waist)

Gg: when followed by A, O, U

Ʒ: when followed by E or I

g: gato (cat), gostaria (would like), guerra (war)

Ʒ: gente (people), ginástica (gymnastics)

Rʁ: at the beginning of a word

r: in the middle of a word

ʁ: romance (romance)

r: caro (dear)

Sʃ: when the s follows an unvoiced consonant sound (c, ç, ch, f, p, q, s, t) or when there’s a pause after a vowel

ʒ: when it is followed by a voiced consonant (b, d, g, j, l, lh, m, n, nh, r, rr, v, z)

z: between vowels and when a word ending in “s” is followed by another with a vowel

s: at the beginning of a word

ʃ: as suas amigas (your friends, feminine)

ʒ: desenhar (to draw)

z: fase (phase), às ordens (at one’s service)

s: simples (simple)

Xʃ: at the beginning of a word; after a diphthong (e.g., ai, ão); after -me; after -en

s, z, ks and gz: when x is in the middle of a word

ʃ: xarope (syrup), caixa (box), mexer (to mix or stir), enxugar (to dry)

s: máximo (maximum)

z: exame (exam)

ks: maxilar (jaw)

gz: hexágono (hexagon)

Zz: at the beginning or in the middle of a word

s: at the end of a word

z: zebra (zebra), cozinha (kitchen)

s: arroz (rice)

Brazilian Portuguese Alphabet Pronunciation

It’s worth noting that some of the rules mentioned in the European Portuguese section apply to the Brazilian dialect too. This’ll become clearer as we cover the main pronunciation cues you need to know.

Brazilian Portuguese Vowels

As we did in the previous section, here are the Brazilian Portuguese vowels with their respective phonetics:

aeiou
[a/ã][e/ɛ/i][i][o/ɔ/u][u]

And, here’s a breakdown of what that means:

Vowel SoundPhoneticsExample word 
Open Aaagora (now)
Closed Aãpergaminho (parchment)
Open Eeaquarela (watercolor)
Closed Eɛchover (to rain)
Muted Eiimportante (important)
Iicinema (cinema)
Open Oɔescola (school)
Closed Oo: in the middle of a word

u: at the end of a word

o: conta (count, account, bill)

u: correto (correct)

Uuúnico (single, unique)

Brazilian Portuguese Consonants

For the most part, Brazilian Portuguese consonant pronunciation follows the same rules as European Portuguese.

The main differences are in the consonant sounds marked in bold below:

bcdfg
[b][s/k][d/ʤ][f][g/Ʒ]
hjklm
[silent][Ʒ][k][l/ṷ][m]
npqrs
[n][p][k][ʁ/r][s/ʃ/ʒ/z]
tvwxy
[t/ʧ][v][w/ṷ][ʃ/s/z/ks/gz][y]
z
[z, s]

Here’s a look at what this entails:

ConsonantSound RulesExamples
Dʤ: before i or before an unstressed e at the end of a word

d: everywhere else

ʤ: idioma (language), saúde (health)

 

d: querida (dear, feminine), dormir (to sleep)

Lṷ: after vowels

l: everywhere else

ṷ: mel (honey), casal (couple)

l: lixo (garbage), loja (store)

Tʧ: before i or an unstressed e at the end of a word

t: everywhere else

ʧ: tigre (tiger), forte (strong)

t: toalha (towel), antena (antenna)

Bonus: Portuguese Diphthongs and Double Consonant Sounds

When you’re ready to go beyond the basic ABCs, here are a few letter combinations that you’ll need to keep in mind when it comes to perfecting your Portuguese pronunciation.

Diphthongs

Also known as gliding vowels, diphthongs are a combination of two vowel sounds in a single syllable. There are two types of diphthongs in Portuguese: oral and nasal.

Oral diphthongs with examples: 

ai [ai] — papai (father), vai (go), mais (plus or more)

ei [ei] — cantei (I sang), eixo (axis), queijo (cheese)

éi [ɛi] — papéis (papers), cartéis (cartels), fiéis (faithful, plural)

oi [oi] — comboio (train), foi (was), moinho (windmill)

ói [ɔi] — dói (hurts), lençóis (sheets), herói (hero)

ui [ui] — fui (was, have been), diminui (decreases), uivar (to howl)

au [au] — mau (bad), pau (stick, pole), autor (author)

eu [eu] — meu (my, mine), choveu (it rained), europeu (European)

éu [ɛu] — céu (sky), réu (defendant, accused), troféu (trophy)

ou [ou] — ouriço (hedgehog), chamou (called), outro (other)

iu [iu] — sumiu (disappeared), dormiu (slept), viu (he/she saw)

Nasal diphthongs with examples:

ãe, ãi [ɐ̃j̃] — mãe (mom), cãimbra (cramp), pães (breads)

ão [ɐ̃w̃] — mão (hand), chão (floor), portão (gate)

õe [õj̃] — põe (puts, put — imperative), canções (songs), corações (hearts)

Double Consonants

CH — It can appear at the beginning or in the middle of a word and is pronounced like the English “sh.” Examples include chave (key), chocolate (chocolate) and chamar (to call).

LH — This combination is found in the last syllable sound of some words. There’s no English equivalent, but it’s quite similar to the “ll” sound in some Spanish dialects or the “gl” sound in Italian. Some examples are toalha (towel), olho (eye) and joelho (knee).

NH — Also used at the end/in the final syllable of a word, the “nh” sound is used for nouns, as well as for diminutive terms like florzinha (little flower) or casinha (little house). It’s quite similar in sound to the Spanish ñ (as in niño — boy) or a slightly more nasally version of the final syllable in the English word “canyon.” Examples include caminho (path), junho (June) and tamanho (size).

— This is yet another combination that appears in the final syllable. In this case, the first “c” has a hard “ck” sound while the “ç” has a soft “s” sound. Think of the word “conviction” in English and its Portuguese cognate, convicção. Other examples include confecção (confection), dissecção (dissection) and fricção (friction).

 

Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of information here. There’s no need to rush when learning the alphabet and its pronunciation rules. Take your time, and break things down as much as you need.

All that hard work will pay off soon, as mastering the alphabet will allow you to start paving your path towards Portuguese fluency!

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