portuguese alphabet

The Portuguese Alphabet: Everything You Need to Nail Your ABCs [Audio Included]

When you first started studying Portuguese, you probably noticed a few key differences in the letters it uses.

The Portuguese alphabet looks a lot like the Latin one, except for things like the extensive use of accent marks, the lack of the letters k, w and y (which, if used at all, are reserved for foreign words) and differences in pronunciation.

Of course, there’s more to the uniqueness of the Portuguese alphabet than that.

In this post, we’re going to use the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), which consists of symbols used worldwide to demonstrate different sounds.

Once you’re done, you can rattle off your Portuguese A-B-Cs without missing a beat and become a Portuguese alphabet pro!


Overview of the Portuguese Alphabet

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


You can get a better idea of how these letters sound by watching the following videos on the Brazilian Portuguese alphabet and the European Portuguese alphabet, respectively:

European Portuguese Alphabet

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

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

European Portuguese Vowels

Let’s start with the European Portuguese vowels:

European Portuguese VowelsPhonetics

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 SoundPhoneticsExamples
Open Aa arte (art)
Closed Aɐ antigo  (old, ancient)
Open Eé mulher  (woman)
Closed Eɛ comer  (to eat)
Muted Eɨ se  (if)
Ii imagem  (image)
Open Oɔ sol  (sun)
Closed Oo coelho  (rabbit)
Uu música  (music)

European Portuguese Consonants

Now, let’s move on to European Portuguese consonants:

European Portuguese ConsonantsPhonetics
z[z, s]

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

ConsonantPhonetic SoundExamples
Bb banho  (bath)
Dd dente  (tooth)
Ff falso (false)
Hsilent hora (hour)
JƷ jogar  (to play)
Ll língua  (tongue, language)
Mm momento  (moment)
Nn número  (number)
Pp parte  (part)
Qq quarto  (room)
Tt tigre  (tiger)
Vv vídeo  (video)

Others have more complex rules:

ConsonantPhonetic RulesExamples
Ck: when the C is followed by an A, O, U casa  (house)
corpo (body)
cuidado  (care, caution)
s: when it follows E or I centro (center)
cintura (waist)
Gg: when followed by A, O, U gato  (cat)
gostaria (would like)
guerra  (war)
Ʒ: when followed by E or I gente (people)
ginástica (gymnastics)
Rʁ: at the beginning of a word romance (romance)
r: in the middle of a word 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 as suas amigas  (your friends, feminine)
ʒ: when it is followed by a voiced consonant (b, d, g, j, l, lh, m, n, nh, r, rr, v, z) desenhar  (to draw)
z: between vowels and when a word ending in “s” is followed by another with a vowel fase  (phase)
às ordens  (at one's service)
s: at the beginning of a word simples  (simple)
Xʃ: at the beginning of a word; after a diphthong (e.g., ai, ão); after -me; after -en xarope  (syrup)
caixa  (box)
mexer  (to mix or stir)
enxugar  (to dry)
s, z, ks and gz: when x is in the middle of a words: máximo  (maximum)
z: exame  (exam)
ks: maxilar  (jaw)
gz: hexágono  (hexagon)
Zz: at the beginning or in the middle of a word zebra  (zebra)
cozinha  (kitchen)
s: at the end of a word arroz  (rice)

Brazilian Portuguese Alphabet

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

Brazilian Portuguese Vowels

Here are the Brazilian Portuguese vowels and how they sound:

Brazilian Portuguese VowelsPhonetics

And here’s a breakdown of how each vowel sound is pronounced:

Vowel SoundPhoneticsExamples
Open Aa agora (now)
Closed Aã pergaminho (parchment)
Open Ee aquarela (watercolor)
Closed Eɛ chover (to rain)
Muted Ei importante (important)
Ii cinema (cinema)
Open Oɔ escola (school)
Closed Oo: in the middle of a word conta  (count, account, bill)
u: at the end of a word correto  (correct)
Uu único (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:

Brazilian Portuguese ConsonantsPhonetics
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 idioma  (language)
saúde  (health)
d: everywhere else querida (dear, feminine)
dormir  (to sleep)
Lṷ: after vowels mel  (honey)
casal  (couple)
l: everywhere else lixo  (garbage)
loja  (store)
Tʧ: before i or an unstressed e at the end of a word tigre  (tiger)
forte  (strong)
t: everywhere else toalha  (towel)
antena (antenna)

Portuguese 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

Oral diphthongs combine the sound of open vowels (like ae, and o) with close vowels (like i or u):

Oral DiphthongsPhoneticsExamples
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

As their name suggests, nasal diphthongs are pronounced with a more nasal sound. You’ll know this is the case when you see a nasal vowel (like ã or õ) paired with an oral vowel (like e, i and o):

Nasal DiphthongsPhoneticsExamples
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)

Portuguese Double Consonants

When certain pairs of consonants come together, they also follow their own pronunciation rules:

Double ConsonantsUsual LocationPronunciationExamples
CHBeginning or middle of a wordLike the English "sh" chave (key)
chocolate  (chocolate)
chamar  (to call)
LHLast syllable sound of some wordsSimilar to the "ll" sound in some Spanish dialects or the "gl" sound in Italian toalha (towel)
olho  (eye)
joelho  (knee)
NHAlso used at the end/in the final syllable of a word

Used for nouns, as well as for diminutive terms
Quite similar in sound to the Spanish ñ or a slightly more nasally version of the final syllable in the English word "canyon" florzinha (little flower)
casinha  (little house)
caminho (path)
junho  (June)
tamanho  (size)
Final syllableIn 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. confecção (confection)
dissecção (dissection)
fricção  (friction)

Portuguese Accent Marks

Once you’ve overcome the hurdle that is the Portuguese alphabet in both the European and Brazilian dialects, you’ll have to move on to accent marks next.

Here’s an overview of them:

Portuguese Accent MarkLetters That Use ItExamples
Caret (^) or Acento Circunflexoâ, ê, ô pêlo (hair)
pôr (to put)
Acute and Grave Marks (´, `) or Agudo e Graveá, à, é, í, ó, ú (evil or mean female)
épico (epic)
Tilde (~) or Tilã, õ cão (dog)
canção (song)
Hook (¸) or Cedilhaç maçã (apple)
canção (song)

Because Portuguese accent marks deserve an entire article on their own, let me direct you to this post:

How to Learn and Practice the Portuguese Alphabet

Let’s go over some key strategies for learning and reviewing 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 exercise helps.

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

  • Memorize the consonants on their own, as you did with the vowels.
  • Try your hand at reciting the alphabet in full.
  • Break the alphabet into groups of four to five letters. This is a memorization technique called chunking, where 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:

  • Make a list of basic words like everyday phrases, travel essentials or even something as simple as food vocabulary. As you’re learning each word, spell it out loud to yourself in Portuguese.
  • Make the most of all those amazing language learning resources you can find online. For example, FluentU uses authentic Portuguese videos (both Brazilian and European) to teach you new vocabulary and even has some children’s cartoons that can introduce you to the alphabet the way Portuguese speakers learned it when they were kids.
  • Browse through a dictionary or use a translator app like Linguee. Pick a few random words and try spelling them out loud. If your chosen app has an audio playback option, listen to each word a few times and practice saying it in full before spelling it out. That way, you’re getting a fuller pronunciation practice experience.
  • Looking for something more interactive? Try a spelling game like 101 Languages’ Spelling Challenge or Digital Dialect’s Brazilian Portuguese Spelling Games.

Looking for more words to practice the Portuguese alphabet? Check out this video:


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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