“Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”
Sayings like this one play a part in our lives from an early age.
As children, there are proverbs and expressions that teach us not to lie (“don’t cry wolf”), to be kind (“you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”) and even not to give up on an opportunity (“grab the bull by the horns!”).
These expressions have lasted for generations… and isn’t that something we should honor and have fun with?
There are useful expressions like these in every language, and Portuguese has some of its own favorite sayings.
We have rounded up 10 Portuguese sayings used in both Portugal and Brazil to satisfy your curiosity on what people say, when they say it and why.
Some might sound familiar, others are completely new, while still others are different takes on common English sayings.
But no matter what, they are all wise and useful!
Why Learn Portuguese Sayings?
They are actually used in conversations.
No, Portuguese speakers are not constantly speaking as if they are citing a poem or a work of literature. But proverbs and sayings really are a part of people’s lives—especially when giving advice, joking around or talking to older people.
Knowing a couple of common sayings in Portuguese will not only help you understand others around you better, it will also be a powerful tool for impressing others with your Portuguese skills, since you are going beyond basic phrases!
They say a lot about who uses them.
Sayings and proverbs are a window into the particular culture they belong to and the values it holds dear. We could go further and say that you will learn a lot more about the individual who is using them!
Establishing a deeper degree of understanding and empathy for the person you are talking to will improve your overall communication in Portuguese and take you through the mysterious seas of nuance. And nuance is one of the hardest, yet most satisfying things to learn in a language!
They are used often in entertainment.
If there is one thing Brazilian and Portuguese people love it is entertainment—football matches, concerts, festivals, carnivals and soap operas!
TV series and soap operas keep getting better and better in both Portugal and Brazil, as well as in African countries, with ever-increasing collaboration between countries, making it much more interesting to learn new phrases, expressions and sayings!
Of course, because these series aim to please all kinds of audiences (young and old), proverbs are used more often.
They can help you take a break.
Learning common sayings is a fun way to take a healthy, much-needed break from grammar, intensive studies or hours of flashcards.
It is a great way to practice pronunciation instead, and it is way more fun when you are in serious need of unwinding and just getting that pure entertaining feeling that comes with learning a new language!
10 Portuguese Sayings for All Occasions in Life
1. “Quem vê cara não vê coração.”
Literal meaning: “Who sees face does not see heart.”
Meaning: Do not judge a book by its cover.
A person might look or seem unattractive or boring on the outside but have a fantastic heart. For those moments, we might use this expression in Portuguese.
For example, if a friend of yours rejects a potential date based on how they look, you might say “Quem vê cara não vê coração.”
However, much more often Portuguese speakers will use this expression with the opposite meaning and a negative connotation—just because somebody looks rich, powerful, attractive and friendly, does not mean their heart is aligned with the rest!
As human beings, we sometimes tend to trust people we should not—especially if they look particularly sweet, innocent, rich or successful! This expression is often used as cautionary advice when one sees a person they care about place way too much trust or value in someone else’s image.
Other expressions that have a similar meaning are “Aparências enganam” (“Appearances deceive”) and “Nem tudo o que reluz é ouro” (“Not everything that shines is gold”). These are also used when a person is attracted to an opportunity that seems shiny and promising, but is way too blind to see the risks!
By the way, if you find yourself in Portugal, this expression will often be heard in its plural version: “Quem vê caras não vê corações.”
“Você diz que ela parece uma pessoa fantástica, mas eu digo que quem vê cara não vê coração.” (“You say she looks like a fantastic person, but I say that those who see a face do not see a heart.”)
2. “Quem não arrisca não petisca.”
Literal meaning: “Those who do not risk, do not have a snack.”
Meaning: If you do not take a risk, you will not get the benefits.
Looking for a new job, but feel too unprepared to try applying?
Not quite sure whether you should change your major halfway through the semester for something more satisfying?
Dreaming of participating in a talent show, contest or event, but fear you might make a fool out of yourself?
Portuguese speakers have a saying for these occasions!
Usually used as advice to somebody who is in doubt on whether they should make a risky move, such as changing careers, moving abroad or even just dating somebody new, “Quem não arrisca não petisca” means you should definitely make that move.
Indeed, you will never get a sim (yes) if you do not even try, right?
“Você deveria pedir um aumento de salário! Quem não arrisca não petisca!” (“You should ask for a raise! Those who don’t risk it, don’t have a snack!”)
3. “Aqui se faz, aqui se paga.”
Literal meaning: “Here it is done, here it is paid.”
Meaning: Bad actions lead to bad karma.
In need of some revenge? Oh, have we got a good one for you!
Also known in Portugal as “Cá se fazem, cá se pagam” (“here they are done, here they are paid”), this expression is usually used when we come to know that somebody who hurt us or hurt somebody we know had a misfortune in life or got what they deserved.
If you hear this expression immediately after the person saying it has been hurt, it is probably a promise of revenge.
“Eu bem disse que um dia ela iria sofrer as consequências pelo que fez. Aqui se faz, aqui se paga!” (“I did say that one day she would suffer the consequences for what she had done. Here it is done, here it is paid!”)
4. “Cada macaco no seu galho.”
Literal meaning: “Each monkey to its own branch.”
Meaning: Each person should be responsible for a particular task, function or topic, and not interfere with other people’s work or life when they are not asked to.
If you are tired of those nosy neighbors, sick of your colleagues giving you unsolicited advice or fed up with your brother claiming it is your turn to do the dishes when it clearly is not, use this phrase.
Usually used when boundaries seem unclear, it is time to say it out loud: “Cada macaco no seu galho!”
You might hear this expression more often in relation to business and work, but it can also sometimes be used in relationships when one sees boundaries are lacking and the situation seems to be all over the place.
When one individual is messing with another person’s business, it is time to tell the monkeys were they belong!
“Não quero que controlem o meu trabalho. Eu sou do departamento de marketing, vocês são do departamento de contabilidade. Cada macaco no seu galho!” (“I don’t want people controlling my work. I am from the marketing department, you are from the accounting department. Each monkey to its own branch!”)
5. “Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois voando.”
Literal meaning: “It is worth more to have one bird in hand than two flying.”
Meaning: It is better to successfully retain one good thing than to lose two or more options due to being greedy.
At one time or another, all of us have to make difficult choices.
And sometimes it feels like for every good thing that comes along, we are presented with something that might be even better and forced to choose.
Usually spoken as advice when somebody is tempted to risk one opportunity in order to later get benefits that are not certain yet, this expression is used to warn somebody against being greedy. For instance, someone who decides to cheat on their spouse risks losing both loves!
Anybody who uses this expression clearly prefers safety to risk, and will often tell you it is better to choose one thing and stick with it, rather than risk losing both.
Be careful! This expression also exists in Portugal, but you will often hear it as “Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois a voar,” since the present continuous is very different in Brazilian and European Portuguese.
“Não pode mais esperar para aceitar essa oportunidade só porque está esperando a outra. Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois voando!” (“You cannot take any longer to accept this opportunity, just because you are waiting for the other one. It is better to have one bird in your hand than two flying!”)
6. “Quem ri por último ri melhor.”
Literal meaning: “He who laughs last laughs best.”
Meaning: Watch out for the consequences of your bad actions.
Some people just seem to get on our nerves when they act in selfish ways and hurt others in their carelessness. Some might even do it on purpose!
When you use this expression, you mean these people should be careful because the one who gets revenge at the last moment will be in the best situation… and we all know by now that “Aqui se faz, aqui se paga!”
Make sure to use this expression only when talking to very close friends about a third person to express anger, and always be careful when using this directly to someone’s face—it is often interpreted as promising revenge!
“Ele pensa mesmo que pode fazer isso e não sofrer nenhuma consequência? Não se esqueça que quem ri por último ri melhor!” (“He really thinks that he can do that and not suffer any consequence? Do not forget that the one who laughs last, laughs best!”)
7. “Cão que ladra não morde.”
Literal meaning: “Dog that barks does not bite.”
Meaning: Usually, the people who are the loudest, most obnoxious, threatening or arrogant are the ones who do not have the guts to actually take action.
If you have ever felt intimidated by your boss, your arrogant neighbor, a controlling friend or just an unpleasant person on the street, know that a dog that barks usually does not bite!
At least, thatis what Portuguese speakers sometimes say.
This expression could be used either to calm somebody down after they have been confronted by an aggressive or unpleasant person, or directly as a way of mocking somebody who is acting arrogant and threatening.
“Não tenha medo dele. Ele sempre fala desse jeito, mas não faz nada. Cão que ladra não morde.” (“Do not be afraid of him. He always speaks that way, but he doesn’t do anything. Dog that barks does not bite.”
8. “É melhor prevenir do que remediar.”
Literal meaning: “It is better to prevent than to mend.”
Meaning: It is always better to avoid a problem by being careful than having to solve it afterwards.
Remember “Quem não arrisca, não petisca?” Well, what if you do not believe taking risks is a positive thing?
Perhaps you are the type of person who prefers safety and comfort over taking unnecessary risks. In that case, we have an expression for you, too: “É melhor prevenir do que remediar!”
This is usually used as advice to somebody who is taking a risk that could be avoided, or proudly used by oneself after doing something clever that could avoid future problems.
A variation may include “Antes prevenir do que remediar,” literally “Before to prevent than to mend.”
“Decidi procurar seguro. É melhor prevenir do que remediar!” (“I decided to seek insurance. It is better to prevent than to mend!”)
9. “A mentira tem pernas curtas.”
Literal meaning: “The lie has short legs.”
Meaning: Lies do not go far—they are easily discovered and exposed.
Is a family member or friend confessing they have told a lie and do not want to be discovered?
Have you come to know that a colleague at work is lying to everybody?
Then now is the time to say “A mentira tem pernas curtas.” After all, truth is often uncovered sooner or later, so we might as well just avoid lies.
This expression is usually used either to advise somebody not to lie after they have confessed that intention to us, or immediately after uncovering a lie.
“Eu sabia que estava escondendo alguma coisa! Você esqueceu? A mentira tem pernas curtas!” (“I knew you were hiding something! Did you forget? The lie has short legs!”)
10. “Para bom entendedor, meia palavra basta.”
Literal meaning: “To a good ‘understander,’ half a word is enough.”
Meaning: Clever people do not need everything to be told directly to them—they are sensible enough to realize and understand situations without an obvious explanation.
If you have ever felt tempted to talk too much or oversimplify things, this saying is for you.
It is used to advise somebody not to oversimplify the message when the audience is clever, or to pay attention to something that might not be said directly but might easily be understood by an intelligent bystander.
The irony? When people use this expression, they usually leave it incomplete on purpose. They will say “Para bom entendedor…” and not actually finish, which is quite interesting considering the message.
That is because if you are knowledgeable and clever, you will already know what follows!
“Não precisa explicar tudo para ela. Nem terminou a frase e ela já sabe o que você quer. Para bom entendedor, meia palavra basta.” (“You don’t need to explain everything to her. You haven’t even finished your sentence and she already knows what you want. To a good ‘understander,’ half a word is enough.”)
So what can you do with these Portuguese sayings?
- Write them down first, repeat them later. This will help you practice pronunciation, get comfortable with the sounds and memorize them better.
- Create your own sentences. Using the examples above as inspiration, you could try to create your own sentences or dialogues and include the expressions in context. It is always a good idea to put new vocabulary in relation to vocabulary you already know!
And if you like Portuguese sayings, check out FluentU, where authentic real-world videos like movie clips, music videos, motivational talks and more make it easy to pick up on the kind of speech that is actually used by native speakers.
A Portuguese program is currently in development, so keep an eye out for some authentic learning in the near future.
With these Portuguese sayings, you can sound authentic—and wise, to boot!
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn a language with real-world videos.