5 ways to differentiate Brazilian Portuguese from European Portuguese
With over 250 million Portuguese speakers across four different continents, the fact that there are different variants of Portuguese comes as no surprise. However, it is worth noting that its only two official variants are European-African Portuguese (PT-PT) and Brazilian Portuguese (PT-BR).
Which variant should I use?
Given how widespread the use of Portuguese is — with it being the most widely spoken language in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the official languages of the European Union, Mercosur, OAR, ECOWAS and the African Union — it is essential to know when to use which variant, and why.
Generally speaking, European Portuguese is the variant one should use when addressing a Portuguese-speaking audience in Europe, Asia and Africa, while the Brazilian variation should be used for a South American Portuguese-speaking target audience.
So how wide, exactly, is the gap between Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese?
Isn’t it just a matter of accent and the occasional spelling difference, like British and American English? Unfortunately, for those who wish to reach the entire Portuguese-speaking community, the differences go beyond that: they encompass not only accent and spelling, but also grammatical differences, usage, and even the way each welcomes (or not) loanwords.
1. Tu vs. você
In Portuguese, the original second person singular is tu, which is used in European Portuguese when addressing someone in informal situations. In Brazilian Portuguese, however, tu fell largely into disuse and was replaced with the pronoun você. But beyond a mere substitution of pronouns, the verbs accompanying você and tu have different conjugations as well.
Any verb accompanying the second person singular pronoun você should be conjugated as if it were in the third person singular (ele/ela). This also includes how the possessive pronouns and adjectives and object pronouns are used (second person singular for PT-PT, and the third person singular for você in PT-BR). For example:
This difference also influences the way the imperative form is used (the most common verbal form seen in advertisement):
To most Brazilians, the use of the pronoun tu, along with its variants and verb conjugation, sounds unnatural and/or archaic; its usage, therefore, should be staunchly avoided by anyone targeting a Brazilian audience, since it’s a considerable tell-tale sign of how to identify which variant is being used.
2. Correct position of pronouns
Portuguese is flexible enough with the position of its object pronouns that, most of the time, you have two options for where to place them in relation to the verb. These are fundamental characteristics of which variant you have chosen to communicate in: Brazilian Portuguese largely prefers to position its object pronouns after the verb, while its European counterpart does the opposite and places them before the verb. Examples:
This is another clear sign of which audience a text was meant to target, and if you mix them up, your intended audience will immediately know and feel like your text was not written for them — which might lead to them asking themselves why, then, they should pay any attention to it.
3. Gerund vs. infinitive
The gerund form is widely used in Brazilian Portuguese to describe actions taking place at the time of communication, while European Portuguese usually eschews the gerund in favor of using the preposition a + infinitive.
The use of a + infinitive is such a foreign/archaic structure for Brazilian Portuguese speakers that none would doubt that a text using it was written by and/or for European Portuguese speakers, and vice-versa. Each structure is almost as alien to the other audience as a foreign language would be, and identifying which one is being used is one of the easiest ways to tell the variants apart.
4. Foreign words
European Portuguese is, generally speaking, more careful about the way it assimilates foreign words into its lexicon. It can occasionally adopt the word in its original written form (for example: metro, which maintains its original spelling from its language of origin) and pronunciation, but it usually translates words from other languages literally (for example: mouse in PT-PT has become rato, that is, the literal translation of the word mouse.)
Brazilians, on the other hand, are used to adopting words from foreign languages without any sort of translation or adaptation (mouse, for instance, has remained mouse in PT-BR) or adapting the spelling to a slightly more Portuguese-looking version (such as the verb delete, which has turned into deletar).
Here are a few other examples:
5. Spelling, accents & vocabulary
Throughout the modern history of the Portuguese language, there have been a few international treaties among Portuguese-speaking countries to standardize the orthography of their official language. Each new treaty brought the variants closer to a unified orthography, but none have managed to completely standardize it, as has happened with Spanish and its international spelling norm.
The most recent spelling agreement was signed in 1990, but not actively implemented in most Portuguese-speaking countries until the 2000s. However, since the new agreement still didn’t unify its spelling under a single norm, there are still significant, visual differences between both variants.
C and p before consonants
Many words in Portuguese have the letter c or the letter p occurring before another consonant; if their pronunciation was silent, they were removed from the spelling as per the new agreement. Nevertheless, since the pronunciation of those words was also not unified, the c and p have remained part of the orthography sometimes in one variant, sometimes in the other.
The way each variant deals with its diacritics is also different: in the Brazilian variant, the circumflex (^) and the acute accent (´) are widely used, denoting whether their corresponding vowels have “open” or “closed” pronunciation. In the Afro-European variant, on the other hand, the circumflex is rarely used, and the acute accent is used on words that either take the circumflex in PT-BR, or take no diacritic at all.
Vocabulary differences are significant
Due to the sparse cultural exchange between European Portuguese-speaking countries and Brazil, these differences can sometimes verge on the incomprehensible for an audience.
Therefore, should you find yourself unsure of which variant you have in front of you as you read a text, look for these five unmistakable signs, and you will immediately know which one it is —thus avoiding the honest mistake of presenting an audience with a text written for another, and ensuring that your target-audience feels you have paid attention to them.