Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
PortuguesePod101.com Blog
Learn Portuguese with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

The Top 10 Common Mistakes in Portuguese to Avoid

Thumbnail

Most people would agree that Portuguese is a complicated language. Add to this the sheer number of people speaking the language around the world, and making mistakes in Portuguese is actually pretty common! Even native speakers confuse certain grammar rules or use the wrong word when trying to show off their vocabulary. As you move along in your Portuguese-learning journey, you’re bound to make some errors yourself…and that’s part of the process! 

Mistakes are actually an important part of improving your language skills, and they also provide an amazing opportunity to engage with native speakers and get feedback. Besides, the entire process of understanding why something is wrong and working to address it is a valuable skill you can use in other domains of your life! So see the mistakes for what they are: a completely normal and essential part of learning Portuguese. 

This article will help you understand what some of the most common mistakes are and how to correct them. From pronunciation tips to grammar rules and vocabulary mishaps, we’ll cover every mistake in Portuguese you need to know and how to fix or avoid them! 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Portuguese Table of Contents
  1. Pronunciation Mistakes
  2. Vocabulary Word Mistakes
  3. Word Order Mistakes
  4. Grammar Mistakes
  5. In the Real World
  6. The King of All Mistakes
  7. Learn More Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

Stressed Woman Holding Her Head with Her Hand

Worried about Portuguese mistakes? Don’t sweat it!

1. Pronunciation Mistakes

Most sounds in Portuguese are familiar to English-speakers. That’s great news! But a few peculiar Portuguese sounds can be challenging to master, and therefore, pronunciation mistakes are quite common for foreigners. However, this kind of error in Portuguese is fairly easy to spot, so you should have no problems as you work to improve your pronunciation skills and get over these common mistakes. 

1 – Nasal Sounds

Nasal sounds are all about…you guessed it, the nose. More specifically, the air released through the nose. If it sounds odd, just think about what happens when you hum: you naturally force the release of air through the nose, as you make the sound. That’s exactly what should happen when you pronounce a nasal sound, only now, your mouth should be open.

In Portuguese, you’ll encounter nasal sounds in certain situations:

  • When the ~ (til) is used: Ã and Õ
       For example: maçã (“apple”), pão (“bread”), leões (“lions”)
  • When a vowel is followed by an M or N.
       For example: mentira (“lie”), cantar (“to sing”), atum (“tuna”)

The best way to get the hang of nasal sounds is to do a lot of listening and speaking practice. 

2 – Open and Closed Vowels

A single vowel can have both open and closed sounds in Portuguese. Sometimes, the accent mark used will clearly indicate how to pronounce it, although that’s not always the case.

VowelExamplePronounce as in the word
APapa (“Pope”)“Father”
EMel (“Honey”)Chapéu (“Hat”)“Get”
Closed EVocê (“You”)Mesmo (“Same”)“Way”
IIlha (“Island”)“Penny
OPorta (“Door”)Órbita (“Orbit”)“Got”
Closed OFolha (“Leaf”)Robô (“Robot”)“Most”
ULuz (“Light”)“Flu

When you see the acute accent (´), like in the word chapéu (“hat”), expect to encounter an open vowel sound. On the other hand, the circumflex accent (^), like the one in você (“you”), indicates a closed vowel sound. In this case, the vowel should be pronounced with the lips slightly more closed. 

Another thing to keep in mind when you encounter accents is that they indicate which syllable should be stressed or emphasized when pronouncing it.

3 – Intonation

Intonation is particularly important in differentiating between questions and statements. In Portuguese, it’s possible to use the same sentence structure to do both things, changing only the intonation.

If your question uses any of the question words—such as quem (“who”), quando (“when”), onde (“where”), and others—it’s easier to identify a question. Of course, intonation is still an important aspect even in those cases. But it really bears weight when you don’t use question words at all.

Luckily, the intonation you have to adopt is the same as in English: raise your voice at the end of the sentence to make it sound like a question. If you’re curious to learn all the details and nuances of Brazilian Portuguese intonation and sound very scholarly next time you discuss the topic, here’s an entire academic study about it!

A Group of Friends Chatting with Drinks

Master Portuguese pronunciation and feel confident!

2. Vocabulary Word Mistakes

Another type of mistake Portuguese-learners and native speakers alike make relates to vocabulary. Sometimes, we’re just excited to use a new word and don’t really understand its nuanced meaning. Let’s see how to avoid some of the most common Portuguese vocabulary mistakes.

1 – False Friends

There are many Portuguese words that might look familiar to an English-speaker, and in some cases, those similar words have the same meaning. For example, família translates to “family,” universo means “universe,” and elefante is “elephant.”

Unfortunately, not every word that looks the same actually has the same meaning. That’s exactly the case with false friends. Those tricky words appear to be the same or very similar, but their meanings are different. Here are some common examples of false friends to keep in mind.

False friendsWhat you should say instead
Amassar = “to crush”Acumular = “to amass”
Entender = “to understand”Pretender = “to intend”
Pretender = “to intend”Fingir = “to pretend”
Assumir = “to take over”Presumir = “to assume”
Avisar = “to warn”Aconselhar = “to advise”
Advertir = “to warn”Anunciar = “to advertise”
Pular = “to jump”Puxar = “to pull”
Puxar = “to pull”Empurrar = “to push”
Suportar = “to withstand,” “to tolerate”Apoiar = “to support”
Assistir = “to watch”Ajudar = “to assist”
Enrolar = “to roll up”Inscrever = “to enroll”
Recordar = “to remember,” “to recall”Gravar = “to record”
Resumir = “to summarize”Continuar = “to resume”
Noticiar = “to inform,” “to report”Reparar, Perceber = “to notice”
Procurar = “to look for”Obter, Adquirir = “to procure”

False friends continuedWhat you should say instead
Balcão = “counter”Sacada = “balcony”
Taxa = “rate,” “fee”Imposto = “tax”
Recipiente = “container”Beneficiário = “recipient”
Atualmente = “currently”Na realidade = “actually”
Costume = “habit”Fantasia = “costume”
Educado = “polite”Instruído = “educated”
Estrangeiro = “foreigner”Estranho = “stranger”
Parentes = “relatives”Pais = “parents”
Novela = “soap opera” Romance = “novel” 
Êxito = “success”Saída = “exit”
Lanche = “snack”Almoço = “lunch”
Legenda = “subtitles”Lenda = “legend”
Injúria = “insult”Ferimento = “injury”
Livraria = “bookshop”Biblioteca = “library”
Esperto = “clever”Especialista = “expert”

2 – Similar Portuguese Words

One letter or one extra space can make all the difference in meaning. Some pairs of words are prone to causing a lot of confusion, especially when writing. Check them out:

Mas = “but”Mais = “more,” “plus”
Mal = “badly” – an adverb or nounMau = “bad,” “evil” – an adjective
Bem = “well” – antonym of mal Bom = “good” – antonym of mau
Agente = “agent”A gente = “us,” “we”

Besides the pairs listed above, there’s a group of similar words that gets people confused:

  • Por que = “why”
    Por que não vamos no cinema hoje? (“Why are we not going to the movie theater today?”)
  • Porque = “because”
    Porque seu pai está doente. (“Because your father is sick.”)
  • Por quê = “why” – at the end of the sentence or as a stand-alone sentence
    Você desistiu, por quê? (“You gave up, why?”)
    Por quê? (“Why?”)
  • Porquê = “the reason why”
    O porquê eu não sei. (“The reason why, I don’t know.”)

And as a bonus, if you want to really impress your Portuguese-speaking friends, you can explain to them the difference between these expressions that sound exactly the same:

  • Acerca de = “about”
  • Há cerca de = “about this long ago” (state how long right after)
  • A cerca de = “the fence of” (yes, as in a physical property limit)
A Man in a Suit Holding a Question Mark Sign in Front of His Face

False friends and similar-looking words can cause a lot of confusion.

3. Word Order Mistakes

Putting words in the right order is just as important as choosing the right words! 

As a quick recap, remember that Portuguese follows the Subject + Verb + Object structure. That said, let’s jump right into the most common word order mistakes.

1 – Adjectives

Most of the time, the adjective comes after the noun it refers to. For example:

  • Eu gosto de vinho tinto. (“I like red wine.”)
  • Ela não come comidas picantes. (“She doesn’t eat spicy food.”)

If you inverted the word order in those examples, the sentences wouldn’t make sense. However, because Portuguese is never completely straightforward, there are some exceptions! 

Sometimes, the adjective can come before the noun. Below are a couple of tips to help you know where the adjective should go.

  • When the adjective is adding an objective or direct attribute to the noun, place it afterwards:
    Ganhei um presente grande. (“I got a big gift.”) – a large gift
  • When the adjective is adding a more subjective, connotative, or even poetic attribute to the noun, it can be placed beforehand:
    Ganhei um grande presente. (“I got a great gift.”)

Unfortunately, this is not a rule that works every time. 

  • Seu livro antigo (“Your old book”)
  • Seu antigo livro (“Your old book”)

As you can see above, both sentences work and the meaning does not change. With time and practice, knowing the position of the adjective will become more natural to you. But in case you have any doubts, opt to place it after the substantive!

2 – Position of Reflexive Pronouns

When we use certain verbs in Portuguese, it’s necessary to use reflexive pronouns. Because many Portuguese reflexive verbs are not reflexive in English, this causes some confusion. Thus, the improper placement of reflexive pronouns is an error Portuguese-learners make often! 

In Brazil, you’ll usually hear people placing the reflexive pronoun before the verb. However, it’s also correct to place the pronoun after the verb, and this is very common in Portugal. Compare both forms below:

  • Eles se banharam. (“They bathed.”)
  • Eles banharam-se. (“They bathed.”)

We suggest that you learn and use the first form, as it’s simpler and will be widely understood. So, remember that the pronoun goes immediately before the verb.

  • Nós nos conhecemos na festa. (“We met each other at the party.”)
  • Eu não me arrumei. (“I didn’t get ready.”)
  • Eles se odiaram assim que se conheceram. (“They hated each other as soon as they met.”)

A Chef about to Cut a Yellow Cake

Um bolo amarelo (“A yellow cake”), not um amarelo bolo.

→ Discover more about the Top 5 Portuguese Mistakes to Avoid on PortuguesePod101.com!

4. Grammar Mistakes

Oh, grammar. Not the coolest kid on the block, we have to admit. But by understanding and avoiding these common mistakes, your Portuguese will improve by leaps and bounds!

1 – Gender Agreement

Nouns in Portuguese can be masculine or feminine, even when it doesn’t really make sense—who says a knife is female? Regardless, this is how Portuguese grammar works. Keeping this gender factor in mind, the article that comes before the noun has to agree with the gender.

As a rule of thumb, most words that end in -a are feminine, and most words that end in -o are masculine. Take a look: 

Feminine words
  • A mesa (“the table”)
  • A casa (“the house”)
  • A ideia (“the idea”)
  • Uma cama (“a bed”)
  • Uma escova (“a brush”)
  • Uma máquina (“a machine”)
Masculine words
  • O barco (“the boat”)
  • O pato (“the duck”)
  • O tronco (“the trunk”)
  • Um colchão (“a mattress”)
  • Um garfo (“a fork”)
  • Um livro (“a book”)

Of course, there are always exceptions in Portuguese. For example:

  • Dia (“day”) is masculine → O dia (“the day”)
  • Planeta (“planet”) is masculine → Um planeta (“a planet”)

If the words don’t end in -a or -o, it’s a matter of looking it up online and trying to remember as best as you can!

  • A colher (“the spoon”)
  • O mar (“the sea”)
  • A cruz (“the cross”)
  • O rapaz (“the guy,” “the boy”)

You might also come across words that have both genders or vary in gender depending on their meaning. 

  • Mascote (“mascot”) may have either gender → A mascote (feminine); o mascote (masculine)
  • Rádio (“radio”) changes gender → A rádio (“the radio station,” feminine word); o rádio (device used to listen to radio stations, masculine word)

It might look a bit complicated at first, but don’t give up! With time, it will become easier and easier to master the gender of words in Portuguese.

2 – To Be or Not to Be: Ser vs. Estar

Unlike in English, in Portuguese, we have two verbs that mean “to be”: ser and estar. At first, it may be quite confusing for you, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll never make this mistake again!

Here’s the trick: Think of the difference between the two verbs in terms of permanence and impermanence.

You can be something permanently (or at least for a long time): a nationality or profession. In this case, use the verb ser.

  • Eu sou médico. (“I am a doctor.”)
  • Eu sou alta. (“I am tall.”)

Or you can be something for a short period of time (temporarily): you can be cold, you can be sunblind, or you can be in school. In this case, use the verb estar.

  • Você está bem? (“Are you alright?”)
  • Eu estou nervosa. (“I am nervous.”)

The verb estar is also commonly used as an auxiliary verb in continuous tenses, when you want to say that you “were doing” or “are doing” something.

  •  Eu estou saindo agora. (“I am leaving now.”)
  • Você estava contando uma história. (“You were telling a story.”)

3 – Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

When making comparisons in Portuguese, there are some rules you should follow:

  • More than → mais [adjective] que
  • Less than, fewer than → menos [adjective] que 

However, some of the most common comparative adjectives are irregular. On the positive side, they’re not all that different from the irregular comparatives in English.

  • Bigger than → maior
  • Smaller than → menor
  • Better than → melhor que
  • Worse than → pior que

Now you know you should never say mais bom!

What about the superlatives? In some ways, handling these can be easier in Portuguese than in English. Instead of having different superlatives for each adjective, you can add one of the following expressions:

  • O mais [adjective] O mais alto (“The tallest” – male)
  • A mais [adjective] → A mais alta (“The tallest”- female)
  • O menos [adjective] → O menos engraçado (“The least funny” – male)
  • A menos [adjective] → A menos engraçada (“The least funny” – female)

The exceptions are the same adjectives mentioned before:

  • The biggest → o maior
  • The smallest → o menor
  • The best → o melhor
  • The worst → o pior 

Portuguese does have more superlatives than those listed above. However, they’re not frequently used in colloquial conversation, so for the scope of this article, we won’t discuss them.

A Girl Trying on Shoes at a Shoe Store

Preciso de um sapato maior. (“I need a bigger shoe.”)

5. In the Real World

When covering common Portuguese mistakes, we also have to address some of the real-life situations you might face. Like every other language, Portuguese is constantly evolving and changing. As you travel around Brazil and meet native speakers from different parts of the country, you might notice that spoken Portuguese has many “incorrect” formations. 

There’s a rich and complex discussion around this topic, with experts and researchers arguing that there’s no one right way to speak a language, and that there’s no one way that’s better than another. 

Why is this important? Well, you might be puzzled when hearing some grammatically incorrect phrases from native Portuguese-speakers, and it’s important to recognize when they’re acceptable.

To highlight this point, take the case of using tu and você. Both words translate to “you” and both are second person singular pronouns. However, when using você, verbs are conjugated in the third person singular. 

  • Você é alto. (“You are tall.”)
  • Tu és alto. (“You are tall.”)

The examples above are officially correct. But in some parts of Brazil, like the state of Rio Grande do Sul, tu is conjugated in the third person singular (like você). Although not dictionary-perfect, we can hardly say that they’re making a mistake. This is just an historical evolution in the spoken Portuguese of the region. 

Depending on where in Brazil you want to go or which form (and accent) of Portuguese you prefer learning, you might end up discovering interesting variations of the spoken language. 

6. The King of All Mistakes

We’ve covered all kinds of common Portuguese mistakes so far, from pronunciation to word order and grammar. 

But you know what? The biggest mistake of them all is being afraid of making mistakes. Many studies have already shown that making mistakes is essential in improving one’s learning. So when the fear of making mistakes stops you from trying, experimenting, saying the wrong thing, or using the wrong word order…you’re actually robbing yourself of another learning opportunity. 

Just think about it. When we make mistakes, our attention focuses on how to correct those errors. It also makes us want to understand why it was incorrect and focus our efforts on improving. On the other hand, when we’re right, there’s a sense of not having to be in our sharpest state of mind. 

This is true in many different areas of our lives, but this is especially true when it comes to learning a new language. After all, we need to use different mechanisms in our brain, such as recalling things from memory and associating words and sounds with images in our mind. This requires practice—lots and lots of practice. 

So if there’s one main takeaway from this article, let it be this: Go forth and make mistakes! Afterwards, try to understand those mistakes and work hard to overcome them…and then make other mistakes!

If this concept still makes you cringe a little, here are three handy tips to help you feel better and bounce back quicker when you make mistakes.

1. Welcome corrections. Whenever you get a chance to talk with other Portuguese-speakers, ask them to point out your mistakes. Since you’re asking for corrections, it will feel more comfortable. 

2. Try to use the correct form after identifying a mistake, to solidify the correct form in your mind.

3. Talk openly about errors. By talking about your most common difficulties and mistakes with peers, you’ll encourage them to adopt a positive mindset about mistakes and feel better about your own.

Young People Having a Celebration Party

Celebrate your mistakes! They’re an important part of your journey.

7. Learn More Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

We really hope this article helped you identify some common Portuguese mistakes you might be making. But even more importantly, we hope it has changed the way you think about making mistakes! Be proud of your errors—and the improvement that follows as you continue on your language-learning journey. Come back to this article whenever you need some encouragement or want to refresh your memory.

What did you think about the mistakes we covered today? Do you think we forgot an important aspect? Tell us in the comments!

To take your skills to the next level, continue exploring PortuguesePod101.com! There are lots of free Portuguese resources and vocabulary lists to prepare you for any situation. Go ahead and choose your favorite tools to expand your learning opportunities.

If you want to take your learning experience further, members of PortuguesePod101.com get access to the largest language lesson library in the world, with thousands of real lessons by real teachers. Perfect for anyone who wants to learn from anywhere, feel motivated, and be ready to speak Portuguese with confidence. 

Happy learning!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Portuguese