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The Brazilian Wisdom of Portuguese Proverbs

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There’s something very satisfying about using a proverb that perfectly fits the situation. These gems of popular wisdom are passed from generation to generation, sometimes suffering alterations and adaptations, but always remaining witty or wise. Portuguese proverbs are no exception, carrying much meaning in a few words.

Proverbs are also a repository of local culture. Many times, a proverb only makes sense in one place or culture until explained, because it’s very closely tied to local traditions and mindsets. It’s also interesting to see how globalization, miscegenation, and cultural exchanges are reflected in proverbs.

Studying Brazilian proverbs will help you understand a bit more about the country and its people, and also increase your vocabulary. And who knows? It may even impart you with some age-old wisdom! 

In this article, we’ll dive into the curious world of Portuguese proverbs. With each proverb listed, we’ve included a literal translation, an equivalent in English (where one exists), and information about when you can use it. Hope you’re ready for a fun ride!

A Woman Stretching as She Gets Up in the Morning

Deus ajuda quem cedo madruga.
“God helps those who wake up early.”

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Portuguese Table of Contents
  1. Proverbs About Relationships
  2. Proverbs About Work and Success
  3. Proverbs About Life and Wisdom
  4. Proverbs About Overcoming Adversities
  5. Continue Learning Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

1. Proverbs About Relationships

Relationships make life all the more precious, but they can also be quite trying. Below are a few Portuguese proverbs about family, friendship, and romance to give you some cultural perspective on the topic! 

PortugueseDiga-me com quem andas e eu te direi quem és.
Literal translation“Tell me who you walk with, and I’ll tell you who you are.”
English equivalentA man is known by the company he keeps.
Language noteThe conjugation in this proverb is in second-person singular, which is considered more formal in most of Brazil. 
This saying means that the people we surround ourselves with is a good indication of our character. Another English proverb that comes to mind is, “Birds of a feather flock together.” 

Since people with similar values and dispositions tend to spend time together, we can know a lot about a person based on his/her friends. 

PortugueseCada macaco no seu galho
Literal translation“Each monkey on its own branch”
English equivalent“Every jack to his trade”
This is a witty way to say, “Mind your own business.” It indicates that each person has their place, and shouldn’t try to meddle in other people’s affairs.

Imagine that someone is feeding you some juicy gossip about one of your friends, and asks for your opinion. You could say: Cada macaco no seu galho, eu não sei. / “Each monkey on its own branch, I don’t know.”

PortugueseAmigos, amigos, negócios à parte.
Literal translation“Friends, friends, business aside.”
English equivalent“Business is business.”
This is a warning about the dangers of mixing friendship and money matters. When it comes to business, having a friend as a coworker or business partner can cause the demise of the friendship. 

This Portuguese proverb can be used for any similar situation, whenever professional and personal lives risk getting caught up in each other. For example, if you’re considering whether or not you should lend money to a friend, someone might tell you this proverb as a word of advice. 

PortugueseRoupa suja se lava em casa. 
Literal translation“Dirty laundry is washed at home.”
English equivalent“Don’t wash your dirty linen in public.”
Exactly like its English equivalent, this proverb means that one should not discuss private or family problems in public. 

Imagine a couple is in a shopping mall, and they begin a heated argument. One of their friends approaches and says: Agora não, roupa suja se lava em casa. / “Not now, dirty laundry is washed at home.”

PortuguesePor ele eu ponho minha mão no fogo.
Literal translation“For him, I put my hand on fire.”
Language noteYou can substitute the pronoun ele (“he”) for any other personal pronoun, or even the person’s name.
To ‘put a hand on fire’ for someone means you trust them completely—so much so that you would be willing to go through the terrible pain of having your hands burned for that person. Figuratively speaking, of course.

For example, if someone you trust very much is accused of doing something bad, you could say to everyone: Eu não acredito nisso, por ele eu ponho minha mão no fogo! / “I don’t believe it, for him, I put my hand on fire!”

PortugueseO que os olhos não veem, o coração não sente.
Literal translation“What the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t feel.”
English equivalent“Out of sight, out of mind.”
This proverb is common in several cultures, and can be applied to many scenarios. As long as the person doesn’t know about something, it can’t hurt them. 

The most traditional use, however, is to reference romantic relationships and affairs. 


PortugueseA união faz a força.
Literal translation“Unity is strength.”
English equivalent“United we stand, divided we fall.”
We all know it: When people come together, nothing can stop them! Or at least, that’s what this proverb means. It can be used when trying to finish a group project or when you need to convince your siblings to help you clean up quicker. 

PortuguesePimenta nos olhos dos outros é refresco.
Literal translation“Pepper on others’ eyes is a refreshing drink.”
English equivalent“Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.”
Just like its English equivalent, this Portuguese proverb means that misfortunes can seem less serious—or even funny—when they’re happening to someone else.

Let’s imagine you’re telling your friend about an embarrassing experience you just had, and your friend starts laughing. You could say: Pimenta nos olhos dos outros é refresco, quero ver se fosse com você. / “Pepper on others’ eyes is a refreshing drink, I’d like to see if it were you.”

PortugueseAntes só que mal acompanhado.
English equivalent“Better alone than in bad company.”
Here’s another proverb that has a direct equivalent in English. Sometimes it’s preferable to be alone than to be with someone who causes us pain or wants to bring us down. 

If you have a friend who’s keeping bad company, don’t hesitate to tell them: Você tem que cuidar de si mesmo, lembra que antes só que mal acompanhado. / “You have to take care of yourself, remember that ‘better alone than in bad company.’ “

PortugueseFilho de peixe, peixinho é.
Literal translation“Son of fish is little fish.”
English equivalent“Like father, like son.”
This Brazilian proverb is used to highlight the similarities between parents and their children. Another English equivalent is, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Someone might say this when a child shows interest in the same career as their parent. 

    → Want to learn more sentences about friendship and relationships? Check out our vocabulary list on the Top 10 Quotes About Friendship and practice your pronunciation!

A Picture of a Monkey on a Tree Branch

Cada macaco no seu galho.
“Each monkey on its own branch.”

2. Proverbs About Work and Success

Hard work is an inescapable part of life, and we all hope that our efforts will bring us success. Here are some Portuguese proverbs to inspire and motivate you to be your best. 

PortugueseDeus ajuda a quem cedo madruga.
Literal translation“God helps those who wake up early.”
English equivalent“The early bird catches the worm.”
A similar idea is conveyed in proverbs around the world: wake up early to improve your odds in life. Note that religiosity is present in the Portuguese saying, unlike in its English equivalent.

You could imagine a mother saying this to her children after dinner: Hora de ir para cama. Deus ajuda quem cedo madruga. / “Time to go to bed. God helps those who wake up early.”

PortugueseNão deixe para amanhã o que você pode fazer hoje.
English equivalent“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
Procrastinators are sure to have heard this saying many times. Although one could argue whether this proverb holds a universal truth or not, it’s a good idea to become familiar with it. After all, we have the tendency to think that our schedules and to-do lists in the future will be emptier than they are now…but experience shows that’s not always the case.

Imagine you’re trying to convince a friend to finish his part of the group assignment. You might say: Você consegue fazer a sua parte bem rápido. Não deixe para amanhã o que você pode fazer hoje! / “You can do your part really quickly. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today!”

PortugueseDe grão em grão, a galinha enche o papo.
Literal translation“Grain by grain, the hen fills her belly.”
English equivalent“Little strokes fell great oaks.”
Slowly but surely, we can achieve our goals. With a bit of patience and persistence, we can finish big projects and get far in life. This Portuguese proverb paints a picture in our minds of a hen pecking away, one grain at a time, until she’s no longer hungry.

PortugueseA pressa é inimiga da perfeição.
Literal translation“Haste is the enemy of perfection.”
English equivalent“Haste makes waste.”
Doing things in a hurry can lead to many mistakes and sacrifice the quality of our efforts. Who can’t remember a time when they overlooked an important detail in order to deliver more quickly?

Imagine a mother has just asked her children to help wash the dishes. If they start doing it quickly and poorly, she would surely say: Lave os pratos com mais calma. A pressa é inimiga da perfeição. / “Wash the dishes more slowly. Haste makes waste.”

PortugueseQuem tem boca vai a Roma.
Literal translation“Who has a mouth goes to Rome.”
English equivalent“Better to ask the way than to go astray.”
There are actually two versions of this proverb, and there’s some debate as to which one is the correct and original version: 
  • Quem tem boca vai a Roma. / “Who has a mouth goes to Rome.”
  • Quem tem boca vaia Roma. / “Who has a mouth boos Rome.” 
The latter means that we need to speak up against wrong or negative attitudes.

Regardless, the first form is more widely used. It means that asking questions takes us a long way, so we should feel free to ask away! 

PortugueseO barato sai caro.
Literal translation“The cheap ends up expensive.”
English equivalent“You get what you pay for.”
Saving some money upfront when purchasing a product or service might come back to haunt us, especially if it means opting for a lower-quality version. 

For example, buying a cheap used car might be a good deal at first—but if the car comes with a lot of problems, the repair fees might be much more expensive than the car itself. In that case: O barato sai caro. / “The cheap ends up expensive.”


PortugueseNem tudo o que reluz é ouro. 
Literal translation“Not everything that shines is gold.”
English equivalent“All that glitters is not gold.”
This Portuguese proverb has the same meaning as: As aparências enganam. / “Appearances deceive.”

Just because something shines, it doesn’t mean it’s valuable. It could very well be a cheap imitation or even a wolf in sheep’s clothing. So be attentive and careful when making judgements about something’s value.

PortugueseCavalo dado não se olha os dentes.
Literal translation“In a given horse, we don’t look at the teeth.”
English equivalent“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
This proverb (or a very close version of it) is present in English, French, Italian, and other languages. By looking at the teeth of a horse, it’s possible to determine its approximate age and thus avoid being swindled in a negotiation. An ill-intentioned seller could very well try to sell you an older horse by making it appear younger, but looking at the horse’s teeth would alert you of such a scam. 

However, when it comes to gifts, it isn’t polite to do that. This proverb means that you should never refuse a gift nor show dissatisfaction with it. 

Lots of Jewelry and a Golden Watch

Nem tudo o que reluz é ouro. 
“Not everything that shines is gold.”

3. Proverbs About Life and Wisdom

We all try to live our lives to the fullest and in the best way possible, and we require a good dose of wisdom to do so. Here are some Portuguese proverbs about life to give you that additional wisdom and insight! 

PortugueseCão que ladra não morde.
Literal translation“Dog that barks doesn’t bite.”
English equivalent“Barking dogs seldom bite.”
Dogs that are always barking are also the least likely to bite. Likewise, this proverb says that those who easily make threats rarely take action. But again, we could argue over the truth of this proverb since it might be better not to tempt a dog. 

You could hear this proverb in the context of a romantic relationship, in which one person is always saying they will leave. In this case, people might say: Duvido que ele vá terminar o namoro. Cão que ladra não morde. / “I doubt he is going to end the relationship. Barking dogs seldom bite.”

PortugueseQuem com ferro fere, com ferro será ferido.
Literal translation“Who hurts with iron, with iron will be hurt.”
English equivalent“Live by the sword, die by the sword.”
This is a way of saying, “What goes around, comes around,” in Portuguese. It means that a person’s bad deeds will come back to them in a similar fashion.

This proverb might come up in a conversation about a person who is always harming others. You could then say: Uma hora ele vai aprender que quem com ferro fere, com ferro será ferido. / “One day he will learn that who hurts with iron, with iron will be hurt.”

PortugueseCasa de ferreiro, espeto de pau. 
Literal translation“Blacksmith’s house, wooden skewer.”
English equivalent“The shoemaker’s son always goes barefoot.”
Just because someone has a specific skill or profession doesn’t mean they can put it into practice when it comes to themselves or their families. For example, imagine a teacher who never helps their own children with their homework or a doctor who smokes.

PortugueseSaco vazio não para em pé.
Literal translation“Empty sack doesn’t stand still.”
English equivalent“An empty sack cannot stand upright.”
We all know, intuitively, what this saying means: without food, we have no energy to do anything—just like how an empty sack will collapse onto itself when empty, but stand upright when full of potatoes!

You can use this proverb when your boss is holding you up, and all you want to do is have lunch: Daqui a pouco continuamos. Saco vazio não para em pé! / “We’ll continue soon. Empty sack doesn’t stand still.”

PortugueseO seguro morreu de velho. 
Literal translation“The safe person died of old age.”
English equivalent“Better safe than sorry.”
A person who plays it safe and takes care of possible issues before they even occur will die of old age, and not of a preventable disease or accident. Just be careful and protect yourself.

Another proverb with the same meaning in Portuguese is: Um homem prevenido vale por dois. / “A prepared man is worth two.” Its English equivalent would be: “A stitch in time saves nine.”

PortugueseMente vazia, oficina do diabo. 
Literal translation“Empty mind, devil’s workshop”
English equivalent“An idle brain is the devil’s workshop.”
This Portuguese proverb means that if you have nothing to do or to occupy your mind with, you’re more likely to do something bad or mischievous. 

Imagine a grandmother and her teenage grandson living together. The grandmother might think the grandson is spending too much time at home doing nothing productive, and say: Por que você não procura um trabalho? Mente vazia, oficina do diabo. / “Why don’t you look for a job? Empty mind, devil’s workshop.”


PortugueseDe médico e louco todo mundo tem um pouco.
Literal translation“Of doctor and crazy, everybody has a little.”
No one is completely sane, according to this proverb. Everybody has a bit of insanity within them, as well as a responsible side. Just like in the novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both sides of our personality exist. 

PortugueseEm terra de cego, quem tem um olho é rei.
English equivalent“In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
This proverb means that you don’t need to be a genius to make the most of an opportunity. For example, having a little bit of knowledge or experience on a topic that those around you do not have can give you a leg up. 

Imagine your company has many technical employees. They’re good at coding, but no one is interested or experienced in business strategy. But if you, as a technical employee, did have this interest or experience, you could quickly climb the ranks. 

PortugueseQuem canta seus males espanta.
Literal translation“Who sings scares away his woes.”
Dom Quixote de la Mancha is known for using this famous saying. The proverb means that singing is good for the soul and will lift your spirits. Next time you’re feeling down, try and put it to the test!

PortugueseNão julgue um livro pela capa.
English equivalent“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Appearances don’t tell the full story of a person, so don’t judge somebody only by their looks or superficial interactions. Take time to read the book—or get to know the person—before making any judgements.

You might hear this proverb, for example, after meeting a very stern-looking person. A friend might tell you: Não julgue um livro pela capa. Ele é muito gentil e bem intencionado. / “Don’t judge a book by its cover. He is very kind and well-meaning.”

PortugueseMentira tem perna curta.
Literal translation“A lie has short legs.”
English equivalent“A lie has no legs.”
According to this proverb, lies are short-lived and can’t go too far before being discovered. This saying exists in several languages, including Italian and Spanish.

PortugueseNão adianta chorar pelo leite derramado.
English equivalent“It’s no use crying over spilled milk.”
This is a reminder that there’s no use stressing out or being sad about things that have already happened. If it can’t be changed or undone, it’s better not to worry about it.

This proverb is originally English, and it was recorded for the first known time in 1659 in the form: “No weeping for shed milk.” In Brazil, the proverb continues to be popular—you can still find children’s books including a story about a farmer girl who spills all the milk she intended to sell and, as you can imagine, cries over it.

PortugueseNão ponha a carroça na frente dos bois.
Literal translation“Don’t put the cart before the oxen.”
English equivalent“Don’t put the cart before the horse.”
This proverb is especially useful when dealing with a hurried person. The saying suggests that people shouldn’t try to hurry things too much, skipping important steps along the way just to complete tasks quicker. It also reminds us to let things run their natural course. 

It’s interesting how the English equivalent mentions horses, while the Portuguese one uses oxen. Although horses are used much more in Brazil as well, using oxen was common during colonial times and is still the norm in some parts of the country.

You could use this proverb when a friend starts telling you about his plans to buy a car and travel the world, before he’s even started working: E com que dinheiro você vai fazer isso tudo? Não ponha a carroça na frente dos bois. / “And with what money are you going to do all of that? Don’t put the cart before the oxen.”

A Man Singing while Listening to Music on His Headphones

Quem canta seus males espanta.
“Who sings scares away his woes.”

4. Proverbs About Overcoming Adversities

Sometimes life hits us hard, people hurt us, and things just don’t go our way. It’s important to remember that you’re never alone in your pain, and that things will always get better in the end. Below are some of the best Portuguese proverbs to help you (or a loved one!) get through tough times. 

PortugueseUm dia é da caça, outro, do caçador.
Literal translation“One day is the hunted’s, another is the hunter’s.”
English equivalent“Every dog has its day.”
We all have good days and bad days. Sometimes things work in our favor, and sometimes they don’t. That’s just a part of life. Keep that in mind when things look grim: a good day is never too far away.

This proverb can be used to cheer somebody up or to give them the motivation they need to continue working toward their goals. For example, imagine someone in your family didn’t get the job they wanted. You could tell them: Não desista; lembre que um dia é da caça, outro do caçador. / “Don’t give up, remember that one day for the hunted, another for the hunter.”

PortugueseQuem não tem cão caça com gato.
Literal translation“Who doesn’t have a dog, hunts with a cat.”
English equivalent“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”
It’s said that the original version of this proverb was: Quem não tem gato, caça como gato. / “Those without a cat, hunt like a cat.” In that case, it would mean that, when the situation requires, people might have to be sneaky and cunning like a cat hunting prey. 

Nowadays, the version we listed is overwhelmingly more popular. It suggests that we need to improvise and use whatever we have available to solve problems, even if the tools we have aren’t ideal.

PortugueseÁgua mole em pedra dura, tanto bate até que fura.
Literal translation“Soft water, hard stone, beats until it punctures.”
English equivalent“Water dripping day by day wears the hardest rock away.”
The Roman poet Ovid wrote that “dripping water hollows out stone,” and this is the origin of similar proverbs in other languages.

The idea is that with perseverance and consistency, we can achieve even the hardest tasks.


PortugueseDeus escreve certo por linhas tortas.
Literal translation“God writes straight over crooked lines.”
Here’s another proverb with a strong religious connotation. This saying means that, even when facing adversities, you can expect some good to come of it. This might be because there’s a divine plan laid out for you, because of destiny, or simply because you’re an optimist…it’s up to you to decide!

PortugueseHá males que vêm para o bem.
Literal translation“There are evils that come for good.”
English equivalent“A blessing in disguise.”
Sometimes we don’t see it immediately, but the negative or difficult situations we face could have positive outcomes. 

Maybe you lost a job opportunity, just to find out later that it was all a scam. Or perhaps you were rejected by a love interest who wasn’t that good of a person. Sometimes, bad experiences turn out to be good things!

A Kitten and a Puppy against a White Background

Quem não tem cão, caça com gato.
“Who doesn’t have a dog, hunts with a cat.”

5. Continue Learning Portuguese with PortuguesePod101

Now you’re ready to start using these smart-sounding Portuguese proverbs in a variety of situations! But don’t stop here! There are many more fun and interesting sayings used in Brazil, so you should continue learning Portuguese, expanding your vocabulary, and sounding profoundly wise!  

Did you find this article helpful? Did we miss any popular proverbs you know? Drop us a comment with your thoughts!

And now, it’s time to continue your Portuguese learning journey. You can read more in-depth articles about the language and culture on our blog page, or scour through our vocabulary lists or the other free resources on PortuguesePod101.com.

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