Spanish vs. Portuguese: What are the similarities & differences?

Looking to learn a new language but can’t decide between Spanish and Portuguese? This guide will break down the differences to let you make the best decision for your future.

Deciding to learn a new language is an admirable goal, but how exactly do you decide which one to learn? With so many exciting and useful languages out there, it can be hard to choose a language to master. After all, starting to learn a new language from scratch is a significant commitment that will require hours and hours of study.

However, learning a new language is also an unimaginably fulfilling experience, as becoming fluent in a language other than your own will open doors that you never even knew existed. If you’ve got your eyes set on Spanish and Portuguese, just imagine yourself ordering a sangría in perfect Spanish in the streets of Valencia or navigating a beautiful Brazilian beach. These experiences are only available to those who go through the extensive yet rewarding process of learning a new language.

So, how do you know which language is for you? Below, we’ll cover the similarities and differences between Spanish and Portuguese to give you the most complete idea of what it’s like to learn either of these languages. By the end, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision as to which language to pick up.

Table of contents

Is Portuguese similar to Spanish?

Portuguese and Spanish are relatively similar languages. According to a journal article by the Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the estimated level of mutual intelligibility between Portuguese and Spanish is around 50% to 60%. That means that speaking one of the two languages will allow you to understand a little over half of the other language.



One of the biggest similarities between Portuguese and Spanish is the alphabet. Both the Portuguese and Spanish alphabets are based on the Latin alphabet, which is the same alphabet used in English. However, Spanish has one more consonant with the letter ñ. Portuguese also has this sound, but it uses nh instead.

This makes reading much easier than listening as both languages share a very similar written form, with many words having identical or near-identical spellings. So, if you speak one of the two languages, you’ll be able to read the other language without much trouble.

Conjugation rules

Both Portuguese and Spanish have comprehensive conjugation rules. Although the conjugation patterns are different, they work in very similar ways. Verb forms change depending on who is doing the action and the verb tense.

Regular verbs follow a predictable pattern. These verbs have a part made up of one or more syllables that remain unchanged through the conjugations. This part is known as the verb stem, and the rest is known as a verb ending. Here are the conjugations for the verb “to run” in Portuguese and Spanish.

English Portuguese pronoun Conjugated verb Spanish pronoun Conjugated verb
I eat Eu Corro Yo Corro
You eat Tu Corres Corres
He/she eats Ele / Ela Corre Él / ella Corre
We eat Nós Corremos Nosotros Corremos
You eat Vós Correis Ustedes Corren
They eat Eles / Elas Correm Ellos / ellas Corren

Notice how they’re both very similar? You won’t struggle too much to understand the conjugation rules of the other language if you’re already familiar with one of them.

Irregular verbs, however, are a different story. As you can probably tell by their name, these verbs do not follow a conjugation pattern. Instead, you will have to memorize their conjugations. Here are the conjugations for the verb “to be” in both languages:

English Portuguese pronoun Conjugated verb Spanish pronoun Conjugated verb
I am Eu sou Yo soy
You are Tu és eres
He/she is Ele / Ela é Él / ella es
We are Nós somos Nosotros somos
You are Vós estais Ustedes están
They are Eles / Elas são Ellos / ellas son

Verb tenses

Both languages have a relatively complex verb tense structure. Spanish has 23 verb tenses and 4 moods, while Portuguese has 20 verb tenses and 4 moods. In comparison, English only has 12 verb tenses, so you’ll have to get more comfortable with verb tenses if you’re looking to learn either of these languages.

Null-subject language

Both Spanish and Portuguese are null-subject languages. This means you can drop the subject, which is the person doing the action, and the sentence would still make sense. That’s because the conjugated verb has the information of who is doing the action, so there is no need to repeat it with the subject.

English isn’t a null-subject language, so we can’t just say, “Are American.” We have to say, “You are Mexican,” because we wouldn’t otherwise know who is American. In Spanish, however, you can say, “Tú eres americano” or “Eres americano.” Both are perfectly fine. The same is true in Portuguese, as you can say, “Você é americano” or “És americano.”

What are the main differences between Portuguese and Spanish?

Portuguese and Spanish are, of course, different languages, so it’s not all similarities between the two. Since they’re not mutually intelligible, there are certain things that you have to keep in mind as you compare and contrast both languages. Let’s take a look at some of these differences.


Phonology and pronunciation

The most significant difference between Spanish and Portuguese is that Portuguese has a far richer phonology, meaning it has more sounds than Spanish. For example, Spanish has only five vowels, while Portuguese has nine.

In Spanish, almost every single phoneme is tied to a single letter. That means that almost all letters are pronounced exactly the same, regardless of the letter around it or the local accent. In Portuguese, however, this is not the case, as several phonemes can be assigned to many letters. This means that the sound a letter makes will vary depending on the letter before and also depending on the location. Notably, Portuguese pronunciation rules are very different from Brazilian pronunciation rules.

Grammatical differences

There are a few grammar differences between Spanish and Portuguese worth pointing out, but none are particularly significant. Here are some of the biggest grammatical differences between these two languages:

  • Use of definite article in Portuguese. Portuguese uses the definitive article more frequently than Spanish. For example, you’d say “Vou ao Brasil” (I am going to the Brazil) in Portuguese, but “Voy a Brazil” (I am going to Brazil) in Spanish.
  • Contracting prepositions. Spanish prepositions don’t contract with the exception of del (de + el) and al (a + el). Portuguese prepositions, on the other hand, almost always contract. Some examples are duma (de + uma), aos (a + os), and pelo (por + o), although there are many more.
  • Personal infinitive. As opposed to Spanish and most romance languages, the Portuguese infinitive must be conjugated according to the person doing the action. For example, the infinitive verb ir (to go) would be conjugated as ires in the second person singular.
  • Gender. This is one of the trickiest parts of grammar to master for those who speak both Spanish and Portuguese, as many words are of the opposite gender in the other language. For example, “orden” (order) is spelled the same in both languages but is masculine in Spanish and feminine in Portuguese.

Historical differences

Spanish and Portuguese have deeply intertwined histories. As romance languages, they both come from Latin, which is one of the reasons they’re so similar. However, modern Spanish comes from the Castillian family of languages, while modern Portuguese comes from the Old Galician-Portuguese family.

Portuguese as we know it today — or resembling what we know today — started popping up by the 12th century. It then started to spread worldwide in the 15th century as Portuguese explorers began to sail the seas. At the same time, Spanish started to spread around the world as Spanish explorers began making their way around the world, thus also expanding the reach of their language.

At this point, Iberian Portuguese and Iberian Spanish began distancing themselves from the versions spoken elsewhere. That’s why Brazilian Portuguese today is so different from Portugal’s Portuguese, just as Spain’s Spanish is so different from Latin American Spanish.

Which language is easier to learn, Portuguese or Spanish?

If a small part of you is still worried about picking up a new language, we have great news for you. Both Spanish and Portuguese are considered some of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. According to the U.S. Foreign Service Institute, these two languages are classified in the “super-easy” category for English speakers.


Each language requires 24 weeks of full-time study to attain proficiency, assuming 25 weekly class hours. That comes out to 600 class hours to become fluent in these languages, just under two semesters of full-time studying. Keep in mind that this is assuming full-time, uninterrupted studying. So, if you’re taking online Spanish lessons after school or taking a corporate language course, it might take a little longer.

With that said, if you’re feeling ambitious and want to reach your language goals even faster, an immersive program could help you learn Spanish or Portuguese in no time. The Berlitz Method is our foundational principle as a language school. We’ve helped countless students learn dozens of languages for over a hundred years through immersive, goal-oriented language programs.

Which language will be more useful to learn?

If you want a promising career boost from your language-learning efforts, then you’re on the right track. Studies have repeatedly shown that being bilingual can lead to a higher wage, regardless of the specific language you speak. That’s because people with the ability to speak more than one language are often better problem solvers, more creative, and even better multitaskers, according to aptitude tests. These skills make bilingual speakers super attractive hires and even eligible for higher positions!

That said, the language you choose to learn will definitely impact your career. Let’s take a look at our two languages to see what unique advantages they offer.


  • It is spoken by around 548 million speakers, which makes it the fourth most-spoken language in the world.
  • There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries, and that’s only counting the countries that have it as their official language.
  • There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than in any other country in the world except for Mexico. With 57 million native and non-native speakers, the U.S. has more Spanish speakers than countries like Spain, Colombia, and Argentina!
  • Spanish is an important language for business, as Latin America is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world.


  • It is spoken by 257 million people worldwide, making it one of the top ten most spoken languages.
  • It is the official language of 10 countries and territories all around the world, including Mozambique, Angola, Macau, East Timor, and more, on top of the obvious Portugal and Brazil.
  • Brazil has more Portuguese speakers than any Spanish-speaking country has Spanish speakers. With a total population of around 215 million, Brazil alone has well over 200 million Portuguese speakers!
  • Brazil is a massive country with the 10th largest economy in the world. This presents incredible business opportunities for those looking to trade with or invest in this fantastic country.

Portuguese vs. Spanish in practice

Okay, now that you’re familiar with the biggest similarities and differences between Portuguese and Spanish, it’s time to see how that works in practice. Below, we’ll explore plenty of examples of how these two languages compare.

Similarities between Portuguese and Spanish

First up, we’ll look at similar words in Portuguese and Spanish. As you’ll notice, there’s a relatively easy way to translate words from one language to the other by simply modifying the ending. This makes it easy for Portuguese and Spanish speakers to communicate with each other, as it’s not too difficult to figure out the meaning of most words once you’re familiar with these endings.


You can even take it one step further and attempt to speak Portuñol — a portmanteau of Portuguese and Español. This is when Spanish or Portuguese speakers try to speak the other language by guessing the translation of words based on patterns. Note that this isn’t an actual language and doesn’t require any studying. Instead, it’s just guesswork that is often accurate! How fun is that?

Let’s jump into the most common words that are very similar in Spanish and Portuguese.

Noun cognates

Spanish speakers will joke that Portuguese nouns are just the same as Spanish nouns but with a –são ending, but is the stereotype really true? There is certainly some truth to it! As you’ll see below, there is an easy way to translate most Spanish verbs into Portuguese and vice-versa. Simply take the ending, replace it with the corresponding ending, and voilà! You’re very likely to guess the corresponding noun accurately.

If you’re ready to unlock this major key between these two languages, here are some of the most common Spanish and Portuguese noun endings:

Spanish ending Portuguese ending Examples
–ción –çao Resolución → Resoluçao, Condición → Condiçao,
Relación → Relaçao
–sión –são Precisión → Precisão,
Decisión → Decisão,
Confusión → Confusão
–grama –grama Telegrama → Telegrama,
Programa → Programa,
Diagrama → Diagrama
–dad –dade Ciudad → Cidade,
Curiosidad → Curiosidade,
Caridad → Caridade
–aje –gem Viaje → Viagem,
Paisaje → Paisagem,
Mensaje → Mensagem
–ismo –ismo Moralismo → Moralismo,
Activismo → Ativismo,
Pesimismo → Pessimismo

Not too complicated, right? Let’s take a look at a few dozen noun cognates in Spanish and Portuguese to help you see just how similar these two languages are:

English Spanish Spanish IPA Portuguese Portuguese IPA
Seat Asiento aˈsjento Assento aˈsẽtu
Accessory Accesorio akθeˈsoɾjo Acessório aseˈsɔɾiu
Concert Concierto konˈθjeɾto Concerto kõˈsɛʁtu
Bed Cama ˈkama Cama ˈkɐmɐ
Sofa Sofá soˈfa Sofá soˈfa
Afternoon Tarde ˈtaɾðe Tarde ˈtaʁdʒi
Water Agua ˈaɣwa Água ˈaɡwɐ
Sun Sol ˈsol Sol ˈsɔw
Hour Hora ˈoɾa Hora ˈɔɾɐ
House Casa ˈkasa Casa ˈkazɐ
Day Día ˈdia Dia ˈdʒiɐ
Month Mes ˈmes Mês ˈmes
Taxi Taxi ˈtaksi Taxi takˈsi
Airport Aeropuerto aeɾoˈpweɾto Aeroporto aeɾoˈpɔʁtu
Bridge Puente ˈpwente Ponte ˈpõtʃi
Train Tren ˈtɾen Trem ˈtɾẽj̃
Milk Leche ˈleʧe Leite ˈlejtʃi
Hotel Hotel oˈtel Hotel oˈtɛw
Shoe Zapato θaˈpato Sapato saˈpatu
Calendar Calendario kalenˈdaɾjo Calendário kalẽˈdaɾiu
Coffee Café kaˈfe Café kaˈfɛ
Leg Pierna ˈpjeɾna Perna ˈpɛʁnɐ
Head Cabeza kaˈβeθa Cabeça kaˈbɛsɐ
Arm Brazo ˈbɾaθo Braço ˈbɾasu
Finger Dedo ˈdeðo Dedo ˈdɛdu
Stomach Estómago esˈtomaɣo Estômago isˈtomaɡu
Doctor Médico ˈmeðiko Médico ˈmɛdʒiku
Manager Gerente xeˈɾente Gerente ʒeˈɾẽtʃi
Television Televisión teleβiˈsjon Televisão televiˈzɐ̃w̃
Husband Marido maˈɾiðo Marido maˈɾidu
Nose Nariz naˈɾiθ Nariz naˈɾiʃ
Expert Experto eksˈpeɾto Experto iʃˈpɛʁtu
Computer Computadora komputaˈðoɾa Computador kõputaˈdoʁ
Snow Nieve ˈnjeβe Neve ˈnɛvi
Cloud Nuve ˈnuβe Nuvem ˈnuvẽj̃
Shirt Camisa kaˈmisa Camisa kɐˈmizɐ
Friend Amigo aˈmiɣo Amigo ɐˈmiɡu
Adult Adulto aˈðulto Adulto aˈduwtu
Professor Profesor pɾofeˈsoɾ Professor pɾofeˈsɔʁ
Man Hombre ˈombɾe Homem ˈɔmẽj̃
Nurse Enfermera emfeɾˈmeɾa Enfermeira ẽfeʁˈmejɾɐ

Verb cognates

You might’ve thought that noun cognates were as similar as this would get, but verbs are here to show you otherwise. In fact, verbs in Spanish and Portuguese are so similar that the three main infinitive form endings are exactly the same!

Spanish ending Portuguese ending Examples
–ar –ar Amar → Amar,
Respirar → Respirar,
Nadar → Nadar
–er –er Comer → Comer,
Beber → Beber.
Hacer → Fazer
–ir –ir Dormir → Dormir,
Abrir → Abrir,
Salir → Sair

As you can see, all three verb groups have the same ending in their infinitive form. This should make it extremely easy for speakers of either language to recognize verbs in the other language. Let’s take a look at some examples:

English Spanish Spanish IPA Portuguese Portuguese IPA
To hunt Cazar kaˈθaɾ Caçar kaˈsaʁ
To close Cerrar θeˈraɾ Cerrar seˈʁaʁ
To sow Coser koˈseɾ Coser koˈzeʁ
To boil Cocer koˈθeɾ Cozer koˈzeʁ
To spy Espiar esˈpjaɾ Espiar ispiˈaʁ
To ear Comer koˈmeɾ Comer koˈmeʁ
To be Ser ˈseɾ Ser ˈseʁ
To be Estar esˈtaɾ Estar isˈtaʁ
To go Ir ˈiɾ Ir ˈiʁ
To give Dar ˈdaɾ Dar ˈdaʁ
To say Decir deˈθiɾ Dizer dʒiˈzeʁ
To bring Traer tɾaˈeɾ Trazer tɾaˈzeʁ
To be able to Poder poˈðeɾ Poder poˈdeʁ
To use Usar uˈsaɾ Usar uˈzaʁ
To see Ver ˈbeɾ Ver ˈveʁ
To be Haber aˈβeɾ Haver aˈveʁ
To owe Deber deˈβeɾ Dever deˈveʁ
To want Querer keˈɾeɾ Querer keˈɾeʁ
To pass Pasar paˈsaɾ Passar paˈsaʁ
To arrive Llegar ʎeˈɣaɾ Chegar ʃeˈɡaʁ
To find Encontrar enkonˈtɾaɾ Encontrar ẽkõˈtɾaʁ
To appear Parecer paɾeˈθeɾ Parecer paɾeˈseʁ
To ask Pedir peˈðiɾ Pedir peˈdʒiʁ
To open Abrir aˈβɾiɾ Abrir aˈbɾiʁ
To finish Acabar akaˈβaɾ Acabar akaˈbaʁ
To help Ayudar aʝuˈðaɾ Ajudar aʒuˈdaʁ
To begin Comenzar komenˈθaɾ Començar komẽˈsaʁ
To continue Continuar kontiˈnwaɾ Continuar kõtʃinuˈaʁ
To explain Explicar ekspliˈkaɾ To pretend pɾeˈtẽd
To pay Pagar paˈɣaɾ To pay ˈtɔ ˈpa
To publish Publicar puβliˈkaɾ Publicar publiˈkaʁ
To live Vivir biˈβiɾ Viver viˈveʁ

Adjective cognates

You’ll find plenty of Spanish and Portuguese cognates in adjectives. In fact, most of them have very similar if not identical endings, making it very easy to pick them out in the other language. Here are some of the most common adjective endings:

Spanish ending Portuguese ending Examples
–ista –ista Egoísta → Egoísta,
Pesimista → Pessimista,
Altruista → Altruísta
–ente –ente Prudente → Prudente,
Suficiente → Suficiente,
Impaciente → impaciente
–ble –vel Amable → Amável,
Insoportable → Insuportável,
Probable → Provável
–ar –ar Popular → Popular,
Espectacular → Espectacular,
Singular → Singular
–ico/–ica –ico/–ica Heróico → Heróico,
Romántico → Romântico,
Ecléctico → Eclético
–ivo/–iva –ivo/–iva Masivo → Massivo,
Invasivo → Invasivo,
Competitivo → Competitivo
–oso/–oso –oso/–oso Misterioso → Misterioso,
Curioso → Curioso,
Silencioso → Silencioso

So, how similar are Spanish and Portuguese adjectives, then? Take a look at the following list and let us know what you think!

English Spanish Spanish IPA Portuguese Portuguese IPA
Happy Feliz feˈliθ Feliz feˈliʃ
Tall Alto ˈalto Alto ˈawtu
Cold Frío ˈfɾjo Frio ˈfɾiu
Small Pequeño peˈkeɲo Pequeno peˈkenu
Pretty Bonito boˈnito Bonito boˈnitu
Ugly Feo ˈfeo Feio ˈfeju
Easy Fácil ˈfaθil Fácil ˈfasiw
Hard Difícil diˈfiθil Difícil dʒiˈfisiw
Delicious Delicioso deliˈθjoso Delicioso delisiˈɔzu
Sad Triste ˈtɾiste Triste ˈtɾistʃi
Uncertain Incierto inˈθjeɾto Incerto ĩˈsɛʁtu
Educated Educado eðuˈkaðo Educado iduˈkadu
Honest Honesto oˈnesto Honesto oˈnɛstu
Irritating Irritante iriˈtante Irritante iʁiˈtɐ̃tʃi
Proud Orgulloso oɾɣuˈʎoso Orgulhoso oʁɡuˈʎɔzu
Hard Duro ˈduɾo Duro ˈduɾu
Expensive Caro ˈkaɾo Caro ˈkaɾu
Busy Ocupado okuˈpaðo Ocupado okuˈpadu
Cloudy Nublado nuˈβlaðo Nublado nuˈbladu
Cold Frío ˈfɾio Frio ˈfɾiu
Ugly Feo ˈfeo Feio ˈfeju
Clean Limpio ˈlimpjo Limpo ˈlĩpu
Strong Fuerte ˈfweɾte Forte ˈfɔʁtʃi
Low Bajo ˈbaxo Baixo ˈbajʃu
Tired Cansado kanˈsaðo Cansado kɐ̃ˈsadu
Fresh Fresco ˈfɾesko Fresco ˈfɾɛsku
Rich Rico ˈriko Rico ˈʁiku
Poor Pobre ˈpoβɾe Pobre ˈpɔbɾi
Friendly Amable aˈmaβle Amável ɐˈmavɛw
Interesting Interesante inteɾeˈsante Interessante ĩteɾeˈsɐ̃tʃi
Famous Famoso faˈmoso Famoso fɐˈmɔzu

Differences between Portuguese and Spanish

Now, Spanish and Portuguese aren’t always super similar. If that were the case, then maybe they wouldn’t be considered separate languages. So, let’s take a look at some words that aren’t similar at all in Spanish and Portuguese.


Words that are entirely different

Just as many words look and sound similar, hundreds look nothing alike. That’s what makes these two languages worth studying! Here are 40 words that are completely different in Spanish and Portuguese:

English Spanish Spanish IPA Portuguese Portuguese IPA
Store Tienda ˈtjenda Loja ˈlɔʒɐ
Knee Rodilla roˈðiʎa Joelho ʒoˈeʎu
Street Calle ˈkaʎe Rua ˈʁuɐ
Window Ventana benˈtana Janela ʒɐˈnɛlɐ
To forget Olvidar olβiˈðaɾ Esquecer iskeˈseʁ
Sales Rebajas reˈβaxas Saldos ˈsawdus
To throw Echar eˈʧaɾ Atirar atʃiˈɾaʁ
Dog Perro ˈpero Cão ˈkɐ̃w̃
Thanks Gracias ˈɡɾaθjas Obrigado obɾiˈɡadu
Railroad Ferrocarril ferokaˈril Chemin de fer ʃeˈmĩ dʒi ˈfeʁ
Juice Jugo ˈxuɣo Suco ˈsuku
Breakfast Desayuno desaˈʝuno Café da manhã kaˈfɛ dɐ mɐˈɲɐ̃
Cake Pastel pasˈtel Bolo ˈbɔlu
Near Cerca ˈθeɾka Perto ˈpɛʁtu
Thin Delgado delˈɣaðo Magro ˈmaɡɾu
Yesterday Ayer aˈʝeɾ Ontem ˈõtẽj̃
Tea ˈte Chá ˈʃa
Chicken Pollo ˈpoʎo Frango ˈfɾɐ̃ɡu
Fish Pescado pesˈkaðo Peixe ˈpejʃi
To stay Quedarse keˈðaɾse Ficar fiˈkaʁ
To talk Hablar aˈβlaɾ Falar faˈlaʁ
To need Necesitar neθesiˈtaɾ Precisar pɾesiˈzaʁ
Mother Madre ˈmaðɾe Mãe ˈmɐ̃j̃
Little girl Niña ˈniɲa Menina meˈninɐ
Black Negro ˈneɣɾo Preto ˈpɾɛtu
Father Padre ˈpaðɾe Pai ˈpaj
Corn Elote eˈlote Milho ˈmiʎu
To live Vivir biˈβiɾ Morar moˈɾaʁ
Difficulty Dificultad difikulˈtað Perrengue peˈʁẽɡi
Glass Vaso ˈbaso Copo ˈkɔpu
Soft Suave ˈswaβe Macio maˈsiu
Hot Caliente kaˈljente Quente ˈkẽtʃi
Dirty Sucio ˈsuθjo Sujo ˈsuʒu
Sick Enfermo emˈfeɾmo Docente doˈsẽtʃi
Son Hijo ˈixo Filho ˈfiʎu
Boyfriend Novio ˈnoβjo Namorado nɐmoˈɾadu
Tomorrow Mañana maˈɲana Amanhã ɐmɐˈɲɐ̃
Rain Lluvia ˈʎuβja Chuva ˈʃuvɐ
Sock Calcetín kalθeˈtin Meia ˈmejɐ
Pants Pantalones pantaˈlones Calça ˈkawsɐ

Days of the week

Perhaps you weren’t expecting the days of the week to be starkly different between Spanish and Portuguese. After all, the days of the week were named after the Roman gods in Latin, so most romance languages have very similar names for them today. However, Portuguese is the exception.

That’s because Martin of Braga, a 6th-century archbishop, disagreed with the Roman custom of naming the days of the week after pagan Roman gods. Instead, he numbered the days of the week except for Saturday and Sunday since they weren’t named after pagan gods.

English Spanish Spanish IPA Portuguese Portuguese IPA
Monday Lunes ˈlunes Segunda-feira seɡũdaˈfejɾɐ
Tuesday Martes ˈmaɾtes Terça-feira teʁsaˈfejɾɐ
Wednesday Miércoles ˈmjeɾkoles Quarta-feira kwaʁtaˈfejɾɐ
Thursday Jueves ˈxweβes Quinta-feira kĩtaˈfejɾɐ
Friday Viernes ˈbjeɾnes Sexta-feira seʃtaˈfejɾɐ
Saturday Sábado ˈsaβaðo Sábado ˈsabadu
Sunday Domingo doˈminɡo Domingo doˈmĩɡu

False cognates

This is an area all language learners should always pay close attention to. Also known as “false friends,” these are words that sound dangerously similar to words in a different language but have completely different meanings. This can cause lots of confusion at best and painfully embarrassing situations at worst, so watch out!

Spanish Spanish IPA Spanish meaning Portuguese Portuguese IPA Portuguese meaning
Salsa ˈsalsa Salsa Salsa ˈsawsɐ Parsley
Compañero kompaˈɲeɾo Colleague Companheiro kõpɐˈɲejɾu Romantic partner
Prenda ˈpɾenda Clothing item Prenda ˈpɾẽdɐ Gift
Barata baˈɾata Cheap Barata baˈɾatɐ Cockroach
Escritorio eskɾiˈtoɾjo Desk Escritorio iskɾitoˈɾiu Office
Oficina ofiˈθina Office Oficina ofiˈsinɐ Body shop
Secretaria ofiˈθina Secretary Secretaria sekɾetaˈɾiɐ Desk
Ligar liˈɣaɾ Ti flirt Ligar liˈɡaʁ To call someone
Salada saˈlaða Salty Salada saˈladɐ Salad
Espantoso espanˈtoso Horrible Espantoso ispɐ̃ˈtɔzu Amazing
Exquisito ekskiˈsito Exquisite Esquisito iskiˈzitu Weird
Gozar ɡoˈθaɾ To enjoy Gozar ɡoˈzaʁ To make fun of
Propina pɾoˈpina Tip Propina pɾoˈpinɐ Tuition
Polvo ˈpolβo Dust Polvo ˈpɔwvu Octopus
Nota ˈnota Note Nota ˈnɔtɐ Bill
Ano ˈano Anus Ano ˈɐnu Year
Billetera biʎeˈteɾa Wallet Bilheteira biʎeˈtejɾɐ Ticket office
Brincar bɾinˈkaɾ To jump Brincar bɾĩˈkaʁ To joke
Despido desˈpiðo A farewell Despido desˈpidu Naked
Cena ˈθena Dinner Cena ˈsɛnɐ Scene
Embarazada embaɾaˈθaða Pregnant Embaraçada ẽbaɾaˈsadɐ Embarrassed
Largo ˈlaɾɣo Long Largo ˈlaʁɡu Large
Rato ˈrato A short while Rato ˈʁatu Mouse
Rojo ˈroxo Red Roxo ˈʁɔʃu Purple
Borrar boˈraɾ To erase Borrar boˈʁaʁ To dirty up
Apagar apaˈɣaɾ To turn off Apagar apaˈɡaʁ To erase
Cadera kaˈðeɾa Hip Cadeira kaˈdejɾɐ Chair
Chata ˈʧata Short Chata ˈʃatɐ Heavy
Chulo ˈʧulo Cute Chulo ˈʃulu Vulgar
Cartón kaɾˈton Carton Cartão kaʁˈtɐ̃w̃ Card

Portuguese vs. Spanish culture

Although they both come from the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish-speaking countries and Portuguese-speaking countries have different cultures. In fact, there are major cultural differences within countries that speak the same language! Here are some of the broad cultural differences between Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries.



In Portugal and Brazil, it’s very common for men to greet each other with a warm, big hug. In Spain and most of Latin America, however, most men greet each other with a firm handshake. Hugs are reserved for family members and close friends.

Women typically kiss when greeting each other in both cultures, often with two kisses. There’s one big difference, though. In Spain and Latin America, the kisses go from left to right, while they go from right to left in Portugal and Brazil. If only one kiss is the norm, then Portuguese speakers will typically go for the right while Spanish speakers will go for the left.


If you’ve traveled to Spain before, then you already know that they run a bit late when it comes to mealtimes. Lunch isn’t usually served until 3 p.m. and forget about dinner until after 9 p.m. This might be a little too late for most of the world, including Portugal, where Lunch is at 1 p.m. and dinner is at 8 p.m.


Spain and Latin America follow a very strict surname pattern: paternal surname first, followed by maternal surname. That means children inherit both their parents’ surnames, although the father’s always comes first.

Portuguese naming patterns are similar, except they’re much more flexible. Historically, daughters would receive their mother’s surname, while sons would receive their father’s surname. Nowadays, most people in Portugal and Brazil inherit both surnames, except that the mother’s surname usually comes first.

Portuguese vs. Spanish - which should you learn?

Both Portuguese and Spanish are incredibly fascinating and beautiful languages. As if that wasn’t a good enough reason to learn either one of them, they’re both extremely helpful languages in the business world. With hundreds of millions of speakers around the world, you’ll find no shortage of people to speak and practice with.

Choosing to study one over the other is a very personal decision, as you’ll have to consider your interests, goals, and circumstances. Spanish might be a better choice if you live in an area with a significant Spanish-speaking population. Alternatively, Portuguese might be a smart career move if you work for a company headquartered in Brazil.

And if you can’t decide? Learn both! As you now know, Spanish and Portuguese are very similar, so why not make a plan to tackle both? If you want to go this route, the best way would be to learn one first and then the other. That way, you won’t get the different grammar and pronunciation rules mixed up while you’re still in the early stages of learning. And don’t worry, the second language will be much easier to learn once you’ve got one under your belt!

Still trying to figure out where to begin? Then start by taking a look at our Spanish and Portuguese blogs! We regularly publish helpful articles about learning the language and culture, so reading a few of these can give you a better idea of which one to learn. Some examples include our introductory guide to saying hello in Portuguese and our guide to writing an email in Spanish.

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