Back in the day, both Portuguese and Spanish both evolved from Latin, and so naturally, they both have many similarities. Many Portuguese speakers even find it very easy to understand Spanish, and vice versa. This also makes it much less of a challenge to learn one of them if you already speak some of the other.
The grammatical structure of the two languages is very similar – they both have a lot of fun with their verb endings, unlike English where we say “I eat, you eat, we eat, they eat”. E.g.:
Pt: Eu como, tu comes, ele/ela/você come, nós comemos, vós comeis, vocês comem
Sp: Yo como, tú comes, él/ella/usted come, nosotros comemos, vosotros coméis, ellos comen
In both languages, feminine words also tend to end in “-a”, and masculine words tend to end in an “-o” (although in Portuguese this sounds more like “u”).
But you mustn’t get complacent if you speak one of these languages and think that you already know the grammar of the other; there are also many differences. Some differences are small, like how to say “I am going to eat”, Spanish speakers would say “Voy a comer”, whereas Portuguese speakers would say simply “Vou comer”.
The Portuguese ways of saying “my/your/our” etc. are also different to Spanish, they cosy up to Italian and throw in the word “the” (“o”/”a”/”os”/”as”), because why not? So “I left my spacesuit at home” would be “Deixei o meu traje espacial em casa” (Pt) and “Dejé mi traje espacial en casa” (Sp).
There are also much bigger differences, such as Portuguese’s dreaded future subjunctive, a verb form which is more or less dead in modern, spoken Spanish. So when in Spanish you would say “Si yo soy elegido presidente, cambiaré la ley“, Portuguese speakers would say “Se eu for eleito presidente, mudarei a lei“.
Portuguese speakers usually find it very easy to understand spoken Spanish, but while Spanish speakers have little problem with written Portuguese, ask them to understand spoken Portuguese and their reaction might often be:
So why is spoken Spanish easier to understand than spoken Portuguese? One of the main reasons for this is the vowels. Spanish has five simple vowels: “A, E, I, O, U”.
Portuguese, on the other hand, has around 14 vowels depending on your accent, including five nasal vowels!
Buuuut Portuguese also uses the same five letters to write these 14 vowels, which means you really have to know the spellings to know how to pronounce a word. In Brazil, the letter “e” at the end of a word often sounds like an “i”, and if there is a “d” or “t” before it, that “d” or “t” will change to a “tsh” or “dj” sound, so “importante” is pronounced “ĩportãtshee” (with a nasal “i” at the beginning and a nasal “a” in the middle). But go to Portugal, and you will hear something different; the same word will be pronounced “ĩpurtãteuh” (or even “ĩpurtãt”)!
Take the same word, “importante”, in Spanish and you will see that the pronunciation matches each letter completely.
The vocabulary of both languages come mostly from Latin, and usually have the same meaning, but like all languages there are some differences to watch out for. For example:
Despido = “naked” in Portuguese, but “dismissal/firing” in Spanish
Aceite = “accept” in Portuguese, but “oil” in Spanish
Embaraçada/embarazada = “Embarrassed” in Portuguese, but “pregnant” in Spanish
Presunto = “ham” in Portuguese, but “presumed” in Spanish
The days of the week can also trip people up. In Spanish there are different words for each day: lunes, martes, miércoles, jueves, viernes, sábado, domingo. Whereas Portuguese speakers give numbers to most of the days of the week: segunda-feira, terça-feira, quarta-feira, quinta-feira, sexta-feira, sábado, domingo.
So, in conclusion, si hablas español, aprender o português não será muito difícil para você, e se você fala português, tampoco será muy difícil aprender español. Just remember to keep an eye out for those pesky little differences so you don’t get caught out!
Rob is Memrise‘s English Language Specialist, teaming up with the other language specialists to create language courses that will help you explore the world by unlocking your language superpowers. He also works with Memrise‘s Marketing Team to make fun videos and blog posts to inspire all the language learners out there.
In his spare time, he can usually be found learning languages – currently Hindi & Greek – and exploring the wonders that the London theatre and comedy scenes have in store.