Spanish and Portuguese: A Comparative Analysis

Is Portuguese Spanish? This is probably one of the most common language-related misconceptions.

Spanish and Portuguese: A Comparative Analysis

We all know that languages coming from the same language family generally share similar traits. That’s canonical for most language families. In our case, the Romance languages descend from Vulgar Latin and that is the reason why there are so many words that sound almost the same in all five languages (six – if you count in Latin). For example, the word “water” is “aqua” in Latin, “agua” in Spanish, “água” in Portuguese, “acqua” in Italian, “eau” in French and “apă” in Romanian. Except for French and Romanian, they are all similar. Still, as you were right to think, Spanish and Portuguese are the most alike. So yes, Portuguese is similar to Spanish, but how mutually intelligible are they? Let the Spanish vs. Portuguese battle begin!

Common Misconceptions: Portuguese Is Not Spanish

This is probably one of the most common language-related misconceptions. No, Portuguese is not Spanish, but they were both born in the Iberian Peninsula somehow isolated from the rest of the land by the Pyrenees. For this reason, it’s only natural for them to resemble in a lot of ways. After all, there’s an almost 90% lexical similarity between the two, meaning that 90% of their words have a cognate (equivalent) in the other language. So, naturally, if you speak one, you’ll probably understand a part of the second but don’t count on being able to speak it fluently.

Here are the main characteristics that make Spanish and Portuguese different, but also quite similar:

Native SpeakersApproximately 480 millionApproximately 215 million
Official Language in21 countries10 countries
Word OrderWord Order
Pronunciation DifferencesDistinct "z" and "c" soundsVoiceless fricative "s" sound
VariantsEuropean Spanish
Latin American Spanish
European Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese
Mutual Intelligibility
Written: High, Spoken: Moderate
Lexical Similarity
Around 90%
Language Family

Mutual Intelligibility: Written vs. Spoken Forms

Spoken Spanish and Portuguese are less mutually intelligible than their written forms. In other words, on paper, the two languages look very similar and speakers of either language can generally read the other language without too much struggle. But when it comes to the spoken forms or the phonology, things get a bit more complicated as the pronunciation is more different than you’d expect. However, it is said that Portuguese speakers typically understand spoken Spanish better than Spanish speakers understand spoken Portuguese. After all, there’s an almost 90% lexical similarity between the two.

To help you observe the written mutual intelligibility between Spanish and Portuguese better, let’s look at a short basic lesson on verbs in two variations:

Portuguese to Spanish

Spanish to Portuguese

Do you see now why the spoken forms are less mutually intelligible than the written forms?

Examples of Similarities and Differences Between Spanish and Portuguese

Let’s look at some examples to help you better understand the similarities and differences between Spanish and Portuguese.

  • English: “Are there any interesting sights that we can visit?”
  • Spanish: ¿Hay algún lugar interesante al que debamos ir?
  • Portuguese: Há algum lugar interessante que possamos visitar?
  • English: “Where do you recommend I eat?”
  • Spanish: ¿Dónde me recomiendas que coma?
  • Portuguese: Onde você me recomenda para comer?
  • English: “I have booked a room.”
  • Spanish: He reservado una habitación.
  • Portuguese: Eu reservei um quarto.

Quite similar, aren’t they? But remember: that does not make them the same language. Words like información (Spanish) and informação (Portuguese) or carro (Spanish) and carro (Portuguese) may look the same, but they sound different. While the Spanish carro is pronounced the same way it is written (with the strong double r), in the Portuguese carro, the double rr is pronounced using what is known as a voiceless fricative or a guttural r. So “r” is – only in some cases – the Portuguese equivalent of the Spanish “j” and are both pronounced using the “h” sound.

False Friends: Watch Out for These Tricky Words

Unsurprisingly, Spanish and Portuguese share a lot of cognates (words from different languages that look and sound similar and even share the same meaning), but they also share a lot of “false friends” or false cognates (words that look and sound the same and might share a common origin, but have different meanings). So it would be best if you would not get ahead of yourself in trying to guess the meaning of a new word that looks similar to a word you already know. Crazy misunderstandings like being pregnant instead of being embarrassed can happen when you least expect it! (If you are not familiar with this cognate -> the Spanish “embarazada” is similar to the English “embarrassed”, but funnily enough, it translates to “pregnant” in English.)

Here are some examples of the most common “false friends” from Spanish and Portuguese to help you avoid potentially embarrassing situations:

  • pelado translates to “skinned” or “peeled” in both languages but colloquially changes its meaning to “having a shaved head or new haircut” in Spanish and “being naked” in Portuguese. You wouldn’t want to mix those two, wouldn’t you?
  • while in Spanish, largo means “long” and ancho means “wide”; in Portuguese, largo means “wide” and longo means “long”. That sounds like a headache, doesn’t it?
  • polvo means “octopus” in Portuguese and “dust” in Spanish
  • you already know that the Spanish (estar) embarazada means “(to be) pregnant”. Well, the same as English, Portuguese translates (estar) embaraçada to “(to be) embarrassed” or “(to be) entangled” so be careful with this one (again!)
  • exquisita means “exquisite” or “delicious” in Spanish and esquisita (notice the “s” that takes the place of the “x”) means “weird” in Portuguese. A letter can truly change everything…
  • “red” is rojo in Spanish, but Portuguese roxo breaks the “Romance” norm and translates to “purple”. The Portuguese “red” is vermelho;
  • rato means “a little while” in Spanish and “rat” in Portuguese;
  • traer is “bring” in Spanish and the similar-looking trair is “betray” in Portuguese;
  • cadera means “hip” in Spanish and cadeira (notice the extra ‘i’) means “chair” in Portuguese;
  • pegar means “to hit” in Spanish and “to pick up” in Portuguese;
  • Perú refers to the country in Spanish, but in Portuguese, if you drop the accent (peru), it means “turkey”;
  • borracha refers to a drunk girl in Spanish, but to a “rubber” or “eraser” in Portuguese;
  • salada does mean “salad” in Portuguese, but in Spanish it means “salty”;
  • oso means “bear” in Spanish and osso (with an extra ‘s’) is “bone” in Portuguese;
  • acordar means “to agree” in Spanish and “to wake up” in Portuguese.
portuguese vs spanish
“Ponta Negra, Natal, Brazil” by Pedro Menezes©

Spanish-Portuguese cognates

Cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. Essentially, they are “linguistic cousins”. They often look similar and have the same or similar meanings. Since Portuguese and Spanish share nearly 90% of their vocabulary, there are a lot of such cognates between them. Here are a few examples:

Spanish-Portuguese Cognates
to loveamaramar
to knowsabersaber
to beserser
to openabrirabrir

Other Notable Differences

At this point, we already settled that although very similar, Portuguese and Spanish are also different in terms of pronunciation and false cognates. Besides, there are also differences given by the area in which the language is spoken. Brazilian Portuguese is different from European Portuguese and Latin American Spanish is different from European Spanish. And as we already mentioned, behind that, there are entire centuries of rich history and different influences. It’s nothing but fascinating!

But before you go, here are four more major differences between the two languages we should not overlook:

  • while in Spanish both yo and me are used to express the singular form of the first person “I”, in Portuguese only eu is used;
  • ñ in the Spanish alphabet becomes nh in Portuguese, so España or Spain is Espanha in Portuguese;
  • while in Spanish you have to use muy before adverbs and adjectives and mucho before a noun or after a verb, in Portuguese you just use muito;
  • while Portuguese speakers tend to use a casa dela to express possession, the Spanish speakers just say su casa as you probably already know from the well-known expression Mi casa es su casa;

Conclusion: Embrace the Similarities and Differences

The bottom line is that Spanish and Portuguese are indeed different but also quite similar. So, if you already speak Portuguese, learning Spanish will certainly become way easier and vice-versa. You’ll soon discover that even a small resemblance between words like “hello” in Spanish and “hello” in Portuguese will make a huge difference in your learning process.

Recognizing and embracing the similarities and differences between Spanish and Portuguese can help us learn more about these languages and the cultures they come from. Both languages share some features but also have unique parts that make them special. Recognizing these parts helps us improve our knowledge of Spanish and Portuguese and grow our respect for their cultures. Understanding that languages can be both similar and distinct encourages a more nuanced view of the world, emphasizing unity in diversity.

Excited to find out more? Here’s the best way to learn Portuguese, the days of the week in Spanish and everything you need to know about Spanish verbs and Spanish accents. Good luck!

If you still have questions regarding Spanish vs. Portuguese, let’s look at some frequently asked questions:

How similar are Spanish and Portuguese?

There’s an almost 90% lexical similarity between Spanish and Portuguese.

Can Spanish speakers understand Portuguese and vice versa?

It’s often suggested that individuals who speak Portuguese typically have a better understanding of spoken Spanish than Spanish speakers have of spoken Portuguese.

How do European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese differ?

The main difference between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese is the pronunciation. However, there are also vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and spelling differences that make the two languages differ.

What are the key pronunciation differences between Spanish and Portuguese?

Portuguese, sometimes likened to Russian in its sounds, is a stress-timed language with varied vowel sounds and atonic syllable reduction. In contrast, Spanish, characterized by its smooth and consistent pronunciation, is syllable-timed, providing a rhythmic flow where each syllable takes roughly the same amount of time. Additionally, Portuguese features numerous slurred sounds, contributing to its fluid nature, while Spanish, in contrast, has more pronounced and distinct word articulation.

Is it easier to learn Spanish if you already know Portuguese, and vice versa?

Considering there’s almost a 90% lexical similarity between Spanish and Portuguese, yes. It’s definitely easier to learn Spanish if you already know Portuguese and the other way around.

Is Spanish or Portuguese more widely spoken?

With approximately 480 million speakers worldwide, Spanish is more widely spoken than Portuguese. In fact, Spanish is the forth most spoken language in the world by total number of speakers.

From 0 to conversational in Spanish and Portuguese

It can be really tricky to learn Spanish and (even harder) to master Portuguese pronunciation if you don’t actively live in a Spanish-speaking or Portuguese-speaking country. But with Mondly, the award-winning language learning app, you can learn both these Romance languages naturally with practical topics and authentic conversations recorded by fluent speakers so you can learn only from the best.

By combining bite-sized Daily Lessons and a gamified experience guaranteed to make you addicted to learning languages, Mondly is ready to literally glue Spanish and Portuguese into your brain.

Start using Mondly for free on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the Mondly app and learn languages fast anytime, anywhere.

Do you want to learn Spanish and Portuguese with Mondly in just 5 minutes a day?

Anonymous's Gravatar

Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

8 comments on “Spanish and Portuguese: A Comparative Analysis

  1. Educated Spanish and Portuguese speakers can generally have a good conversation each speaking in his own language. It also helps a lot to avoid using slang and jargon, and do not speak fast. It’s actually remarkable how alike these two languages are. The fact they they share 90% of their vocabulary makes it very easy of speakers of both to decipher the meaning of an unfamiliar word or expression simply from context. In other words, if both understand 8 out of 10 words, they can easily deduce the meaning of the other unfamiliar 2 words. No other Romance language speaker can do this with the facility of a Spanish/Portuguese speaker. Meaning, out of all the Romance language speakers the only pair of Romance language speakers than can achieve a considerable level of mutual intelligibility are Portuguese and Spanish, and either of these two with a French, Italian, or Romanian speaker will not be able to achieve it nowhere near as easily, definitely a not a Romanian or French speaker. An Italian could probably have a basic 2 way conversation with a Portuguese or Spanish speaker. With no prior exposure or familiarity with the other language, an Italian and Spanish speaker would likely only result in approx. 45% maybe 50% intelligibility both ways. Between a Brazilian and a Colombian for example, the figure would be approx. 85% – 90% both ways. Between an educated Portuguese speaker from Portugal and one from Spain, the level of intelligibility would likely around 75% – 80%. The reason for the slight decrease with this pair would have to do with accents. The Castilian Spanish accent is gunfire super fast, and the Portuguese accent is less vowel friendly than Spanish. A lot also depends on who is doing the talking and who is doing the listening. From the many real life experiments that I have conducted on the level of intelligibility between Spanish and Portuguese speakers from the above mentioned countries, my figures are very, very close to accurate.

  2. Why did you use synonyms and different semantic structures to make Portuguese and Spanish look so different? I’m a native Spanish speaker and I can tell you that I understand 100% of written Portuguese… and after three days in Porto, I could understand it also when spoken…

    Natural translation:

    Spanish: ¿Hay algún lugar interesante que podamos visitar?
    Portuguese: Há algum lugar interessante que possamos visitar?

    Spanish: ¿Dónde me recomienda para comer?
    Portuguese: Onde você me recomenda para comer?

    Spanish: Reservé un cuarto.
    Portuguese: Eu reservei um quarto.

    Of course you can stress absurd differences as you did in your article…

    Stressed translation to make Portuguese and Spanish different for a foreigner:

    Spanish: ¿Acaso habrá un sitio de interés para que vayamos a conocerlo?
    Portuguese: Há algum lugar interessante que possamos visitar?

    Spanish: ¿Adónde me aconsejas ir a comer?
    Portuguese: Onde você me recomenda para comer?

    Spanish: He prenotado una alcoba.
    Portuguese: Eu reservei um quarto.

    1. Very well composed post Ignacio!

      You obviously have a deep understanding of the very special relationship that the Portuguese and Spanish languages share.

      It also bothers me when people intentionally try to make both look as different to one another as possible. Italians are famous for this, as it seems to really bother them that the Iberian brother languages of Portuguese and Spanish languages are as remarkably similar to one another as they are, and that a very high level of intelligibility exists between both, to the extent that they can both have a wonderfully fluid conversation with one another, each speaking in his own native language. There is a significant portion of Italian vocabulary and grammar that is unfamiliar to the Portuguese and Spanish speakers which significantly hinders the intelligibility between the Italian and (SpanishPortuguese) speakers.

      The reality is that Portuguese and Spanish speakers can easily communicate with one another, and occasionally when an unfamiliar word comes up, it is quite simple for them to decipher the meaning of an unfamiliar word through context alone. Often times what appears as a difference is nothing more than just a different word choice. A Spanish speaker will say something using a preferred word, whereas the Portuguese speaker will know that word, but might use another cognate in place of the particular word that the Spanish speaker chose to use. It’s as simple as that.

      Additionally, 90% of cognate vocabulary exists in the dictionaries of both languages. Sometimes a Spanish speaker will also use a more modern word, whereas the Portuguese speaker will use a more archaic form of the word. But for educated speakers of both, this poses no trouble at all. The grammars of both languages are also incredibly similar, as are the sentence structures of both languages.

      Heck, even most of our first names and surnames are also the same! The Portuguese and Spaniards are also pretty much the same people based on the results of various DNA studies.

      Thanks for your excellent insights!

      tu hermano Jorge

  3. I met a lady coworker from Colombia, we used to try speaking in our languages but we started adding some words in English. I think mostly she didn’t understand me, and we switched to just speaking English.

  4. “How do European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese differ?
    The main difference between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese is the pronunciation. However, there are also vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and spelling differences that make the two languages differ.”
    There have been spelling agreements between Portugal and Brazil over time. The last one, which is in effect, dates back to 1990 and establishes a spelling unit for 98% of the words. However, the situation of the uniqueness of the Portuguese language is a controversial issue, contrary to what happens with the Spanish/Castilian language (a single form of writing, regulated by the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language). To learn more see

  5. I speak Spanish fluently and when I went to Brazil I could understand about 90-95% of what they said and they could understand about 95% of what I said. I also went to Portugal and I would say it dropped maybe to 88-93%. A little harder to understand for the untrained ear but I got around speaking Brazilian Portuguese.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related articles