Letter Sounds In Portuguese

It’s possible to create new sounds in Portuguese when combining two letters in pairs like SS, RR, LH, NH, CH; when using accent signs over the vowels (á, é, ó, ú, ê, ô, ã, õ, à); and when using the cedilla under the c – ç. The words used here as examples for the closest sounds in English are not necessarily the translation for the Portuguese words.


The Sound of SS –  The Sound of RR

You have already seen in the alphabet post that the s and the r are letters that can be doubled in Portuguese.  When doubled, they are placed in the middle of a word, between two vowels. The sound of SS is soft like in mass, but the sound of RR is hard like the sound of the letter H in English as in the word host.

Examples: massa (mass)  –  carro   (host)


The Sound of LH Pair

When an L is paired with an H, the sound of the LH pair is very similar to the double l in the English word million and the Spanish word calle. However, you need to make sure the tip of your tongue touches the internal part of the top of your front teeth as you finish sounding the syllable that contains the LH pair. 

Example: milho (million)


The Sound of NH Pair

When an N is paired with an H, the sound of the NH pair is exactly the same sound as that of the Ñ in Spanish as in the word niño

Example: Ninho (niño)


The Sound of CH Pair

When a C is paired with an H,  you get the pair CH which sounds exactly the same way as the SH sound in English in the word she.

Example: chá (she)


The Sound of Vowels With Accent Marks

In Portuguese, the sound of the vowels change when we use accent marks on them. There are four different kinds of accent marks that can be used on top of the vowels: acute (á, é, ó, ú), circumflex (ê, ô), tilde (ã,õ), and grave accent (à).

The acute accent makes the vowels have an open sound: já (abbey), café (bed), vovó (oh), baú (boo).

The circumflex makes the vowels sound closed: você , vovô (oat)

The tilde makes the vowels sound nasal: mão , limões

The grave accent is used to indicate the contraction of two words represented by word a in a sentence rather than for creating a new sound; the feminine definite article a (the) and the preposition a (to). They become one word and the grave accent is used on it – so a + a = à. So, in this case, the sound of the a does not change. It continues the same as the name of the letter in the alphabet as well as the á as mentioned above.

Example: Vou à casa da Maria. I go to Maria’s home.


The sound of the ç

When the cedilla is used under a c, the hard sound /k/ before an a or an o changes to the soft sound of /s/ as in some.  

Example: laço – lasso


 If you’re just starting on your journey of Portuguese learning, you will probably enjoy making a stop at the Starter Guide.


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