Portuguese and Spanish – Differences and Similarities! (2021)

Many people believe that Spanish and Portuguese are the same language with a different accent. Is this true? Of course not. There are similarities, but in reality we are talking about two different languages. The Portuguese language is similar to the Spanish language, that is a fact. Even those who do not speak either language can easily perceive the similarities between the languages.


Languages can be divided into families. In Europe, the largest families are the Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages. Portuguese and Spanish belong to the Romance family. Both share many similarities with the French and Italian languages. All these languages have their origins in Latin and have retained their essential characteristics: the order/sequence of words in the sentence and the genders of nouns. Despite the similarities among Romance languages, Portuguese and Spanish are the most similar.


Here are some examples: moon (lua), water (água), to drink (beber), sun (sol), beautiful (lindo), sorry (desculpe) are just a few. The conjugation of regular verbs follows the same logic and there are few differences in the verb endings. Despite all this proximity, sometimes communication between Portuguese and Spanish is not easy. Why is this so? The pronunciation is very different and is a factor that explains a lot of the communicational difficulties.


Comparing a text in Spanish and in Portuguese gives the reader a good perception of the differences. Here is an example:

Text in Spanish (El País newspaper, December 15, 2019)

“El mundo peina canas y cumple años. Muchos años. El envejecimiento de la población es uno de los grandes cambios sociales y económicos que se está produciendo hoy a escala mundial.”

European Portuguese translation

“O mundo penteia cabelos grisalhos e faz anos. Muitos anos. O envelhecimento da população é uma das grandes mudanças sociais e económicas que se está a produzir hoje à escala mundial.


European Portuguese has very closed sounds and syllables are often not perceptible. Spanish, on the other hand, has more open sounds and the syllables are pronounced more clearly and understandably. However, Spaniards speak very fast, which is also a disturbing factor in the communication between Portuguese and Spaniards.  The differences previously mentioned are true between the Portuguese of Portugal and the Spanish of Spain. But we should not forget that there are different variants of Portuguese (Portuguese from Portugal, from Brazil, from Mozambique, etc) and of Spanish (Spanish from Spain, from Venezuela, from Colombia, etc).



In South America, the differences between Portuguese and Spanish are smaller. For example, the second person singular (tu), is not used in both Portuguese and Spanish in South America. It is replaced by the third person singular: “você” in Portuguese and “usted” in Spanish. These two solutions are formal options in European Portuguese and Spanish of Spain.

Another clear example occurs with the use of the structure “estar a + infinitive” vs “Gerund” – (“present continuous” in English: “I am drinking”). In Spanish (European and Latin American), the gerund is used: “estoy comendo” – similar to the English solution. In Portugal, the structure “estar a + infinitive” is used to describe an action that is happening at the moment. Also from the previous example, it is correct to say that Brazilian Portuguese is closer to Spanish than European Portuguese.

Speaking Spanish is a huge advantage if you want to learn Portuguese and communicate effectively. However, it can also be an obstacle if the goal is to speak Portuguese fluently and without an accent. In fact, many Portuguese language students end up speaking a third language and the process of correcting these students is not (at all) easy for teachers (and students). 



In the past, the Iberian countries shared the same language, but over time, this mutual language evolved into different languages. Despite this, it is not difficult for a Portuguese speaker to understand a Spanish person and vice versa. However, we have to say that Spanish citizens often cannot understand Portuguese…

There is a famous language that is well known among the Iberians, called… “Portunhol”! It is a mixture between these two languages. We usually use it to understand each other. This funny language is a Portuguese with a Spanish accent. The question is, is it effective? The answer is: Yes! It usually works well! But sometimes false friends can be a problem…


POLVO. In Portugal this word is the name of an animal. However, in Spain, the word has a sexual connotation. Recommendation: if you want to use this word in Spain be careful…

EMBARAÇADA / EMBARAZADA. In Portuguese, “embaraçada” means to be ashamed of something. But in Spain, “embarazada” means to be pregnant.

BORRACHA. In Portugal, this word represents an object that is used to erase a pencil. But in Spain, this word is used to describe someone who is drunk.

It is very easy for Iberian people to learn Spanish (for a Portuguese) or Portuguese (for a Spaniard). However, speaking the new language without a strong accent is very… difficult!


Although they are similar languages, Spanish citizens who want to learn Portuguese as a foreign language need to study and practice a lot (the same logic applies to Portuguese people who want to learn Castilian). Click HERE for more information about our Portuguese classes.

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