Best Practices

How to Translate from English to Portuguese More Accurately

To translate is, per se, a challenge for any translator. And it will always be, especially for those translating to Portuguese. This is because of the peculiarities of the Portuguese language: complex grammar, wide array of vocabulary, variants, many dialects, intrinsic cultural aspects and dynamicity of the language.
Gabriel Polycarpo
25 min
Table of Contents

Peculiarities of the Portuguese Language

To translate is, per se, a challenge for any translator. And it will always be, especially for those translating to Portuguese. This is because of the peculiarities of the Portuguese language: complex grammar, wide array of vocabulary, variants, many dialects, intrinsic cultural aspects and dynamicity of the language.

Influences on the Portuguese Language

Portuguese is a Romance language, meaning it derived from Latin, more specifically the vulgar or colloquial Latin. It was greatly influenced by the Arabic language, due to the Muslim expansions into the Iberian Peninsula that started in the 8th century and lasted for at least 800 years with the Arab peoples in the region.

Moreover, the Portuguese also received some influence from Greek, as well as indigenous peoples in the case of Brazil.
 Because of that, Portuguese is a language rich in vocabulary and grammar, with a wide gamut of semantic nuances.

The Internet Boom

The tech boom period, that started in 1995, was instrumental for the influence of the English language on many cultures in the world. Many words such as ‘web’, ‘e-mail’, ‘internet’, download’, design’ and ‘login’ are now part of the Portuguese language.

Spelling Reform of the Portuguese Language

On January 1st, 2009, seeking to unify spelling between the Brazilian and European variants, an agreement was put in practice. Some of the changes included the abolition of umlaut (those two little dots over the letter ‘u’ in some words), abolition of the circumflex (^) and the acute accent (´) in some instances.

As a translator, you will want to make sure to stick to the correct spelling of the words. If you are unsure of how a word is spelled, Volp - Vocabulário Oficial da Língua Portuguesa is a great resource.


The Vocabulário Oficial da Língua Portuguesa is responsible for providing the correct spelling for words in Brazilian Portuguese. Whenever in doubt, check out Volp.

Foreign Words and Italicization

Both in English and in Portuguese, foreign words and phrases that are unfamiliar should be italicized.

Because languages are dynamic, a word considered unfamiliar at a given moment, may soon become ‘familiar’ and italicizing it may fall into disuse.

It is important to be aware of the trends and the routes the words are taking.

Foreign Words that Acquired New Meanings in Portuguese

In Portuguese, especially in Brazilian Portuguese, English words that entered the language acquired new meanings or are being used with different meanings then its counterpart. See the examples below:

Languages are dynamic, that is, they are constantly changing. Very often what happens is that a word that was once present in a language might have been replaced with a new term, while the language that inherited the word never replaced it.

When using English words in Portuguese, make sure they carry the meaning you are intending.

The Cases of the ‘Smoking Jackets’ and the ‘Outdoor’

Smoking jackets were jackets designed to be worn while – literally – smoking. They were very popular among the aristocracy of 19th-century Europe and remained popular throughout the centuries, acquiring new names and usages. The word is still used in continental Europe meaning ‘tuxedo’ or ‘dinner jacket’ (not to be confused with a ‘frock coat’, which in Portuguese is a ‘fraque’).

‘Outdoor’ is probably short for “outdoor advertising”. However, only the first portion, “outdoor”, is used in Portuguese. Some of the words above are used in European Portuguese as well, as is the case with ‘outdoor’ and ‘smoking’.

Partial cognates: the enemies of the translators

We often hear about cognates and false cognates, but we don’t usually hear about partial cognates.

Partial cognates are words that are not 100% true cognates, they are very close in meaning, but with subtle differences. In some cases, the difference is so subtle that even the most well-versed translator could miss the subtle nuances in the translation.

Partial cognates can have more than one meaning either in the source or in the target language, affecting the translation negatively if the incorrect term is used in the translation.

It is important to mention that less commonly used partial cognates, such as ‘sacrosanct’, might go totally unnoticed by less experienced translators.

When a Word Translates in Several Different Ways in the Target Language

Whenever there are several possibilities of translation for a certain word, no matter what word you choose, it will have an impact on the quality of the translation.

Not always words have an equivalent in the target language. Sometimes, there are several options for a given word. Making a wrong decision may affect your translation negatively. For example:

‘Cachorro’ or ‘Cão’?

Both terms translate as dog in English. Only the word ‘dog’ can describe a dog in English. We could use the words ‘pup’ or ‘puppy’, but that will affect the meaning of the word, since a pup is a young dog. The term ‘hound’ can be used, but again, a hound is a special type of dog, a hunting one. 

In Portuguese there are, at least, two terms for the word ‘dog’ = ‘cachorro’ and ‘cão’, being the word ‘cachorro’ the term more broadly used in colloquial contexts. .

It is important to mention that, for the word ‘dog’, there’s an almost perfect equivalence between English and European Portuguese:

  • Dog = cão 
  • Pup, puppy = cachorro, cachorrinho

A female dog is a ‘cadela’ in both Brazilian and European Portuguese.

Baby animals of any species are known in Portuguese as ‘filhotes’.


The ending ‘inho’ (sometimes ‘zinho’) is a suffix that transmits the idea of a less intense, smaller version of the object/animal/adjective, or gives a more affectionate flavor to it. For example:

  • bonito = beautiful
  • bonitinho = cute, sweet, pretty 

We can add the ending ‘zinho’ to ‘cão’ (‘cãozinho’) as well. This would translate as ‘doggy’, ‘doggo’, little dog’ or even ‘cute little dog’. A young female dog would be a ‘cadelinha’ or ‘cachorrinha’. 

Other versions not so broadly used may be found in Portuguese, such as ‘doguinho’.

Regional variants may prefer one term over the other, so it is always important to bear in mind who your readers are, especially when dealing with localization and literary Portuguese.

The Difficulty of Translating the Word ‘You’

The word ‘you’ is one of the most basic terms of the English language but also one of the most difficult to translate. This is because many terms translate as ‘you’ in Portuguese, namely, ‘tu’, ‘você’/’vocês’, ‘cê’, ‘cês’, ‘vós’, ‘o senhor’/’os senhores’, ‘a senhora’/’as senhoras’, among other terms.

Each of these words have different usage depending on historical context and dialectal variants.

In Brazil:

Tu = used in some states such as Rio Grande do Sul. When addressing more than one person, ‘vocês’ is used.

Você = very common in states like São Paulo.

= a reduced and very informal version of “você’, used in colloquial speech in those states that use “você”. “Cês” is the plural form of “cê”. These should never be used in formal contexts.

O senhor/a senhora = a respectful way to address an older person. The use of ‘tu’ or ‘você’ when addressing older people is considered impolite in Brazil.

Vós = found more often in historical or religious contexts. It is a very formal term. The plural version of ‘vós’ is ‘vós’ (or ‘vós outros’, when emphasizing the opposition between the speaker and the other party). 

Note: some states in Brazil use both ‘tu’ and ‘você/vocês’. In English, the plural form ‘vocês’ may be rendered as ‘you’, ‘you guys’, you all/y’all (southern U.S.), ‘you boys/girls’, ‘you both’ (when addressing two people)’, ‘you lot’ (BrE), etc.

‘You’ In Portugal

In general, ‘tu’ tends to be the way people address others of around the same age, while ‘você’ tends to reflect a superior-to-inferior treatment, and ‘o senhor/a senhora’ the proper way to address older people. However this is not a fixed rule, and different dialects may disagree in terms of the level of formality/informality of those terms. In a few regional dialects of northern Portugal the word ‘vós’ is used.

Whenever translating the word you, make sure to know who your audience is, so as to to make an unfortunate decision.

Numbers and Symbols


In English, when writing figures over 999, such as 1,000, a comma is placed every third digit (thousands separator). 

However, in Portuguese-speaking countries a period is used instead. For example: 1.000. 

This is usually only used when expressing amounts. A period will not appear in house numbers, for instance.


When writing centuries in Portuguese, always use Roman numerals. For example:

  • Séc. XVII = the 17th century

Money Sign

In English, a space is not added between the money sign and the numeral, for example: US$100.55. In Portuguese, do add a space between the money sign and the numeral: R$ 100,55.


When expressing time in Portuguese, it is important to mention that both Brazil and Portugal use the 24-hour clock. For example:

Note: in informal speech, 14h30 will be read as ‘duas e meia’ (‘two thirty’).


Collocation refers to the natural juxtaposition of words and terms. For example, we say ‘knife and fork’, not ‘fork and knife’ (although the latter is not technically incorrect from the grammar viewpoint). 

There are many terms in Portuguese that will appear in the reverse order of their English counterparts. See the examples below:

Collocations include: verbs that are used with certain verbs, adjectives that go with certain nouns, verbs and expressions with prepositions, among others.

More examples: ‘a quick meal’ (not ‘a fast meal’), fast food (not ‘quick’ food), a round of applause, to burst into tears, etc.

These may greatly affect the quality of your translation.

Changing Word Order May Mean a Change in Meaning

In Portuguese, when changing the order of the terms, you might end up changing the meaning of your statement. For example:

Differences in Vocabulary Between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese

Brazilian Portuguese and European Portuguese differ not only in grammar, but especially in vocabulary. See the examples below:

Regional variations:

Different regions within a country may adopt different terms for the same word. For example:

  • Tangerine: tangerina, bergamota, vergamota,  laranja-cravo, mexerica, mimosa, poncã, among others.

  • Cassava: mandioca, aipim, macaxeira, castelinha, maniva, among others.

Whenever localizing a text or translation, it is important to make sure that the correct term that will resound with a certain audience is used, always taking into account register and style.

Names of Countries, Cities and People

Many names of countries, cities and people have their own version in Portuguese, the same way as it happens in English. For instance: ‘Veneza’ (city in Italy) in Italian, ‘Venice’ in English and ‘Veneza’ in Portuguese.

It is very important to check dictionaries when translating names of cities, regions and countries.

Names of countries

Names of cities

Historical Names of People

Historical names in English also have their version in Portuguese. It is the case with famous kings and queens, philosophers, sailors, warriors, biblical characters and other characters of historical relevance.

Biblical names also have their own unique versions in Portuguese:

Glossaries, TMs and Terminology Management Systems

Glossaries, translation memories (TMs) and terminology management systems are the best friends of translators, as they help them find accurate translations for specific words in the target language, while saving time and ensuring consistency. 

A glossary can be defined as a compilation of terms in a specific field of knowledge, such as medical, botanical, civil engineering, etc.

In the translation field, it is common for translators to create glossaries of key terms in CAT tools (computer-assisted softwares) to be used in translation projects. These databases are managed by terminology management systems.

In a CAT tool, translation memories help translators save time, at the same time that they help deliver consistent translations.

Final Words

The complexity of the Portuguese language can pose big challenges to translators, especially for the less experienced translators.

When in doubt, it is important to check style guides, dictionaries, specialized glossaries, and resources such as the Vocabulário Oficial da Língua Portuguesa.

Moreover, it is of paramount importance to have a powerful translation management system.

Bureau Work’s leading-edge translation management system, through its sophisticated technology, ensures linguistic consistency, while its integrated AI system provides alternative translation versions and flags potential semantic errors.

Streamline your workflow, ensure accuracy and save time with Bureau Works.

Gabriel Polycarpo
As a translator and creative writer, Gabriel specializes in writing/translating for the technology and hospitality industries, having provided copywriting, localization and translation services for major companies such as Skillshare, Tech5, Hotelogix, Fidentech, Earn2Trade, UN agencies, Yarina Lodge, Hacienda La Ciénega and Fundación Pachamama, as well as production companies, independent producers and writers such as the BlinkBox Studio (Jordan), Studio Zut (São Paulo) and American author Bryan Cassady.
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