There is a common misconception that Portuguese and Spanish are so alike that if you know one you basically know the other. Some even go as far as to believe that these two are the same language. The latter is not true. Both languages belong to the Ibero-Romance sub-group of Romance languages. This means that these two languages are, indeed, closely related, and share quite a few similarities.
Here are a few examples:
- There are a lot of similar words, especially for the most commonly used terms: agua, sol, comer, bonito, desculpa.
- The word order is generally the same in both languages.
- The use of genders for common nouns is very similar in the two languages. There are, however, quite a few words that are feminine in Spanish and masculine in Portuguese and vice versa.
- The conjugation systems of the two languages follow the same logic and declinations.
However, with that the similarities of these two languages are very much exaggerated. There are not only enough differences and subtleties to make Portuguese and Spanish two different languages – there are enough differences to make these two languages not mutually intelligible whatsoever.
Pronunciation is one of the biggest differences. Portuguese has a lot of slurred sounds, it is a very fluid language, as opposed to Spanish, where words are more deliberate. Portuguese also has a significantly larger phonemic inventory than Spanish. This may partially explain why spoken Portuguese is generally not very intelligible to Spanish speakers despite the lexical similarity between the two languages.
For example, it is much easier to understand that ‘queijo’ is the same as ‘queso’ (cheese) in writing than when these words are pronounced and there are quite a few words like this.
Here are some of the other notable differences between Portuguese and Spanish:
- In using possessive pronouns, Brazilians will tend to say a casa dela whereas Spanish speakers will say su casa. If you say a sua casa in Portuguese, it would likely be interpreted as your house (formal).
- The use of the definite article is more common in Portuguese than in Spanish. In Portuguese, it’s ‘vou ao Brasil’ while in Spanish it’s ‘voy a Brasil’ (I’m going to Brazil) with o being the definite article here.
- Portuguese has a future, present, and past subjective.
- Object pronoun positions are not always the same: in Portuguese, they go before the verb even when the verb is an infinitive, while in Spanish they can merge with the verb, placed at the end of the verb: Eu não sei parar de te olhar. – Yo no sé parar de mirarte. (I can’t stop looking at you).
- The use of gostar/gustar (to like) is different in Portuguese and Spanish: Eu gosto de você. – Me gustas tú. (I like you).
To sum it up, Portuguese and Spanish do share some similarities, and knowledge on one of the two languages can make learning the other one easier.
However, there are enough differences to make these languages not mutually intelligible, especially in the spoken form.