Portuguese orthography

Portuguese orthography

The Portuguese orthography is based on the Latin alphabet, and makes use of the acute accent, the circumflex accent, the grave accent, the tilde, and the cedilla, to denote stress, vowel height, nasalization, and other sound changes. Accented letters and digraphs are not counted as separate characters for collation purposes.

A full list of sounds, diphthongs, and their main spellings, is given at Portuguese phonology. For the main values of each letter and digraph, see Portuguese alphabet. This article addresses the less trivial details of the spelling of Portuguese, as well as other issues of orthography, such as accentuation.



The spelling of Portuguese is largely phonemic, but some phonemes can be spelled in more than one way. In ambiguous cases, the correct spelling is determined through a combination of etymology with morphology and common tradition, so there is not a perfect one-to-one correspondence between sounds and letters or digraphs. Knowing the main inflectional paradigms of Portuguese, and being acquainted with the orthography of other languages of Western Europe, can be helpful in this regard.

In the remainder of this article, the phrase "at the end of a syllable" can be understood as "before a consonant, or at the end of a word".

Sounds with more than one spelling

Most consonants have the same values as in the International Phonetic Alphabet, except for the palatals /ʎ/ and /ɲ/, which are spelled lh and nh, respectively, and the following velars, rhotics, and sibilants:

Velar plosives

Phoneme Default Before e or i
Spelling Examples Spelling Examples
/k/ c, q[plosive note 1] casa, quatro qu quente, aqui
/ɡ/ g gato, grão gu guerra, guitarra


  1. ^ in some Latinisms


The alveolar tap /ɾ/ is always spelled as a single r. The other rhotic phoneme of Portuguese, which may be pronounced as a trill /r/ or as one of the fricatives /x/, /ʁ/, or /h/, according to the idiolect of the speaker, is either written rr or r, as described below. For this phoneme, the phrase "at the start of a syllable" can be understood as "at the beginning of words and after /l/, /n/, /z/, /ʒ/".

Phoneme Start of syllable[rhotic note 1] Between vowels End of syllable[rhotic note 2]
Spelling Examples Spelling Examples Spelling Examples
/ʁ ~ x ~ h ~ r/ r rosa, tenro rr carro r sorte, mar


  1. ^ only when it is the first sound in the syllable (in which case it is always followed by a vowel). For instance, a word like prato is pronounced with a tap, /ɾ/
  2. ^ in some dialects; in the others, the r is usually a tap at the end of syllables


For the following phonemes, the phrase "at the start of a syllable" can be understood as "at the start of a word, or between a consonant and a vowel, in that order".

Phoneme Start of syllable1 Between vowels End of syllable
Spelling Examples Spelling Examples Spelling Examples
/s/ s, c3 sapo, psique,
maçã, cedo
ss, ç2, c3, x4 assado, passe,
açorda, alperce
s, x5, z6 isto,
/z/ z zumbido,
z, s, x7 prazo, azeite,
rosa, Brasil,
s, x8, z8 turismo,
/ʃ/ ch, x chuva, cherne,
xarope, xisto
ch, x fecho, duche,
caixa, mexilhão
s, x5, z6 isto,
/ʒ/ j, g3 jogo, jipe,
j, g3 ajuda, pajem,
s, x8, z8 turismo,
1 including consonant clusters that belong to a single syllable, like psique
2 before a, o, u. Ç never starts or ends a word.
3 before e, i
4 only in a very small number of words derived from Latin, such as trouxe and próximo
5 only in words derived from Latin or Greek, preceded by e and followed by one of the voiceless consonants c, p, s, t
6 only at the end of words and in rare compounds
7 only in a few words derived from Latin or Greek that begin with ex- or hex- followed by a vowel, and in compounds made from such words
8 only in a few compound words

Note that there are two main groups of accents in Portuguese, one in which the sibilants are alveolar at the end of syllables (/s/ or /z/), and another in which they are postalveolar (/ʃ/ or /ʒ/). In this position, the sibilants occur in complementary distribution, voiced before voiced consonants, and voiceless before voiceless consonants or at the end of utterances.

Nasal vowels and diphthongs

Nasal vowels are normally indicated with a tilde before other vowels. Before consonants, they are usually spelled by writing a silent m or n next to the vowel itself. At the end of words, most nasal vowels are indicated by a trailing silent m. The low central vowel /ɐ̃/, however, is spelled ã at the end of words, before word-final s, and in compounds.

Monophthongs Diphthongs
Sound Spelling Sound Spelling
Before a consonant Word final
/ɐ̃/ an, am, ân, âm -ã-1 /ɐ̃ȷ̃/ ãe, ãi2
/ẽ/ en, em, ên, êm - /ɐ̃w̃/ ão, -am
/ĩ/ in, im, ín, ím -im /ɐ̃ȷ̃ ~ ẽȷ̃/ -em, -ém, -en-, -én-
/õ/ on, om, ôn, ôm -om /ɐ̃ȷ̃ ~ ẽȷ̃/ -êm
/ũ/ un, um, ún, úm -um /õȷ̃/ õe
1 also before word-final s
2 the spelling ãi appears in non-final syllables, in a small number of words such as cãibra

The letter m is conventionally written before b or p or at the end of words (also in a few compound words such as comummente), and n is written before other consonants. In the plural, the ending -m changes into -ns; for example bem, rim, bom, umbens, rins, bons, uns. Some learned words end with -n (which is usually pronounced in European Portuguese).

Nasalization of u is left unmarked in the six words muito, muita, muitos, muitas, mui, ruim (the latter one only in Brazilian Portuguese).

The word endings -am, -em, -en(+s), with or without an accent mark on the vowel, represent nasal diphthongs derived from various Latin endings, often -ant, -unt or -en(t)-. Final -am, which appears in polysyllabic verbs, is always unstressed. The grapheme -en- is also pronounced as a nasal diphthong in a few compound words, such as bendito (bem + dito), homenzinho (homem + zinho), and Benfica.


The semivowel in an oral (falling) diphthong is spelled with i or u (ai, ei, oi, ui; au, eu, iu, ou). Nasal diphthongs are spelled with e or o at the end of words (-ãe, -ão, -õe; -ães, -ãos, -ões).

Morphological considerations

Verbs whose infinitive ends in -jar have j in the whole conjugation. Thus, viagem "voyage" (noun), but viajem (3rd. pers. plur. of the present subjunctive of the verb viajar "to travel").

Verbs whose thematic vowel becomes a stressed i in one of their inflections are spelled with an i in the whole conjugation, as are other words of the same family. Thus, crio (I create) implies criar (to create) and criatura (creature).

Verbs whose thematic vowel becomes a stressed ei in one of their inflections are spelled with an e in the whole conjugation, as are other words of the same family. Thus, nomeio (I nominate) implies nomear (to nominate) and nomeação (nomination).

Etymological considerations

The majority of the Portuguese lexicon is derived from Latin, Greek, and some Arabic, so in principle this would require some knowledge of those languages. However, Greek words are Latinized before being incorporated into the language, and many words of Latin or Greek origin have easily recognizable cognates in English and other western European languages which are spelled according to similar principles. For instance, glória, "glory", glorioso, "glorious", herança "inheritance", real "real/royal". Some general guidelines for spelling are given below:

  • CU vs. QU: where u is pronounced syllabically it is written with c, as in cueca [kuˈɛkɐ] (underwear), and where it represents a labialized velar plosive, it is written with q, as in quando [ˈkwɐ̃du] (when).
  • G vs. J: etymological g changes into j before a, o, u.
  • H: this letter is silent; it appears only at the start of a word for etymology or by convention, in a few interjections, and as part of the digraphs ch, lh, nh. Latin or Greek ch, ph, rh, th, and y are usually converted into c/qu, f, r, t, and i, respectively.
  • O vs. OU: in many words has the variant oi, normally corresponds to Latin and Arabic au or al, and more rarely to Latin ap, oc.
  • S/SS vs. C/Ç: the letter s and the digraph ss correspond to Latin s, ss, or ns, and to Spanish s. The graphemes c (before e or i) and ç (before a, o, u) are usually derived from Latin c or t(i), or from s in non-European languages, such as Arabic and Amerindian languages. They correspond to Spanish z or c. At the beginning of words, however, s is written instead of etymological ç, by convention.
  • Z vs. S between vowels: the letter z corresponds to Latin c (+e, i) or t(i), to Greek or Arabic z. Intervocalic s corresponds to Latin s.
  • X vs. CH: the letter x derives from Latin x or s, or from Arabic sh, and usually corresponds to Spanish j. The digraph ch (before vowels) derives from Latin cl, fl, pl or from French ch, and corresponds to Spanish ll or ch.
  • S vs. X vs. Z at the end of syllables: s is the most common spelling for all sibilants. The letter x appears, preceded by e and followed by one of the voiceless consonants c, p, s, t, in some words derived from Latin or Greek. The letter z occurs only at the end of oxytone words and in compounds derived from them, corresponding to Latin x, c (+e, i) or to Arabic z.


Portuguese makes use of six diacritics.

The cedilla indicates that ç is pronounced /s/ (due to a historical palatalization). By convention, s is written instead of etymological ç at the beginning of words (like in São, familiar short form of the name Conceição).

The acute accent and the circumflex accent indicate that a vowel is stressed, and also the quality of the accented vowel, more precisely its height: á, é, and ó are low vowels (except in nasal vowels), while â, ê, and ô are high vowels. They also distinguish a few homographs: cf. por "by" with pôr "to put", pode "[he/she/it] can" with pôde "[he/she/it] could".

The tilde marks nasal vowels before glides such as in cãibra and nação, at the end of words, before final -s, and in some compounds, like romãzeira "pomegranate tree", from romã "pomegranate", and vãmente "vainly", from "vain". It usually coincides with the stressed vowel, unless there is an acute or circumflex accent elsewhere in the word, or if the word is compound, e.g. órgão "organ", irmã + zinha ("sister" + diminutive suffix) = irmãzinha "little sister".

The grave accent marks the contraction of two consecutive vowels in adjacent words (crasis), normally the preposition a and an article or a demonstrative pronoun: a + aquela = àquela "at that", a + a = à "at the", and so on. It does not indicate stress.

The graphemes â, ê and ô typically represent oral vowels, but before m or n followed by another consonant they are nasal vowel. Elsewhere, nasal vowels are indicated with a tilde (ã, õ).


Below are the general rules for the use of the acute accent and the circumflex in Portuguese. Primary stress may fall on any of the three final syllables of a word, but occurs mainly on the last two. A word is called oxytone if it is stressed on its last syllable, paroxytone if stress falls on the syllable before the last (the penult), and proparoxytone if stress falls on the third syllable from the end (the antepenult). Most words are stressed on the penult.

All words stressed on the antepenult take an accent mark. Words with two or more syllables, stressed on their last syllable, is not accented if ending with any consonant letter but m and s, or when ending in -i, -is, -im, -u, -us, -um, except in hiatuses as in açaí, but the paroxytones words may be accented when ended in those cases for differentiating from oxytones words, as in lápis.


Monosyllables are typically not accented, but those whose last vowel is a, e, or o, possibly followed by final -s or final -m, may require an accent mark.

  • The verb pôr is accented, to be distinguished from the preposition por.
  • The 3rd. person plural forms of the verbs ter and vir, têm and vêm, are accented to be distinguished from the 3rd. person singular of the same verbs, tem, vem. Other monosyllables ending in -em are not accented.
  • Monosyllables ending in -o or -os with the vowel pronounced /u/ (as in English "do"), or in -e or -es with the vowel pronounced /i/ (as in English "be") or /ɨ/ (approximately as in English "roses"), are not accented. Otherwise, they are accented.
  • Monosyllables containing only the vowel a take an acute accent, except for the contractions of the preposition a with the articles a, as, which take the grave accent, à, às, and for the following clitic articles, pronouns, prepositions, or contractions, which are not accented: a, da, la, lha, ma, na, ta; as, das, las, lhas, mas, nas, tas. Note that most of these words have a masculine equivalent ending in -o(s), also not accented: o(s), do(s), lo(s), lho(s), mo(s), no(s), to(s).


  • The endings -a, -e, -o, -as, -es, -os, -am, -em, -ens are unstressed. The stressed vowel of words with such endings is assumed to be the first one before the ending itself: bonita, bonitas, gente, viveram, seria, serias (verbs), seriam. If the word happens to be stressed elsewhere, then it requires an accent mark: será, serás, até, séria, sérias (adjectives), Inácio, Amazônia/Amazónia. The endings -em and -ens take the acute accent when stressed (contém, convéns), except in 3rd. person plural forms of verbs derived from ter and vir, which take the circumflex (contêm, convêm). Words with other endings are regarded as oxytone by default: viver, jardim, vivi, bambu, pensais, pensei, pensou. They require an accent when they are stressed on a syllable other than their last: táxi, fácil, amáveis.
  • Rising diphthongs (which may also be pronounced as hiatuses) containing stressed i or stressed u are accented, so that they will not be pronounced as falling diphthongs. Exceptions are those where the stressed vowel forms a syllable with a letter other than s. Thus, raízes (syllabified as ra-í-zes), incluído (u-í), and saíste (a-ís) are accented, but raiz (ra-iz), sairmos (a-ir) and saiu (a-iu) are not. (There are a few more exceptions, not discussed here.)
  • The stressed diphthongs ei, eu, oi take an acute accent on the first vowel whenever it is low.

Aside from these cases, there are a few more words that take an accent, usually to disambiguate frequent homographs such as pode (present tense of the verb poder) and pôde (past tense of the same verb). Note also that the accentuation rules of Portuguese are somewhat different from those of Spanish (e.g. English "continuous" is Portuguese contínuo, Spanish continuo, and English "I continue" is Portuguese continuo, Spanish continúo, in both cases with the same syllable accented in Portuguese and Spanish).

Syllabification and collation

Portuguese syllabification rules require a syllable break between double letters cc, , mm, nn, rr, ss, or other combinations of letters which may be pronounced as a single sound, e.g. fric-ci-o-nar, pro-ces-so, car-ro, ex-ce(p)-to, ex-su-dar. Only the digraphs ch, lh, nh, gu, qu, and ou are indivisible. All digraphs are however broken down into their constituent letters for the purposes of collation, aloud spelling, and in crossword puzzles.

Other symbols


The apostrophe (') appears as part of certain phrases, usually to indicate the elision of a vowel in the contraction of a preposition with the word that follows it: de + água = d'água. It is used almost exclusively in poetry.


The hyphen (-) is used to make compound words, especially animal names like papagaio-de-rabo-vermelho "red-tailed parrot". It is also extensively used to append clitic pronouns to the verb, as in quero-o "I want it" (enclisis), or even to embed them within the verb, as in levaria + te + os = levar-tos-ia "I would take them to you" (mesoclisis). Proclitic pronouns are not connected graphically to the verb: não o quero "I do not want it". Each element in such compounds is treated as an individual word for accentuation purposes.

Quotation marks

In European Portuguese, as in many other European languages, angular quotation marks are used for general quotations in literature:

«Isto é um exemplo de como fazer uma citação em português europeu.»
"This is an example of how to make a quotation in European Portuguese."

Although American-style (“…”) or British-style ('...') quotation marks are sometimes used as well, especially in less formal types of writing (due to being more easily produced in keyboards) or inside nested quotations, they are less common in careful writing. In Brazilian Portuguese, only American and British-style quote marks are used.

"Isto é um exemplo de como fazer uma citação em português brasileiro."
"This is an example of how to make a quotation in Brazilian Portuguese."

In both varieties of the language, dashes are normally used for direct speech, rather than quotation marks:

― Aborreço-me tanto ― disse ela.
― Não tenho culpa disso ― retorquiu ele.
“I’m so bored,” she said.
“That’s not my fault,” he shot back.

Brazilian vs. European spelling

Written varieties
Portuguese speaking countries except Brazil before the 1990 agreement Brazil before the 1990 agreement All countries after the 1990 agreement translation
Different pronunciation
anónimo anônimo Both forms remain anonymous
Vénus Vênus Both forms remain Venus
facto fato Both forms remain fact
ideia idéia ideia idea
Silent consonants
acção ação ação action
direcção direção direção direction
eléctrico elétrico elétrico electric
óptimo ótimo ótimo very good
pinguim pingüim pinguim penguin
voo vôo voo flight
Non-personal and non-geographical names
Janeiro janeiro janeiro January

As of 2005, Portuguese has two orthographic standards:

  • The Brazilian orthography, official in Brazil.
  • The European orthography, official in Portugal, Macau, East Timor and the five African Portuguese language countries.

In East Timor, both orthographies are currently being taught in schools.

The table to the right illustrates typical differences between the two orthographies. Some are due to different pronunciations, but others are merely graphic. The main ones are:

  • Presence or absence of certain consonants: The letters c and p appear in some words before c, ç or t in one orthography, but are absent from the other. Normally, the letter is written down in the European spelling, but not in the Brazilian spelling.
  • Different use of diacritics: the Brazilian spelling has a, ê or ô followed by m or n before a vowel, in several words where the European orthography has á, é or ó, due to different pronunciation.

See also


  • Bergström, Magnus & Reis, Neves Prontuário Ortográfico Editorial Notícias, 2004.
  • Estrela, Edite A questão ortográfica — Reforma e acordos da língua portuguesa (1993) Editorial Notícias
  • Formulário Ortográfico (Orthographic Form) published by the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1943 - the present day spelling rules in Brazil
  • Text of the decree of the Brazilian government, in 1971, amending the orthography adopted in 1943
  • Orthographic Agreement of 1945 (in Portuguese) - the present day spelling rules in all Portuguese speaking countries
  • Orthographic Agreement of 1990 (PDF - in Portuguese) - to be adopted by all Portuguese speaking countries

External links

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