11 Fascinating Facts About the Portuguese Language

11 Fascinating Facts About the Portuguese Language

From the vibrant sounds of Portuguese heard in countries like Brazil and Portugal to its presence on nearly all continents, it's no wonder why this unique language is one of the most widely spoken today. Portuguese is much more than just a global tongue however; here are some fascinating facts about this incredible language.

It’s the official language of nine countries

With its presence in nine countries and one Chinese autonomous territory, Portuguese is a much more widespread language than most people think. From bustling urban centers like Rio de Janeiro to the remote island nation of São Tomé and Principe, this vibrant tongue has become an integral part of life for millions across the globe - creating links between far-flung places that share common history, culture, traditions...and language.

Only 5% of Portuguese speakers live in Portugal

Although Portuguese is a language that has its roots in Portugal, the vast majority of Lusophone speakers come from elsewhere. It's estimated an enormous ninety-nine percent live outside this historical home and are spread across numerous countries including Brazil and Mozambique where it just so happens to be their official tongue. Talk about wide reach.

It’s the fastest-growing European language in the world behind English

From South America to Africa and Asia, Portuguese is becoming a globally recognized language. With over 250 million speakers worldwide, it’s no wonder why UNESCO believes that the “potential for success of this Romance language as an international communication tool is huge.” It looks like Portuguese could soon become one of the world's most ubiquitous tongues.

It’s heavily influenced by Arabic

As the Islamic Moors from North Africa and the Middle East conquered Portugal and Spain in the eighth century, a form of Arabic was the official language of the Iberian Peninsula until the Reconquista of the 13th century. As a result, the Portuguese language underwent a heavy influence from Arabic, and many words of Arabic origin remain in everyday parlance, including almofada (cushion), azeitona (olive), and garrafa (bottle).

English has borrowed several Portuguese words

Portuguese’s worldwide spread inevitably led to several of its words making their way into the English language. Examples are “embarrass” (coming from the Portuguese embaraçar, to tie in knots), “cobra,” and “fetish” (from feitiço, meaning a charm or sorcery).

Each verb tense has six different endings

Arguably the biggest stumbling block for English speakers who are trying to learn Portuguese is that each verb tense has six different conjugations for a variety of pronouns. As an example, the English verb “to write” has two conjugations in the present tense—I/you/we/they write, he/she/it writes. However, the equivalent verb in Portuguese would be conjugated as follows: eu escrevo, tu escreves, ele/ela/você escreve, nós escrevemos, vós escreveis, elas/eles/vocês escrevem.

Portuguese has two verbs meaning “to be”

While English’s “to be” is universal, Portuguese has two different verbs for these situations: ser and estar. Ser is for permanent, unchanging examples, while estar is for temporary situations such as mood or weather. However, this separation throws up some fascinating quirks, as the Portuguese language considers marriage to be permanent and unchanging, using ser casado instead of estar casado.

European and Brazilian Portuguese are quite different

While often compared to the difference between American and British English, which are variations of the same language yet very similar, Portuguese from Portugal and Portuguese from Brazil are considerably more distant. The main difference comes in the use of the second-person pronoun. In Portugal, tu and vós are commonly used, while these (especially the latter) are rarely heard in Brazil, which favors the pronouns você and vocês.

Although você is regarded as modern and less formal, along with the rest of Brazilian Portuguese, the opposite is in fact true. Você is a contracted version of the formal deferential greeting vossa mercê (“your mercy”), and many of the differences between the two versions relate to Brazilian Portuguese’s inclination to use terms from 18th- and 19th-century Portuguese.

Portuguese comes from Galicia in Northwest Spain

Portuguese is a unique language, rooted in the union of different dialects and Latin. Emerging as its own distinct tongue around the 14th century, it has remained close to Galician - so much so that Portuguese-speakers today can easily understand their linguistic neighbor