Portuguese vs Spanish – How Similar Are They?

Portuguese vs Spanish

Considering Portuguese the same language as Spanish is perhaps one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to Latin languages, particularly in South America.

It is true that Portuguese and Spanish are from the same Latin language family. They share similar traits. However, this is similar for a lot of languages, certainly not unique to Portuguese and Spanish.

We know that Spanish and Portuguese are very similar to one another. But where do the similarities end and where do the differences begin? Today, we’ll look at the following:

👍 Spanish and Portuguese characters
👍 Tones, intonations and pronunciations
👍 The spoken languages, expressions and idioms

One thing before we get started: If you’re learning Portuguese or Spanish then be sure to check out our list of Language Resources. We have tested and rated dozens of online Portuguese and Spanish courses and language apps. Tap this link to find out more.

Is Portuguese the same as Spanish?

Despite both originating in the Iberian Peninsular, Portuguese and Spanish are completely different languages. However, they share many commonalities, so much so that 90% of their words have a cognate (equivalent) in the other language. This means that Spanish and Portuguese contain a lexical similarity of 90%!

Taking this into account, you’d be forgiven for assuming that speakers of one will be able to understand the other. This is not the case, particularly in spoken form. Whilst Spanish and Portuguese bear resemblance on paper, Portuguese pronunciation is more complicated than Spanish.

For this reason, Portuguese speakers are far more likely to understand the Spanish language than vice-versa.

an image of a Portuguese book
Portuguese vs Spanish: Where They’re Spoken

Spanish is one of the world’s most popular languages, spoken by more than 580 million people worldwide. That’s 7.8% of the world population. It is most common in South and Central America. Within this region, Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, including Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.

Each of these countries has its own local, regional and national accents and dialects. So, whichever accent you end up adopting, you’ll come across plenty more during your learning journey.

Portuguese, on the other hand, is spoken in 10 countries worldwide. These include Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal and Guinea-Bissau, equating to 280 million people. This makes Portuguese the ninth most spoken language in the world.

Whilst Spanish is the most widely spoken Romance language in the world, Portuguese is a close second (in terms of native speakers).

How similar are the two languages?

Look at the sentences below and you’ll see that Spanish and Portuguese are extremely similar in many ways. Not only are the many of the verbs the same in the infinitive form (with a similar conjugated form) but nouns are also alike.

🇺🇸 English: “Is there a place to eat Brazilian food close to here?”
🇪🇸 Spanish:¿Hay algún lugar para comer comida brasileña cerca de aquí?”
🇵🇹 Portuguese:Tem algum lugar para comer comida brasileira perto daqui?”

🇺🇸 English: “Where do you recommend I buy my shopping in this neighbourhood?”
🇪🇸 Spanish:¿Dónde me recomiendas que compre mis compras en este barrio?”
🇵🇹 Portuguese: “Onde você recomenda que eu compre minhas compras neste bairro?”

🇺🇸 English: “I have booked a table at this restaurant. Do you want to eat there?”
🇪🇸 Spanish:He reservado una mesa en este restaurante. ¿Quieres comer ahí?”
Portuguese:Eu reservei uma mesa neste restaurante. Você quer comer aí?”

🇺🇸 English: “Do you want to go for a drink with me tonight?”
🇪🇸 Spanish: “¿Quieres ir a tomar una copa conmigo esta noche?
Portuguese: “Você quer ir tomar uma bebida comigo esta noite?

🇺🇸 English: “Where can I find more information?”
🇪🇸 Spanish: “¿Dónde puedo encontrar más información?”
Portuguese: “Onde posso encontrar mais informações?”

As you’ll see from these five sentences, it’s no surprise that speakers of Portuguese and Spanish are able to read the other language in its written form.

Portuguese vs Spanish: How are they Similar?

We’ve seen from the sentences above that Portuguese and Spanish are very similar. Now, we understand why this is. Let’s explore the specific ways in which these languages differ.

1. The Characters

Spanish is a phonetic language with 27 letters in its alphabet. Portuguese, on the other hand, is not phonetic and contains the same 26 letters as English.

Many words, including numbers, will remain relatively similar when they are translated from Portuguese to Spanish. Often, the difference is as little as one vowel, as we’ll see below.

The reason for the additional vowel is often diphthongs, which are sounds that are created when two vowels are combined. Spanish diphthongs include:

✅ ue
✅ ua
✅ ie


These are substituted for an e or an o in the Portuguese language.

The Portuguese diphthong ei replaces the letter e in Spanish. Below are some examples of how diphthongs are used to differentiate between the Spanish and Portuguese languages:

✅ Wood in Spanish is madera, while in Portuguese it’s madeira.
✅ New in Spanish is nuevo, while in Portuguese it’s novo.
✅ First in Spanish is primero, while in Portuguese it’s primeiro.

As you can see, both languages use diphthongs which differentiate them. These differences will be seen more in writing than in the spoken language, although diphthongs do alter the pronunciation of some words.

2. The Tones

Understanding tones is important when learning to speak Spanish or Portuguese with any degree of fluency. Whilst neither language is considered a tonal language like Mandarin or Korean, the intonation of accents in both languages varies depending on country.

The Spanish in Argentina, for example, differs greatly in tone and intonation from that of its Castilian Spanish counterpart in Spain. The same is true for Portuguese in Brazil, which is far more varied in tone and intonation than the Portuguese spoken in its native Portugal.

Neither language relies on the pitch of words to convey meaning. However, the accents placed on words in both languages indicate where the stress of the word should be when spoken aloud.

3. Expressions and Idioms

Learning the expressions and idioms of any language is beneficial. It is one of the quickest ways to sound like you possess a high level of fluency, even if you are still learning. Like most languages, Spanish and Portuguese are full of fixed expressions and idiomatic phrases.  Below are a few of the most common idioms of Spanish.

🇪🇸 Tomar el pelo – translates to ‘to take the hair’, which can be compared to the English saying to pull someone’s leg.
🇪🇸 Tirar la casa por la ventana – means ‘to throw the house through the window’. While this might seem peculiar at first, it is simply the Spanish way of saying to ‘spare no expense’, or that money is no object.
🇪🇸 Lo dijo de labios para fuera – translates to ‘he said it from the lips outwards’. In other words, you’d say this when you didn’t mean something you said prior.

Likewise, Portuguese speakers have their own idioms in their native tongue. Let’s take a look at a few of these.

🇵🇹 Uma andorinha não faz verão – translates to ‘one swallow does not make a summer’, which is a much nicer way of saying that working together is better than working alone.
🇵🇹 Comprar gato por lebre – ‘to buy a cat thinking it was a rabbit’. This is an idiom that translates to being fooled in English.
🇵🇹 Está para nascer um burro – translates to ‘a donkey is about to be born’, which refers to being shocked when someone is doing something out of the ordinary. If it’s hard to believe, you can use this idiom.

an image of a spanish bookPortuguese vs Spanish: The Spoken Languages

The majority of words in the Spanish and Portuguese languages are similar to one another, which makes them easier to understand if you know one language fluently. As mentioned earlier, 90% of the words in both languages have a cognate (a similar-looking equivalent).

However, there are some false cognates within these languages which means that some words can look very similar but mean completely different things. For example

✅ Salty in Spanish is salada, while in Portuguese salada means salad.
✅ Powder in Spanish is polvo, while in Portuguese polvo means octopus.

Although these examples are funny, they are easy mistakes to make. Falling for a false cognate could become rude and offensive very quickly!

Likewise, there are some words in the Spanish language that are completely different in the Portuguese language. An example of this would be dinner, which is cena in Spanish, and jantar in Portuguese. Cena in Portuguese means scene, which is completely different from dinner.

Why Learn Portuguese?

👍 You’ll be able to communicate with more than 200 million people
👍 You’ll familiarize yourself with new cultures in multiple continents
👍 Your resume will improve, with Portuguese often required by employers

If you are a speaker of Spanish already, it makes perfect sense to choose Portuguese as your next language. According to the British Council, only 5% of the Brazilian population are able to communicate in English.

Being able to speak Portuguese is incredibly useful. It will enable you to converse with natives in Portugal and Brazil, whether on vacation or travelling for work.

Both Portugal and Brazil are home to fascinating cultures which can only be explored properly if you are able to understand the language.

A good way to practice Brazilian Portuguese, in particular, is through music. Brazil is home to a range of original dance styles. These include forró, repente, coco de roda, axé, sertanejo, samba, bossa nova.

Why Learn Spanish?

👍 You’ll be able to communicate with more than 580 million people
👍 You’ll familiarize yourself with new cultures
👍 Spanish is the third most required language by employers

Spanish is now considered the most important language to learn in the U.K and U.S. Being able to speak Spanish provides a plethora of social and professional opportunities.

Mexico, for example, is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Only 12% of Mexicans are able to communicate in English. Knowledge of Spanish is, therefore, pretty essential for any company wishing to work in this market.

As the most commonly spoken Romance language in the world, the ability to speak Spanish will also enable you to learn other languages.

We’ve seen in this post how similar Portuguese is to Spanish, but both languages also resemble French, Italian and Romanian. Knowledge of Spanish will make learning any of these languages much easier.

Best Courses to Learn Spanish

We’ve created a list of the best ways to learn Spanish online. The list below takes into account the various types of language learner. Whether you’re looking for a Spanish course to complete on your own, a Spanish tutor or an app, you will find it below.

Fluent Spanish Academy

Spanish Uncovered is part of the Fluent Spanish Academy series. It comes from a creator that speaks eight languages. The method is simple – quick and direct immersion. The course jumps right in with a story. The idea is that working with long pieces of text is as challenging as it is rewarding, so you’ll never feel like the course is too easy.

You’ll work on different PDF documents, which teach you the language as well as the grammar. This course will work best for avid readers who enjoy a challenge!


Baselang offers a fast way to become a fluent Spanish speaker. For $149 p/month, you get unlimited online Spanish classes with native tutors. Baselang provides a well structured curriculum to help you learn, and you can schedule as many classes as you like, whenever you like. If you take a class a day, the cost works out at less than $5 p/hour. Click here to receive a $10 discount on your first paid month.

Baselang offers all users 7 days of unlimited Spanish lessons for $1. You can find out more here.


Spanish for Beginners with James

Spanish for Beginners is a course created by online Spanish tutor, James. A one-time payment of $15 provides access to over 35 lessons, providing clarity to the everyday challenges facing Spanish learners.

James has lived in Spain, Argentina and Costa Rica and has taught more than 1,000 hours of Spanish classes. Email hello@travel-lingual.com if you are interested in taking private Spanish classes with James.

Rocket Spanish

image of rocket languages logo

Rocket Spanish is a language learning app that uses audio lessons, interactive exercises and readings to get you to a conversational level in Spanish.

Through its structured and proven successful process, you will begin to understand more about the language you are learning. Check out our review of Rocket Languages.

Best Course to Learn Portuguese 

We have put together a long list of Portuguese language resources on our dedicated Portuguese resources page. For now, we recommend one course in particular (which is also suitable for Spanish learners.


Pimsleur’s aim is to get users fully conversational in a foreign language as quickly as possible. Its course structure is based on its own successfully proven method. Pimsleur offers all users a free 7 day trial in a variety of popular languages. Check out our review of Pimsleur.

Portuguese vs Spanish: Summing up what we’ve learned

Let’s sum up Portuguese vs Spanish with a few concise points. Due to their origins, Spanish and Portuguese are incredibly similar, sharing a lexical similarity of 90%. As a result of this, speakers of one language are able to comprehend the other, particularly in written form. 

Speakers of Portuguese are much more likely to understand spoken Spanish than vice-versa. This is due, mostly, to the fact that Spanish pronunciation is less complex than Portuguese. Spanish is a phonetic language, whilst Portuguese is not.

We hope that you’ve found our article on Portuguese vs Spanish valuable and insightful. Spanish is the more widely spoken language than the other, but there is no denying that these two languages are beautiful. Learning either will enhance your social and professional life, improving your resume in the process.

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