Archive for July, 2008

Strange story involving Gordon Brown

I read this last week and it made me laugh – a strange story involving a protestor and Gordon Brown, the British PM. It contains lots of unusual vocabulary which are tested in the quiz below. Click here to read the story in Portuguese.

If the level of Portugese in the article is too high for you, I recommend reading the same story in English first. Click here for the English version.

Quiz questions

What do you think these words and phrases mean in English?

Be careful! Some words are homonyms – that is, they appear to be the same as other Portuguese words but have different meanings. (For example, a homonym in English is match – football match, light a match).

Click Answers above to check your results.

1) arrancou
2) bolso
3) doeu bastante
4) deu umas risadinhas
5) fontes
6) grades do portão
7) grudar
8 ) manga do terno
9) terceira pista
10) tubo de cola

July 30, 2008 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

False Friends / False Cognates

What is a false friend? What is a false cognate?

They are the same thing. False Cognates are basically words which look and maybe sound the same in Brazilian Portuguese as in English but actually have a different meaning. An example – you’ve just arrived in Brazil and are walking around Rio. You’re hungry and see a small restaurant which has “lanche” in the window. You assume this means lunch and walk in and try and order to meal, only to find they only have a small collection of crisps, take-away pastries and soft-drinks. You’ve fallen victim to the false cognate “lanche” which doesn’t mean lunch, it means snack.

Another example, one which personally baffled me for quite a while, is the word “compromisso”. Surely, I erroneously thought, this must mean “compromise”. In actual fact, compromisso means commitment. See the advert above. A quick glance and a direct translation might lead you to believe that Rossi, a construction company, have the slogan “Compromise with projects of life”. That sounds risky! Of course, what they’re saying is “Commitment with projects of life”.


There are many false cognates and I’ll just keep adding them to this post as I find the most common ones. But, a good place to start is to copy the list I found in the book edited by Michael Swan & Bernard Smith called Learner English. The book looks at how the rules and patterns of the mother tongue of learners of English creates interference. The book has sections on many different languages and this is from the chapter on Portuguese learners of English. In other words, these are words that Brazilians always get wrong in English – and, therefore, words that English people frequently get wrong in Portuguese.

abuse / abusar = use frequently, has less of the negative connotations of the English word
actual(ly) / atual(mente) = current, nowadays, at the moment. Use “na verdade” or “no fato” to express the idea of the English word.
cigar / cigarro = cigarette
cobra / cobra = snake, all kinds.
compromise / compromisso = commitment. Use “compromater” to express the idea of the English words.
costume / costume = custom
disgrace / desgraça = accident, misfortune
disgust / desgaste = worn-out
distracted / distraido = absent-minded
educated / educado = polite, well-mannered
expect / esperar = to hope, to wait
expert / esperto = intelligent, sly
facilities / facilidades = proficiency
familiar / familiar = decent, respectable or to do with family
impressive / impressionante = impressive, but in either positive or negative terms whereas in English it has only a positive connotation.
intend / entender = understand
library / livraria = bookshop
local / local = place, as in location
lunch / lanche = snack
ordinary / ordinário = base, vulgar
parents / parentes = relatives
presently / presentemente = at the moment, right now
pretend / pretender = to intend, to plan
primarily / primeiramente = first
push / puxe = pull
rat / rato = mouse
real / real = royal, sure
revere / rever = to see again, to check, to revise.
sensible / sensivel = sensitive. Use the word sensato to describe somebody as sensible
vulgar / vulgar = ordinary

July 22, 2008 at 11:51 am 2 comments

Imperatives (Look! Enjoy! Dream!)

Imperatives – what are they?

Imperatives are a strange beast in Portuguese. An imperative is a way of forming a verb to add emphasis. It is used for commands and orders, instructions (for example in recipes) and to sell products in advertising or in speech to stress what you want somebody else to do or understand. In other words, it’s what you think is “imperative” for other people to act on.

If you never studied English grammar (like me) I’m sure you’d never stopped to think about them before. This is because in English imperatives are the same as the present simple tense. We say “You look at the shop” and “Look at the shop!” and we use the same word in both sentences “look”. Or, “They read the instructions” and “Read the instructions” have different meanings and stress but the same word “read”.

Yes, but in Portuguese – what are they?

In Portuguese, you change the ending of the verbs like this: -ar verbs finish with e, and -er and -ir verbs finish with a. (Click here to read more if you don’t know what I’m on about). This totally scrambled my brain when I was taught it in Portuguese class a few years ago. It wasn’t until I came to Brazil and it heard it in practice that I could comprehend the strange logic behind it. I now think having this extra way of providing emphasis lends Portuguese a subtlety lacking in English.

Anyway, let’s get to some examples. Common imperatives I have to use while raising my two year old son are:

Olhe! = Look! (from the verb olhar)
Pare! = Stop! (from the verb parar)
Sente! = Sit! (from the verb sentar)
Coma! = Eat! (from the verb comer)

And some from adverts…

Aproveite! = Enjoy! (from the verb aproveitar)
Relaxe! = Relax! (from the verb relaxar)
Aprenda! = Learn! (from the verb aprender)
Sonhe! = Dream! (from the verb sonhar)

An example of the last one is given in the video above. The video is an adidas advert, in English with Portuguese subtitles, featuring famous footballers visiting San Marino. The adidas slogan for this campaign is Sonhe Grande – Dream Big. The video also includes an irregular imperative – the verb ver (to see) which becomes veja and not va. Veja (see!) is also the name of Brazil’s most popular news magazine.

Irregular Imperatives

The are several irregular imperatives which, if you need more help, I recommend looking up in a grammar book. But, here are four important ones:

The verb ir (to go) is vá. For example: A mother says to her child “Vai para cama” (You go to bed) and then when the child disobeys she turns the suggestion into an order “Vá! Agora!” (Go! Now!)

The verb ser (to be) is seja. For example: Seja bemvindos – Be welcome
The verb estar (to be) is esteja. For example: Esteja aqui – Be here
The verb come (vim) is venha. For example: Venha cá – Come here

Portuguese that looks like English

Finally, it’s strange to me that some regular imperative -ar verbs, by losing the -ar and gaining an -e, end up looking exactly like English. The following four verbs appear exactly the same in English as in Portuguese: Imagine! Compare! Ignore! Use! The only problem, of course, is we don’t pronounce them the same…

July 14, 2008 at 5:05 pm 2 comments

Retro Venus Williams

Venus Williams recently won Wimbledon for the 5th time. The BBC Brasil website posted 5 photos from a book about her, in which she is photographed in black and white in “olden days” tennis gear.

Click here to see the pictures, (the link should be on the right hand side of the page), look at the pictures and read the short text accompanying each one. See if you can answer these short multiple choice questions about what you read. This is a very short reading, 5 minutes maximum and there are 5 short multiple choice questions below to check for comprehension.

A short glossary of words from the commentary to the pictures

alma = soul
assinitura = signature
discursos = speeches
por acoso = by chance
radicar = to settle / to take root
torneio = tournament
visão = vision

5 Multiple-Choice Questions

1) The artist who took the photos is from…
A South Africa / B London / C New York

2) The commentary talks about Venus’ elegance under pressure under which picture?
A 2 / B 3 / C 4

3) Some photos were inspired by Josephine Baker who is a 1940s…
A singer / B tennis player / C actress

4) How many Wimbledons does the commentary say Venus has won?
A 4 / B 5 / C 6

5) The artist met Venus Williams for the first time in
A 1994 / B 2004 / C 2008

July 11, 2008 at 12:38 pm Leave a comment

Uma chance de viver (Animal Prosthetics)

I read a genuinely fascinating article recently in the print addition of Veja on prosthetics used for animals. It raises some interesting questions – are animals worth the time and expense of top scientists and developers when the human need is still so great? But, as the article explains, maybe the developments in animals prosthetics will benefit humans too. The text has some complex and technical words but is rich in the vocabulary of the animal kingdom, body, health and science. I’ve included a short glossary below and then some T/F questions to see if you’ve comprehended the text well. Click the Answers page above to see how you did. You can read the article here:

A short glossary of words from the article:

águia = eagle
bico = beak
cachorro = dog
cão (pl. cães) = big dogs/hounds/canines
cauda = tail (i.e. flipper on a fish)
ceifadeira de trigo = scythe, large knife (lit. chopper of wheat)
desafio = challenge
golphinho = dolphin
doença desconhecida = unknown illness
leve = light
osso = bone
osséa = bony
parafusos = screws
pata = animal foot/paw
tiro = bullet

True or False?

1. The eagle lost part of its beak as a result of human action.
2. The eagle has a permanent beak made from nilon.
3. The elephant lost its foot by stepping on a land mine.
4. The elephant already has a prosthetic foot much lighter than 10 kilos.
5. Two dolphins are mentioned in the article – one is from Fiji, the other Florida.
6. The dolphin called Winter was injured by a speed boat.
7. The suction gel developed for a dolphin proved to be useful for an American soldier.
8. Fixing prostethics to bones involves a high risk of infection.

July 11, 2008 at 12:04 pm Leave a comment


I found a great little mini-site dedicated to the former best-in-the-world football/soccer player Ronaldo, the “baby-faced killer”, the “Fenomeno”. If you like football, or even if you don’t, read on.

Click here to get to the Veja website. Then scroll down and on the left, under Espiciais, click Ronaldo. Make sure you have your sound switched on – watch and listen to the slideshow, see some video clips, read the chronology and look at some of the stats of his playing and scoring record then attempt the quiz at the bottom. Everything’s there for you to have a very nicely presented 20 minute Portuguese lesson.

Here is a short glossary to help you with some words which come up in the chronology section:

acima de seu peso = overweight
anunciar = to announce
careca = bald head
joelho = knee
marcar = to score a goal
longe das gramados = (lit. far from the grass) off the pitch/out of action/away from football.
madrugada = after midnight, the early hours of the morning
palhaço = clown
partida = match/fixture
perna = leg
sofrer = to suffer
torcedor = a fan/supporter
travestis = transvestites
xixi = urine/pee

July 9, 2008 at 12:52 pm Leave a comment

James Blunt

I’m not a James Blunt fan, let’s be honest, but his song “Same Mistake” is being played ceaselessly on Brazilian popular radio because it’s the theme tune to a Globo TV Soap Opera. Here, somebody has helpfully put up the song with Portuguese subtitles…

If you like James Blunt and want to see more videos with Portuguese subtitles then click on these links for these songs on YouTube: You’re beautiful, Goodbye My Lover, High.

July 7, 2008 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

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