Portuguese vs. Spanish: How similar are they?

Portuguese vs. Spanish: How similar are they?

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated August 7, 2023

If you’re weighing Portuguese vs. Spanish when deciding which language to learn next, you probably already know that they share some features in common. Many people who speak Spanish say they can at least understand Portuguese, and vice versa. But how similar are they really? Let’s dive into the differences and similarities between the two languages. 

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Similarities between Spanish and Portuguese

As languages that evolved from Latin, Spanish and Portuguese are both considered Romance languages. Due to their shared parent language, much of their vocabulary, syntax and conjugation sounds similar to both native speakers and language learners.

Both Spanish and Portuguese share the same alphabet, word order and usage of gender with nouns. They are also both spoken on the Iberian Peninsula, where present-day Spain and Portugal are located.

Both languages have also made their way around the world, though Spanish has proven more successful in that regard. There are about 500 million Spanish speakers in the world compared to about 260 million Portuguese speakers. This is related to the fact that Spanish is the official language of 20 countries, while Portuguese is the official language of only 10 countries. 

Differences between Spanish and Portuguese

  • Pronunciation. There are some differences in pronunciation between Spanish and Portuguese. In Spanish, the “b,” “d” and “g” sounds are pronounced more softly than in Portuguese. 
  • Linguistics. In general, Portuguese has more fricative (hushing and hissing) sounds than Spanish. For example, the Spanish word for “to arrive” is llegar, which in Portuguese translates to chegar.
  • Vowel sounds. Portuguese has 14 vowel sounds, while Spanish only has 5 vowel sounds. All vowels in Spanish are clearly pronounced, but that’s not the case with Portuguese. Portuguese also has certain vowels that are pronounced with a nasal tone, such as the ã in the city São Paulo. This nasal pronunciation does not exist in Spanish.

Due to these differences, how hard is it for Spanish speakers to say Portuguese words correctly? Watch this YouTube video to hear examples of pronunciation success and failure.

False cognates in Spanish vs. Portuguese

Portuguese and Spanish share almost 90% of their vocabulary. However, while the majority of the words are quite similar and carry similar meanings,  you’ll still come across a number of false cognates. 

CognateSpanish meaningPortuguese meaning
peladoshaved head or a new haircutto be naked
largolong (ancho means wide)wide ( longo means long)
exquisita (ES) and esquisita (PT)delicious weird (the “x” changes to “s”)
rojo (ES) vs roxo (PT)redpurple (vermelho means red) 

Check out this TikTok video for more examples of false cognates between Portuguese and Spanish.

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Grammatical similarities between Portuguese and Spanish

Let’s look at a few specific instances where Portuguese and Spanish grammar are similar.


The pronouns in Portuguese and Spanish are very similar. 

English pronounPortuguese pronounSpanish pronoun
youtu / você (formal)tú / usted (formal)
she/heela / eleella / él
youvós (vocês)vosotros
theyelas / elesellas / ellos


Both Spanish and Portuguese have definite articles that must agree in number and gender with the nouns they modify. Portuguese uses the masculine singular article for the neuter. 

ArticlePortuguese articleSpanish article
masculine singularoel
feminine singularala
masculine pluraloslos
feminine pluralaslas

Portuguese vs. Spanish: How different are they, really?

If you are thinking about learning Spanish or Portuguese, you now have a few factors to help you decide. Spanish has more native and non-native speakers than Portuguese, which you might want to keep in mind when making a decision. This can be an important factor when looking for classes or people to practice with.

(Note: Just like the Spanish spoken in Spain is different from the Spanish spoken in Latin America, the same is true for Portuguese in Portugal and Brazil.)

If you’re the indecisive type, the good news is that, if you speak one language, you may be able to understand some things from the other language. Thinking about learning Spanish or Portuguese? An intro class is a great way to help you decide which language to focus on. 

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez
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