Saudade

Posted on 15. Aug, 2007 by in Customs

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In every language there are words that are simply untranslatable. Saudade is one such word, and perhaps one of the best examples of this phenomenon.

In any attempt to translate saudade into English, some or many of the following words will frequently appear: longing, hope, fatality, nostalgia, yearning, missing, fondness, endearment, loneliness, feeling, emotion

Here’s my best attempt to translate saudade: the feeling of missing something you love while knowing that its likelihood of return is unknowable and entirely left to fate.

Undoubtedly valuable in our effort to understand such a beautiful, sweeping and culturally significant word is its cultural, rather than etymological, origin. It is very telling that saudade came from such a maritime culture as the Golden Age Portuguese. Imagine the wives and children of the sailors who leave and are at sea for long, mysterious periods of time. Sailors’ families were perhaps the first to feel real saudade, not knowing if their loved one would ever return, but also being proud of their spirit and accomplishments.


In Brazil itself, imagine the immigrants coming to Brazil and leaving their native homelands behind, never to return, but also never relinquishing their love and devotion to their origins. In more modern times, think of the poor farmers who left the Sertão during the great droughts and moved to Brazil’s modern urban centers in searchof a new way of life; they feel real saudade, hoping, praying, and singing about one day returning with the rain to their native farmlands in the north of the country.

To understand another culture is to explore these words, these cultural truths for which there is no translation, though they remain knowable through imagination, emotion, experience, and love.

ps. Wikipedia agrees that saudade is ‘generally considered one of the hardest words to translate,’ though their definition of the term is certainly quite solid.

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37 Responses to “Saudade”

  1. Gui 23 November 2008 at 7:32 pm #

    But how do you use saudade?

  2. claudia 24 November 2008 at 5:24 pm #

    saudade meens longing, that’s all

  3. Gui 28 November 2008 at 1:07 pm #

    The verb “to use” in English is not equivalent to the verb “to mean.” Please note that I was asking for clarification on usage, not meaning, as the meaning was already given in the blog…

    Eu sinto saudade? Eu tenho saudade? When do you use one and not the other?

  4. Rafael Dias 5 December 2008 at 8:12 am #

    Both “Eu tenho s” and “Eu sinto s” are right, with “Eu sinto s” being slightly more formal than “Eu tenho s”.

  5. Sérgio Luiz 5 December 2008 at 2:33 pm #

    You can use both “sinto” and “tenho”, as well as “estou com saudade”. I don’t think it means simply “longing” or “yearning”, though these come very close to some uses of “saudade”.

    Translation is something that can be made quite plain for practical purposes, but if you want to explore a language in depth, then you can’t be satisfied with a “tourist’s-guide-like” definition. Thus, for instance, i could venture to say “estou com/sinto/tenho saudade de você = i miss you”. It works, but some hues are lost, such as the fact that often by that you mean you really miss someone, in a way that’s even painful and doesn’t allow you to think about anything else or concentrate on your daily tasks. It’s something that impairs your experience of yourself and of the world, giving you an impression of emptiness.

    What’s more, there’s the case, used mostly in litterature, in poetry, of “saudade” being a feeling without a specific cause or object involved, something very vague and fatal, a sort of radical assertion of an intrinsic part of human condition, whose nature i wouldn’t dare to state in a few words here.
    This feeling without object requires only a situation, a landscape, any pretext, so that this grasp of reallity can be “dressed in words”.
    Anyway, that’s of little interest for a language student. But it could lead one to try to find, and reflect about, difficult definitions in his own language. as Goethe said: “only when i studied foreign languages i could understand my own”.

    PS.: Very good blog. Difficult to find foreigners with accurate views on Brazil, such as Rachel’s.

  6. Anna Cullum 11 February 2009 at 3:39 pm #

    It’s a wonderful word. Whenever I am listening to Brazilian radio, I count how many songs have the word Saudade in – its usually around one in three. The other word I listen out for is Madrugada – can anyone submit a similarly enlightening post on this one? Is it dawn, or earlier in the night?

  7. vital 14 February 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    “Madrugada” really means dawn. But in current language we use it refering a period after midnight and before sunrise. Ex: “Cheguei em casa às três horas da madrugada.” “Hoje tive de acordar às quatro horas da madrugada.”
    The use of “Manhã” (Morning) is commom meaning the time between sunrise and noon.

  8. Marco 15 February 2009 at 11:53 pm #

    Anna, “madrugada” is very late at night. After midnight till 5 or 6 am is “madrugada”. But it can also mean a very very early moment of the day – like dawn. But if you were listen to a radio program, probably the first meaning is better.

  9. domingos 4 April 2009 at 9:26 am #

    claudia,the translation we read above is very much the meaning of saudade is linked with ,fathe
    the feeling of missing ,absence and melancolic nostalgy it describes a unique way of feeling wheach is characteristic of portuguese people
    its a deep feeling hiden in fado
    So following this ,how would you translate

    IM LONGING TO GET HOME?

  10. domingos 4 April 2009 at 9:33 am #

    this word has been banalized lately.The brazilians
    use it with a less felling i guess cape verde people
    are the ones who still used it in the most traditional way once they are the people more culturaly linked to portuese culture

  11. Chris 27 April 2009 at 12:20 am #

    what a beautiful word….one simple word has such deep meaning…i love it

  12. Prof. Machado 24 August 2009 at 12:08 am #

    read and compare

    “Estou sentindo muita saudade de ti”
    I’m missing you very much.
    What “saudade” means… It’s not easy to say…
    You must have a “portuguese mind” if you’d understand it!

    hugs

  13. saq 30 January 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Hi,

    In some languages there are word with similar meaning. I am from Finland and I think our word “kaipaus” has the same meaning.

    Great blog!

    .saq

  14. Vítor De Araújo 5 February 2010 at 7:54 pm #

    I don’t really get the difference between ‘saudade’ and ‘longing’…

  15. M.G. 30 April 2010 at 10:51 pm #

    …perhaps you have to experience saudade before you can really understand it…

  16. Ádler Henrique Oliveira Bragança 3 May 2010 at 12:53 am #

    Graças à deus que eu já nasci no Brasil. Portuguese is very difficult! Até eu que já sei acho isso… “I miss you” => “Eu sinto falta de você” “Eu sinto sua falta” “Eu sinto saudades de você” or “Eu tenho saudades de vocês”// “Saudade” is the feeling’s name of missing.

  17. A Ruiz 17 May 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Fernado Pesoa la define como dolor de el bién perdido (saudade)

  18. Brittany 14 August 2010 at 5:08 pm #

    If I were to get a tattoo of just the word ‘saudade’, would it be okay by itself? Does it need words around it to make sense? I am unfamiliar with this language but somehow found this word on somebody’s blog. Could it be referring to the death of a loved one, since you miss them so much and you know it will be a long time before you see them again, or is it strictly for people that are still alive that you hope to see again?
    Also, could somebody post the pronunciation of the word? Thank you!

  19. Christopher 16 August 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    @Brittany I would think you could get a tattoo of just ‘saudade’ for that purpose, that would be lovely.

    For pronunciation, check out this video of the classic ‘Chega de Saudade’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guMek3_D6ls

  20. Margaret Nahmias 5 June 2011 at 11:37 pm #

    This where being able to read a monolingual dictionary comes in handy.

  21. Tânia Mello 30 December 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Oh, I have a story to tell about SAUDADES and you’ll all get its meaning, I’m sure.

    When my American sister, Kathy, was leaving Brazil, there were about 20 people — besides my mother and father , of course — at the airport to say goodbye to her. We all signed a card that said, in English : “You are a great person, and you are blah, blah , blah and very special, but now that you are leaving, we will feel a lot of…” (o.0) And THEN you opened the card to read, in Portuguese: “Saudades… Uma palavra intraduzível.”

  22. Shawn Honnick 14 March 2012 at 1:22 am #

    I just discovered this word from seeing it on a Maryland vanity plate! Your post here was my first of several pages I have now read. I quoted you on my vanity plates site at http://vanityplat.es/2012/03/13/saudade/

  23. Robin 25 May 2012 at 9:12 am #

    No-one mentioned the application of “saudades” that I heard many times when I lived in Brazil, that is to “matar saudades”. That’s when a group of homesick people are sitting together at dusk, maybe drinking a beer, looking out over the sea, and reminiscing over their homeland, their families, the boy/girl with whom they fell in love but who moved on, never to be seen again. It’s impossible to kill the longing/nostalgia/homesickness, but everyone tries. There’s no place on Earth like Brazil, and I still feel “saudades” when I think about the times and people I knew there.

  24. Gabby 21 September 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    I agree with Claudia – having lived in Portugal – it means longing. The cultural difference is that it used much more than we use longing in the US. If you said “I long for” something to a seven year old they wouldn’t know what you meant, but “tenho saudade” would be understood by a seven yo Portuguese child.

  25. Germano K 15 December 2012 at 6:25 pm #

    “Eu estou com saudade de voce” = “I miss you”

  26. Diana 11 June 2013 at 1:52 pm #

    Saudade is not simply missing or longing, to say that you miss some one you use “falta”, eu senti a tua falta/ I miss you. Saudade as a deper meaning and it is something like a mix of hurt, pain, sadness, longing, love, nostalgy,hope melancoli,regret and resignation.
    When felling saudade you don’t criticise your fate you acept it, even if it brings you pain.
    Picture feling it as having a gaping hole in your chest that canot be filled, but that will mold you as a human being, something that will make you sad even when your happy.
    Saudade is to cary on with your life and yet always carry with you the memory of what was lost, even when you find something of equal value to take it’s spot.

  27. Amir 7 July 2013 at 2:45 pm #

    In Bosnia we have the same word, only we spell it ‘sevdah’ and it has the same meaning as in Portuguese, not really translatable to English.

  28. Lindsey 5 August 2013 at 1:30 am #

    I want to get a tattoo in memory of my grandpa that passed a few months ago. He was like a father to me, as my actual dad wasn’t around. I miss him very much. I think the intricacy of the meaning of “saudade” accurately portrays what I’m feeling. I was wondering if someone could tell me how to add to that to basically say “I miss you grandpa.”

  29. Linda 14 October 2013 at 4:17 am #

    I have lost two important people in the last year. I also lost my grandfather almost 20 years ago. Saudade is how I feel and have felt for a very long time. It has been nice to find a word that describes what I feel.


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