Learning Tip: Informality Posted by on Jan 26, 2012 in Learning

Something that can be a bit confusing about spoken Portuguese is when to be informal, and when to be formal. In some ways, Portuguese is quite informal. Small talk is a very important part of communication, and expressions like tudo bom, tudo jóia, and tudo bem are commonplace in any conversation. So it can sometimes be tricky to figure out when to be formal.

You’ll find that even when doing business or speaking to strangers, they’ll sign off on the phone or on emails by saying “um abraço” (a hug) or even “beijos” (kisses). For English speakers accustomed to using more formal language in business, this can feel a bit unusual. But the key is to test the waters before you go the informal route. If you’re on the phone, see what the other person says before offering a hug or kiss, and if it’s email, go with a more formal greeting initially. Once you see how the person speaks to you, you can respond accordingly.

Another issue with formality is the use of você (you). Much of the time, this is what you would use to address others. But it’s also important to address certain people more formally, such as the elderly or those of high stature, like a business executive or government officials. In those cases, it’s more proper to call them senhor or senhora, rather than você. If you’re not sure how to address someone, it’s best to start out using the more formal approach. Then if you get to know the person better, it might be ok to start using the more informal word.

And finally, never forget to ask if you have a doubt! Brazilians are very appreciative of foreigners learning their language, and are more often than not patient with Portuguese learners.

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  1. Juancho:

    muito obrigado. Meu plan e ir ao Brasil em dezembro e este foro e muito importante para mim. Com licenca de meu portugues 🙂

  2. willem rabbeljee:

    yes, Brazilians tend to be very, very friendly to foreigners trying to learn there language. This is a fact, and I feel very welcome. (live now for 5 years in Brazil)
    But, this ‘being patient’ with someone trying to speak Portuguese is a myth, and I’ve read this idea at many places. I rarely encountered persons who were wanting or willing to help me while I was struggling with my Portuguese: the majority of persons are blocking and not really helpful to learn the language! This happened in São Paulo mesmo and in more rural areas.
    Preciso notar isso!