Portuguese Language Blog

Untranslatable Portuguese Words Posted by on Oct 22, 2010 in Vocabulary

There’s much ado in the linguist community about words that are difficult to translate, and two Portuguese words often appear on lists of untranslatable words. But I’m going to argue that while both are complex words, they’re not untranslatable.

1. Cafuné

While this word encompasses a concept rather than a single word, it’s pretty straightforward, and incredibly beautiful. Cafuné is the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone else’s hair. Just because you can’t cover it in one word doesn’t mean it’s impossible to translate it; it just takes a bit more explanation (see it in action in a very sweet video of a father and his baby).

Example: A avó fez cafuné novamente até ele adormecer. The grandmother ran her fingers through his hair until he fell asleep.

2. Saudades

This is the most common Portuguese word that linguists allege cannot be translated, because it has more than one layer of meaning. It has a bittersweet component, in that saudades bring happiness in remembering something you love, but brings sadness because that thing or person is gone (though not necessarily forever).

It’s really easy to learn how to use saudades in everyday Portuguese! Click here to read the Portuguese Blog guide to saudades. Then you can listen to the classic song “Chega de Saudade” below!


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  1. DAG:

    Here are some other examples of words/ideas that don’t translate well to English:

    sumir – verb
    possible translations: to disappear, to go missing
    Ex. O povo sumiu!
    Everyone left!
    Ex. Eu preciso falar com o Akira, mas ele está sumido.
    I need to talk with Akira, but he’s missing (i.e. no one knows where he is).

    foda – adjective from the verb “foder”
    possible translations: bad, difficult, good, awesome
    Ex. Não gostei daquele professor. Ele é muito foda.
    I didn’t like that professor. He’s very difficult.
    Ex. Vou colocar uma música muito foda para vocês.
    I’m going to play a really cool song for you.

    opa – interjection
    possible translations: yes, for sure, woah
    Ex. -Você quer ir no shopping hoje? -Opa.
    -Do you want to go to the mall today? -Sure.
    Ex. -Sabe? Você é muito estúpido. -Opa.
    -You know what? You’re really stupid. -Woah (settle down).
    It is also used if you drop something or bump into something or someone…“Opa!”