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Words in Portuguese You Don’t Want to Get Mixed Up! Posted by on Aug 26, 2010 in Learning, Pronunciation, Vocabulary

While travelling these past couple of weeks, I caught myself being victim to making false friends mistakes.  You know those words that sound exactly like a word in your native tongue but mean something completely different?  With making these embarrassing mistakes, I started thinking about words in the same language that sound alike, especially in Portuguese!  With all the different accents and dialects out there, and not knowing what’s feminine or masculine all the time (so hard in French!), it’s hard to not catch yourself making a fool out of yourself when speaking Portuguese (even for us native speakers).

So what are some of these words you probably don’t want to get mixed up?

bolo vs. bola

Bolo = cake; is masculine and is pronounce with a long “o” sound, kind of like, “bowlu.” It can also be used for when you get stood up by someone. “Ele me deu bolo, nem foi no restaurante.”

Bola = ball; is feminine and is pronounced with a short “o” sound, “bawla” – Think… “I’m a balla!”

So when you’re watching a football/soccer game with your Brazilian buddies, try not to yell, “Que bolo bonito!” and when you get stood up, your friends will understand why when you say, “Eu levei uma bola no meu encontro.”

Camiseta vs. Camisinha

Camiseta = T-shirt; is feminine and is pronounced “cah-me-zeh-tah”

Camisinha = Condom; is also feminine and is pronounced “cah-me-zee-nhah”

I don’t care how small the t-shirt is, it is never a camisinha.

Tesoura = scissors; is feminine and is pronounced “teh-zoh-rah”

Tesouro = treasure; is masculine and is pronounced “teh-zoh-roo”

It probably isn’t a great idea to turn to your Brazilian spouse and say, “Amor, cadê o tesouro?” – The answer you might get is “Não sei, se eu já tivesse achado você acha que eu estaria aqui?”

Longe vs Longo

Longe = far; and it pronounced “lone-she”

Longo/a = long; and is pronounced “lone-gu” or “lone-gah”

If someone asks you where you live and you answer, “Não é muito longa” – You may or may not get a look of indifference (I got this a lot in Europe).

Can you all think of any other confusing words in Portuguese you might want cleared up?

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  1. Tint:

    I can think of many that have caught me up at one point or another over the years:

    barato / barata

    pelado / peludo (I was trying to describe a furry toy to some teenage boys – you can just imagine! I used ‘pelado’)

    cedo / sede (this one always gets me, not so much the pronunciation as how they’re used too)

    I still get very confused with quente and calor, though they aren’t homonyms.

    That longe / longo was one where I learnt something new here. Great!

  2. polyana:

    hi tint!

    thank you!! i’ll use those for a future post 🙂

  3. Tint:

    You’re most welcome and I’ll be most grateful!

  4. Mika:


    At first, I always used to mix these up when asking for the check.

  5. My Other Car's the Tardis:

    Bom dia! I’ve been studying Portuguese for the last 8 months at the University of Washington in Seattle and was tickled pink to see this post. A few weeks ago in my class we were commenting on how confusing the verbs morar, morrer and matar were, esp. in the eu-form of the preterito.

  6. Tim Case:

    I get confused with the both of these because they sort of pertain to travelling:

    rodovia – highway
    rodoviária – long distance bus station

  7. polyana:


    Those can be confusing too! =/ It’s just a matter of memorizing the ending.

    It’s the same with “ferrovia” and “ferroviária” for sets of train tracks vs. a train station.

    I also grew up learning my grandfather was a “ferroviário” – who worked building the train tracks! But it can mean anything related to trains.

    Also rodoviário can mean anything related to highways – so a bus terminal is a “terminal rodoviário,” a road map is “um mapa rodoviário,” etc.

    Just be careful with those and don’t worry, it won’t be as embarrassing as my examples above if you get them mixed up 🙂

  8. Andrew:

    When I was learning Portuguese I got “moça” (girl) and “mosca” (fly, as in the insect) mixed up, with interesting results.

    Also, grávida (pregnant) and gravada (recorded or engraved) gave me fits.

  9. Tint:

    Oh and ‘morder’ and ‘morto’. Yes, I know they’re different. Tell my brain that! 😉

  10. Grasa:

    meca v. Meca

    Once I was asked what was “meca”… and was a bit surprised that to a foreigner, our short verson “cume’ que” (como e’ que?) sounds like ‘meca’

    meca fala isso em ingles? Wow!, como e’ que se fala isso em ingles? to ‘how is’

    Meca is a city.

  11. sami Zaki:

    obrigado por tudo

  12. Justin:

    Like in all languages. Bom, boa and bem (good vs well) are hard for some reason. It could be that in English, most people are very careless in choosing to use the right one. Oftentimes, we use them incorrectly and the result is that we use them interchangeably in other languages too. It’s something that I battled with in the early stages of Spanish, Portuguese, French and will probably follow me to my next language too.