10 Essential Portuguese Phrases To Know Before You Go To Brazil
Illustration by Elena Lombardi
We always look for some words or phrases that might be useful when we travel abroad, especially if the country is far away and is not known for its widespread knowledge of the English language (yes, unlike Swedes and the Dutch, Brazilians are not famous for their English skills).
I can think of many phrases that would be useful for getting around in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belém, Salvador or Porto Alegre, but you can find those in any travel guide. Here, you will discover how to really socialize with a Brazilian, and, who knows, maybe even be mistaken for one!
1. E aí?
The equivalent to “What’s up?” in Brazilian Portuguese, E aí? can also serve as the replacement for the famous Tudo bem? — our version of “How are you?” The answer will usually also be E aí. It’s more like a greeting than an actual question.
2. É mesmo?
With this one you will be able to maintain any basic conversation. It’s a question that confirms your interest in the topic being discussed — which can be translated as, “Oh, really?” The word mesmo translated literally means “the same,” so don’t get confused when you hear this word in other contexts.
3. Tudo bom / Tá bom
The classic answer for pretty much everything, tudo bom means “all good.” You can answer with this when people say E aí or ask Tudo bem? The shorter form, tá bom means “it’s OK,” and is used as an affirmative response to a question like, “Vamos sair agora, tudo bem?” (We are leaving now, OK?) and you can answer, “Tá bom.” It can also be used in a sarcastic manner, when someone says something that doesn’t ring true, as in, “Ah, tá bom” (meaning: “Oh yeah, as if”).
This has the same meaning as obrigado/obrigada (thank you), but is much more informal and spoken on the streets. I bet if you say this to a bus driver he will be impressed.
5. Foi mal aí / foi mal
This means “sorry” but also in a very informal way — if you accidentally drop your friend’s phone, or arrive a little late, for example. It is used to apologize for little things, so don’t say mal aí if you are caught cheating. It will come across as very sarcastic, as if you couldn’t really give a damn.
6. Mais uma cerveja
We have summer 365 days a year, so at some point in the week you will want to enjoy a refreshing cerveja (beer). Unlike in colder places, our beer is lighter and more watery, so don’t be afraid to frequently ask for mais uma cerveja (one more beer).
7. A continha, por favor
So you drank all your beers and are ready to leave the boteco? “A continha, por favor” is what you say to your server when you’re ready to pay. It literally means, “the little check, please.” We Brazilians love to use diminutives: continha sounds much more friendly, as does cafezinho (little coffee), and pãozinho (little bread roll), etc.
Like é mesmo? the phrase Nossa! can be used to show surprise about what someone has just said. But you can use it to show astonishment in different situations:
- “Nossa! Que cidade bonita!” (Wow! What a beautiful city!)
- “Nossa! Que estranho!” (Wow! How strange!)
- “Nossa! Que caro!” (Wow! How expensive!)
Nossa comes from Nossa Senhora, “Our Holy Mary,” and is a part of our Catholic heritage that is still very much present today. Be careful, nossa also means “ours” (in the feminine declination), so pay attention to the context and intonation.
Usually put at the end of phrases like senta aqui, ó (sit here), or aquela barraca ali, ó (that tent over there), ó doesn’t mean anything literally but is more of an onomatopoeic way to say “look.”
This is a way to say ciao, our version of “bye.” Falou is slang and literally means “to speak,” conjugated in the past tense. So it really means, “Ok, we have now spoken to each other and I am going,” but compressed into one handy word. It’s very informal, so don’t use it with your boss or your in-laws!