Cognates are the language learner’s best friend. These are words that are the same, or very similar, in two different languages. If you’re an English speaker learning Portuguese, you’re in luck: Portuguese-English cognates are remarkably common. Depending on your definition of a cognate, there could be as many as 3,000—and many of these are common, everyday words. If you listen carefully to a conversation in Portuguese, you’ll be sure to hear a number of Portuguese-English cognates. You can work with a tutor to learn how to make the most of these helpful words.
In this post, we’ll take a look at 20 of the most useful Portuguese-English cognates, providing additional information where appropriate.
The English word “familiar” also has exactly the same spelling and meaning in Portuguese, with a slight difference in pronunciation, emphasizing the third syllable instead of the second.
Many English words with the suffix “-ty” can be translated to Portuguese simply by replacing it with the Portuguese suffix -dade (sometimes with other minor spelling alterations, like replacing a “t” with a “c” or changing a double letter to a single one). More examples can be found lower down this list.
The “-ence” words are another example where the English word can often be translated into Portuguese simply by changing the suffix, in this case from “-ence” to -ência.
“Patient” is also a cognate: the Portuguese equivalent, paciente, has exactly the same meanings, both as a noun describing a medical patient and as an adjective describing the quality of being able to accept delays.
Be aware that telefone only refers to landlines. A cell phone is either a celular (in Brazilian Portuguese) or a telemóvel (in European Portuguese). Interestingly, this is similar to the equivalent words in US and UK English: in the UK, cellphones are usually called “mobiles.”
“Present” and presente are double cognates: just like its English counterpart, the Portuguese word presente can mean either a gift or the current moment in time.
The “-tion” suffix is another example where many words can be translated simply by changing the suffix, in this case from “-tion” to ção.
By extension, “direction” translates as direção and “directions” as direcões.
“Identification” also translates as identificação, and “identical” as idêntico.
The “-ism” suffix is another of those helpful ones. English words ending with “-ism” can often be translated into Portuguese simply by adding an “o” to the end of the word.
Beware False CognatesPortuguese-English cognates are an extremely valuable ally when it comes to learning Portuguese. However, they should not be taken for granted: there are also many false cognates, words which look like cognates but actually have completely different meanings to their English counterparts. By practicing with a tutor, you can learn both to capitalize on, and avoid the pitfalls of, the similarities between the English and Portuguese languages.