top of page

21 unique Portuguese words you have to know

Portuguese has many words to describe the nuances of love and relationships, such as “apaixonar” and “namorar”—but did you know it also has a word equivalent to the English verb “MacGyver”? Boost your vocabulary with these 21 uniquely Portuguese words.

21 Unique Portuguese Words You Have to Know
21 Unique Portuguese Words You Have to Know


English doesn't have a verb just for romantic love, but Portuguese does. "Apaixonar" is a simple verb meaning "to be in love." The conjugation "apaixonando" means "to be falling in love."


Literally "little kiss," beijinho refers to cheek-kisses used as greetings or goodbyes. Here in the 21st century, it's used to sign off emails or text messages. You could also use "beijo" (kiss), "beijos" (kisses), "beijão" (big kiss), or, alternatively, "abraço" (hug) if it's someone you're slightly less intimate with.


Known for their romantic image, Brazilians manage to fit "tenderly running your fingers through a loved one's hair" into a simple trisyllabic word. The word is appropriate for people and pets alike.


It literally means "combined," but Portuguese speakers use it as a confirmation of plans. Wanna hit the beaches in Rio? Combinado!


Brazil in the summertime, which is subject to swelteringly hot temperatures, may not be the ideal place for you if you're calorento/a. This word describes a sensitivity to extreme temperatures. It can also be used to describe heat itself—as in "Esse verão está sendo calorento" ("It's very hot this summer").


Brazilian students typically spend a year or two studying for the concurso, a competitive exam for a government job. Offering stability and high wages, these jobs are some of the best in the country.


In Portuguese, if you need to vent or let off steam, you can "unsuffocate" yourself. "Desabafar" refers to getting something off your chest or unburdening yourself.


In Portugal, you can find the term "desenrascanço," which is roughly equivalent to the colloquial English verb "MacGyver"—which itself is a common Americanism in Brazilian Portuguese, as in "Eu vou dar uma de MacGyver." It means to disentangle oneself from a desperate situation by creatively using the available means.


Need an all-encompassing compliment? "Engraçado/a" can mean anything from "charming," to "cool," to "funny." If you want to say a person is engaging in any way, you can express that with "engraçado/a."


Something that's fofo is something that's cute soft, or fluffy, like children and puppies. It's easy to remember because the word itself is cute.


Fado is a type of Portuguese folk music. But this genre is mystified by the alternative meaning of the word "fado"—fate or destiny.


Brazilians combine their two favorite sports, volleyball and soccer, into the delightfully Brazilian futevôlei, literally "footvolley." It's beach volleyball played without hands, and it's exactly as cool as it sounds.


Gostoso/a literally means "delicious," but colloquially, it means "super attractive." Brazil is said to have many people who fit this description, so it may be a good word to know on your vacation to Rio. Some people find this use of the word vulgar, though, so be careful! You can also use "gostoso/a" to refer to something very pleasant. If there's a nice breeze coming in off the sea, you can say, "Essa brisa é gostosa."


A malandro is a conman of sorts, using sly, clever tactics to achieve their goals. Depending on the context, it can be a positive thing—a "malandro" can be a heroic rogue.


This is a pretty versatile word, with meanings ranging from a wiggle, to how samba dancers move, to creativity and flexibility in difficult situations. It can also mean "listlessness," "laziness," "lethargy," or "extreme calm."


Another romantic word: If two Brazilian lovers are namorando, their relationship is serious. The word can also be used to refer to actions within the relationship, such as cuddling. It can also mean wanting to own something or looking insistently at something you want to buy.

Pois é

"Pois é" is a great filler phrase. You can just throw it into a conversation as a positive confirmation or when you don't know what else to say. See also "é mesmo" or "isso."


When you're out at a bar with your Brazilian friends and the night starts to wind down, you order the saideira—the last beer of the night. But sometimes you can order several saideiras.


For Portuguese-speaking city dwellers, a sítio is likely a countryside cottage. It's a relaxing place to get away from the chaos of city life and enjoy a nice Brazilian barbecue in the tranquility of the countryside.


The vestibular is an entrance exam to get into a Brazilian public university. Since, in Brazil, public universities are better than private ones, the exam is highly competitive, and you need high scores in all subjects to be successful. Private universities also have vestibulares, but these are generally less rigorous.


Xodó is a general term for any sort of romantic partner, from the gostosa girl you've been flirting with to your faithful husband of several decades. If you have any sort of romantic relationship with someone, they can be your xodó.

bottom of page