Grammar / Learning

Pronunciation of “o” in Portuguese

Knowing how to correctly pronounce “o” in Portuguese can be a big problem.  It doesn’t seem like a problem at first, but the more words you add to your vocabulary, the more likely you are to get confused with a few words.  Another confusing (but less difficult) problem is confusing an open “o” with “a”.  Let’s look at some examples.  (Try checking the pronunciation of Forvo!)

Open: foda, foca, folga
Closed: fogo, fofo, focar, fôlego

  • Can you easily pronounce the difference between “foda” and “fada”? (The “a” is slightly more forced, intentional sounding)
  • How about between “foca” and “faca”?

Open: bola
Closed: bolo, bolar, bolão

  • Can you easily pronounce the difference between “bola” and “bala”?

Open: gole, gola
Closed: gordo

  • Can you easily pronounce the difference between “gola” and “gala”? (Be careful with this word “gala” 😉 )

Open: sola, sol, solar
Closed: sono, sopro, soprar, soprão

  • Can you easily pronounce the difference between “sol” and “sal”?
  • How about between “sola” and “sala”?

I’ve intentionally tried to mislead you to believe that ending in “a” (or “e”) somehow makes the “o” open.  Some exception that easily come to mind are: boca, sopa, toda, moça.  Actually, it’s not even fair to even call such cases exceptions!  The opposite is also common.  The first “o” in the following words is open: colo, foco, posso, novos, jogo (I play).

There is NO RULE! Much like English, you just have to learn them case by case.  For such doubts, you can always check to WordReference forums.  The forum had some very interesting examples:

olho (eye, first “o” is closed)
olhos (first “o” is open. This commonly occurs in the plural, but not always.)

ovo (first “o” is closed)
ovos (first “o” is open)

Open: corte (cut)
Closed: corte (court)

Open: posto (I post)
Closed: posto (position, placed)
Open: poste (pole)

Open: nervosa (nervósa)
Closed: nervoso (nervôso)

So give a shot at saying “Eu jogo um jogo legal no aeroporto. Sempre gostei de jogar jogos nos aeroportos.”  Did you pronounce “jogo/jogar/jogos” correctly in all instances?  What about “aeroporto” in the plural?

Expert Level! 😉 :

  • Eu olho diretamente no seu olho. (Answer: Eu ólho diretamente no seu ôlho.)
  • O meninio novo é nervoso e a menina nova teimosa.  Os homens novos são teimosos.  As mulhers novas são corajosas. (Answer: O meninio nôvo é nervôso e a menina nóva teimósa.  Os homens nóvos são teimósos.  As mulhers nóvas são corajósas.)

This is a little off-subject, but just the other day I couldn’t remember if “voz” is pronounced like “voss” or “voiss”.  Isn’t it amazing how we stumble on some of the most common words?  It’s a good reminder that in learning a language, we need to practice good technique, which means copying some of the best learners out there.  Time and time again, you’ll see the following learning techniques that ANYONE can do (ordered from easiest to hardest):

  1. Listen (and listen carefully)
  2. Read and note new phrases for later study.  Use your inner voice when reading.  Check doubts on pronunciation.
  3. Read w/ audio! (when you can find it)
  4. Record yourself talking/reading.  Review yourself
  5. Speak with a native, when possible
  6. Read something quickly, set aside, attempt to rewrite.  Review mistakes and shortcomings.
  7. Write! Have a native correct. Note mistakes for later study.

3 thoughts on “Pronunciation of “o” in Portuguese

  1. Pingback: Sentence Mining, Best Resources « On Learning Brazilian Portuguese

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