Contractions (or Why Portuguese is More Musical than Spanish)

December 2, 2010

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Why do Brazilians always seem understand Spanish but not the other way around? Is Portuguese really that much more difficult than Spanish?

Actually, the main reason is quite simple: contractions.

Contractions are the joining of separate words to form a single word. In English, for example, “I + am” comes to form the word “I’m”.  In Spanish, “a + el” forms the word “al”.

While Spanish has a few contractions, Portuguese is loaded with them. Taking a few minutes to learn these little collisions is the single most efficient thing you can do to boost your Portuguese.

Here’s a simple example.

(Port) Estou no Brasil viajando pelo Rio Amazonas

(Span) Estoy en el Brasil viajando por el Rio Amazonas

(Engl) I’m in Brasil traveling via the Amazon River

The Spanish speaker is thrown off by the Portuguese “no” and the “pelo”—which have totally different meanings in Spanish—while the Portuguese speaker understands the “en el” and “por el” perfectly with no prior knowledge.

Before going any further, you’ll need to know the Portuguese articles, which are used to form contractions. 

If you didn’t already know, an article is a word that comes before a noun (i.e. “The” in English).  “The” in English becomes “El/ La/ Los/ Las” in Spanish and “o/ a/ os/ as” in Portuguese. Like Spanish, the Portuguese article agrees with the gender and number of the noun.

Check out the chart below:

IMPORTANT ARTICLES

SPAN PORT
el cuarto o quarto
la gata a gata
los estados os estados
las casas as casas


*Note that the Portuguese article almost always precedes country: o Mexico, a Argentina, os Estados Unidos

If you grasp the basic articles (above), take another look at the same Portuguese sentence with the contractions broken up (which we incorrectly do for illustrative purposes):

Estou em o (no) Brasil, viajando por o (pelo) Rio Amazonas

Much easier, right? This is how a Portuguese speaker would read the same sentence in Spanish. While Spanish is broken up into clear and understandable pieces, Portuguese runs them together in contractions.

Here’s an overview of the basic contractions:

CONTRACTION CHART

Span/ Port (Span) a / a (Port) (Span) de / de (Port) (Span) en / em (Port) (Span) por / por (Port)
el = o al = ao del = do en el = no por el = pelo
la = a a la = à de la = da en la = na por la = pela
los = os a los = aos de los= dos en los = nos por los = pelos
las = as a las = às de las = das en las = nas por las = pelas


*Note that the you must always use contractions in Portuguese


It seems weird at first, but you’ll quickly find contractions one of the coolest parts of the Portuguese language. Contractions are what makes Portuguese so fluid, compact, and musical.

“EN/ EM” CONTRACTIONS

The Spanish “en” becomes “em” in Portuguese. The Spanish EN + EL/  LA/  LOS/  LOS never form contractions, while the Portuguese EM + 0/ A/ OS/ AS always form the contractions NO/ NA/ NOS/ NAS.


EN EL = NO (em + o)

ü  Span: EN EL quarto

ü  Port: NO quarto “nu quarto”

EN LA = NA (em + a)

ü  Span: EN (LA) Colombia

ü  Port: NA Colombia (“na Colômbia”)

EN LOS = NOS (em + os)

ü  Span: EN LOS Estados Unidos

ü  Port: NOS Estados Unidos (“nus Estadus Unidos”)

EM LAS = NAS (em + as)

ü  Span: EN LAS casas

ü  Port: NAS casas = “nas cazas”

“A”  CONTRACTIONS

This “A” is the same in both Spanish and Portuguese. However, Spanish allows just one contraction: A + EL= AL. The rest of them, A + LA/ LOS/ LAS, don’t contract.

In Portuguese, on the other hand, A + O/ A/ OS/ AS always form the contractions AO/ À (a + a)/ AOS/ ÀS (a + as).

A EL = AO (a + o)

ü  Span: Voy AL bar

ü  Port: Vou AO bar =“vou ao baj”

A LA = À (a + a)

ü  Span: Vamos A LA playa

ü  Port: Vamos À praia = “vamus á praia”

A LOS= AOS (a + os)

ü  Span: Vamos chegar A LOS Estados Unidos

ü  Port: Vamos chegar AOS Estados Unidos “vamus chegar aos Estadus Unidus”

A LAS = ÀS (a + as)

ü  Span: Tengo que ir A LAS fiestas de cumpleaños.

ü  Port: Tenho que ir ÀS festas de aniversario.

“DE” CONTRACTIONS

This “DE” is written the same in both Spanish and Portuguese. However, Spanish allows just one contraction: DE + EL= DEL. The rest of them, DE + LA/ LOS/ LAS, don’t contract. In Portuguese, on the other hand, DE + O/ A/ OS/ AS always form the contractions DO/ DA/ DOS/ DAS.


(de + el) DEL = DO (de + o)

ü  Span: Francisco es DEL barrio Santo Paolo.

ü  Port: Francisco é DO bairro São Paulo.

DE LA = DA (de + a)

ü  Span: Aprendi mucho DE LA profesora.

ü  Port: Aprendi muito DELA professora.

DE LOS = DOS (de + os)

ü  Span: Hay muchas personas DE LOS Estados Unidos.

ü  Port: Há muitas pessoas DOS Estados Unidos.

DE LAS = DAS (de + as)

ü  Span: Recibi muchos consejos DE LAS personas ciertos.

ü  Port: Recebi muitos conselhos DAS pessoas certas.

“POR” CONTRACTIONS

“POR” is written the same in both Spanish and Portuguese. However, the Spanish POR + EL/  LA/  LOS/  LOS never form contractions, while the Portuguese POR + 0/ A/ OS/ AS always form the contractions PELO/ PELA/ PELOS/ PELAS.

POR EL = PELO (por + o)

ü  Span: POR LO menos (at least)

ü  Port: PELO menos “pelu menus”

POR LA = PELA (por + a)

ü  Span: Me gusta andar POR LA calle.

ü  Port: Eu gosto de andar PELA rua. “pela hua”

POR LOS = PELOS (Por + o)

ü  Span: POR LAS calles de Brasil

ü  Port: PELAS ruas do Brasil “pelas ruas”

POR LAS = PELAS (Por + as)

ü  Span: Me gusta Brasil POR LAS personas.

ü  Port: Eu gosto do Brasil PELAS pessoas. “pelas pessoas”

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