Idioma and língua are two words, both translating to "language", which I never know how to distinguish.

I know that língua can mean "tongue" (and even in English "tongue" can also mean "language"), but I'm interested in the difference between idioma and língua when they mean "language".

(At least in English we wouldn't really say "the Portuguese tongue" for a língua Portuguesa.)

My dictionary (Aurélio) has



  1. O conjunto das palavras e expressões usadas por um povo, por uma nação, e o conjunto de regras da sua gramática; idioma.



  1. Língua (4) de uma nação.
  2. Língua (4) peculiar a uma região.

I'm not sure what to make of that. Does that mean I can use idioma Português to refer to European Portuguese?


What's the difference between língua and idioma?

  • 10
    In practice, none. Idioma is a bit more formal, and língua can also mean tongue depending on the context, but they are basically interchangeable.
    – bfavaretto
    Jul 15, 2015 at 18:27
  • @bfavaretto But I've never heard idioma português. Is língua portuguesa a "set expression", then?
    – Earthliŋ
    Jul 15, 2015 at 18:30
  • 4
    Língua is indeed more frequent next to language names, but idioma X is also acceptable.
    – bfavaretto
    Jul 15, 2015 at 18:33
  • It's almost acceptable. I don't recall ever have read or heard anyone using "idioma português". People will without a doubt find it strange. May 26, 2020 at 13:54

2 Answers 2


"Língua" and "idioma" are synonyms.

"Idioma" is a bit more formal, and as you already said, "língua" also means "tongue".

Though "idioma português" (or whatever other language) is not so common as "língua portuguesa", there's nothing incorrect to say like this.

So in brief, they are interchangeable.


Nowadays it's common to use both without restriction.

However idioma relates to our official status about the language as a country and the língua is associated with the language spoken (mother tongue).

The idioma used in Brazil and Portugal is the Portuguese. The differences across the times are officially incorporated in both idiomas as Portuguese European and Portuguese Brazilian, but the língua will evolve in a different way.

Spain is a good example, because Spanish is the idioma and there is many línguas such as Basque, Catalan etc.

Some words of the língua are aggregated to the idioma, there is a example: tuite (tweet of Twitter)

You can use both words without problems and is good to know them, people usually says língua.

Yes, you can use idioma português, but is not common. I don't know what is the origin of Língua Portuguesa which is common to use.

Reference: http://brasilescola.uol.com.br/gramatica/diferencas-entre-lingua-idioma-dialeto.htm

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