I have noticed that in European Portuguese, many native speakers don’t necessarily pronounce words the same way as the textbook would teach a foreign student to; in that many vowels are elided or even deleted.

One example is in the Cidade FM slogan “só se quiseres”: when actually read out by the Portuguese announcer, it becomes something like “sósquisers”.

I’m not really sure how this vowel deletion works, or how to specify it, except that Portuguese natives typically delete the last vowels of words?


5 Answers 5


The accepted answer makes little sense and the term "blurred" (maybe they mean assimilated? But that doesn't make sense in context) is misleading at best.

Vowels in European Portuguese can undergo three different processes (each more drastic than the other) that make them difficult to perceive clearly for foreigners. The faster and more informal the speech, the greater the degree of change which will increase the perception (or actually result in) vowel deletion.

  1. Reduction (redução)
    This happens in all dialects of Portuguese. Effectively, the full breadth of phonemic vowels are available in tonic syllables. But in both pre- and post-tonic syllables, their number is greatly reduced. Considering just the oral monopthongs, you go from 9 in the tonic syllable to generally 4 in the pretonic and non-final post-tonic, and at most 3 in the final post-tonic. This means that vuar (not a real word) and voar would be pronounced identically (but vua and voa would sound quite different).1

  2. Devoicing (ensurdecimento, desvozeamento, dessonorização)
    This happens particularly in European Portuguese. While normally vowels are considered to be voiced as an inherent quality, it is possible to devoice vowels. Consider the English word potato. Most English speakers will not begin vibrating vocal chords until the onset of the a, but nonetheless perceive an o. The o is pronounced, but it is devoiced and may sound like just a puff of air for those not expecting it (and it basically is, the mouth and tongue are positioned for an O). In European Portuguese, higher vowels, and vowels surrounded by unvoiced consonants are more subject to devoicing. Consider the word Portugal. Because of the reduction described in (1), it is often pronounced /purtu'gal/ and both the first and second u are subject to devoicing — the first is more likely to receive it, however, because it is between two devoice consonants.

  3. Deletion (supressão, queda, apagamento)
    Vowels that have been reduced or devoiced are subject to deletion, especially e (reduced to [ɨ]) and o (reduced to [u]) in a final post-tonic syllable and in moderate to fast speech, and any non-final post-tonic vowel (pássaro will often be /'pa.sɾ(u)/. As a result, it is rare to hear the word de as anything other than [d]. You may still "hear" them in lengthened consonants ([d:] for de) or as aspiration (although it's difficult to tell the difference between ['gatu̥] and ['gatʰ]), but often times there won't be any remnants left. This effect is so pronounced it can occasionally cause problems for native-speakers who may accidentally write querer as crer (quite a different verb!).

Note that a key requirement for any vowel to be reduced, devoiced, or deleted is to be in an unaccented syllable. While there may be some variation with respect to falling diphthongs, the tonic syllable will always be pronounced clearly and unambiguously.

  • Good answer. But I think my ears are not sensitive enough to detect vowel devoicing. In your point 1 did you forget about "exceptions" like pateta, pregar (boas novas), corado? Or is your "generally" there to account for that?
    – Jacinto
    May 17, 2020 at 13:47
  • @Jacinto Devoicing is really tricky: because we're so used to seeing the vowels written, and when we hear it pronounced slowly, we internalize the presence of the oral/nasal vowel and thus "hear" it no matter what (and it is being pronounced, just without the vocal chords). But surely you've heard Portugal said /pʰɾtgal/ at some point. There's likely not actually an extra long aspiration but a devoiced vowel that sounds a lot like it. May 17, 2020 at 19:43
  • There are all sorts of conditions that favor reduction, but /a/ is probably the vowel that least reduces since it's a low central vowel. It might raise a little bit, but it might not be enough to be noticeable. For a word like corado, perhaps there is an desire to avoid conflating with curado. Vowel reduction alone is a topic that there have been entire doctoral dissertations written about so saying anything more than "generally" would be potentially introducing errors in such a short post. May 17, 2020 at 19:47
  • I think I get what you mean with /pʰɾtgal/; I tried and I can feel it in my throat not vibrating; I'm not sure my ears can tell the difference though. [a] → [ɐ] is a reduction, is it not? As in m[a]tom[ɐ]tou? Then it is quite common. Pateta is an exception. Corado, also caveira, vadio and other follows a sort of pattern: a vowel that results from a fusion of two vowels (colorado, calavaria) tend to resist reduction.
    – Jacinto
    May 18, 2020 at 6:27
  • Jacinto: indeed, [a] → [ɐ] is considered one, although it's not quite as strong to my ears because it's only a slight raising, but doesn't involve moving front/back ( [e]→[i] for instance, involves raising and fronting). Admittedly, being a native English speaker, vowel reduction is something I have to pay close attention to because like EP, it's so pervasive in the language we tend not to notice it. May 18, 2020 at 13:05

Delete is the wrong term. The syllables are "blurred". So in "só se quiseres", the e in se is blurred.

So instead of being: só se quiseres clearly heard, three separate intonation units,

the two syllables are jammed together so that the só se becomes a single intonation unit (sóse) with the tonic stress on the só, the se taking a secondary stress. The final es is reduced and takes a tertiary stress.

So, it is not about deleting anything, it is about changing the tonic stress in this example.

This phenomenon is known as non-accented or unaccented vowels:

"Uma característica do Português Europeu que constitui, talvez, a mais notória diferença em relação ao Português do Brasil diz respeito às vogais não-acentuadas que são muito mais audíveis no Português Brasileiro do que no Europeu, sendo, nesta variedade, muito reduzidas, o que leva, por vezes, à sua supressão. Esta característica do Português Europeu tem como consequência que os estrangeiros compreendem melhor a pronúncia de um brasileiro do que de um português, sentindo, neste último caso, que a língua parece ter só consoantes."

And this is another feature of European Portuguese:

"Um outra característica diz respeito à pronúncia da consoante fricativa que termina sílaba, quer no interior da palavra (antes de outra consoante como em lista, mesmo) ou no final da palavra. Normalmente, a consoante representa-se com a letra <s> (sapos) mas pode também grafar-se com <z> (rapaz). Em Português Europeu, a consoante é uma palatal, ou , conforme estiver antes de uma consoante vozeada ou não-vozeada (mesmo , lista ). Dado que esta consoante é muito frequente por ser o sufixo do plural e por terminar vários radicais, provoca nos ouvintes a sensação de que o Português Europeu, além de ter poucas vogais (muitas vogais átonas são reduzidas ou suprimidas), tem numerosas consoantes palatais. No Português do Brasil só um pequeno número de dialectos apresenta esta consoante palatal, ocorrendo no mesmo contexto, com mais frequência, a fricativa dental [s]."

The phonetic examples of these fricatives are these sounds: [s], [z], [ʃ], e [ʒ].

In other words, when you have a final s or z sound, for example, os rapazes (the young men or guys), the sounding of the final syllable is blurred (the article uses the term reduced. So, as the article explains, as the sound [s] is common in the plural suffixes of words, it sounds reduced. As meninas, three separate syllables in Brazilian Portuguese sounds reduced to as meninush in European Portuguese. sh is the closest way I can think of to write this in non-phonetic style.

For a complete explanation of these sounds, see this article.

There are other differences, the article explains. For example, Brazilian Portuguese adds a sound in words like um absurdo, to sound like: um abisurdo or admirar, that becomes adimirar, in terms of pronunciation.

  • Muito boa esta resposta!!
    – bad_coder
    Dec 25, 2019 at 19:54
  • 1
    Só porque as bolsas são o resultado de nepotismo não quer dizer que as explicações são falsas.
    – Lambie
    Dec 26, 2019 at 16:51
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    I like your answer, but I think it could be improved if it didn't try to deny deletion/elision. I think that there is elision of vowels in Portuguese, and that the final "e" in "só se quiseres" is such a case. Lambie, don't these citations in your answer indicate that this can be true? «[as vogais são muito reduzidas,] o que leva, por vezes, à sua supressão» and «(muitas vogais átonas são reduzidas ou suprimidas)». I present for analysis of elision these words: queres [quérs], fostes [fôsts], esquartejar [esquartjár], energúmeno [energúmno].
    – ANeves
    Dec 26, 2019 at 18:54
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    delete is the wrong word: you delete words or letters or phrases from written text. In speech, you suppress or elide sounds or phonemes, etc. delete is eliminar, excluir, deletar (in computing) ou riscar. suppress is supprimir and elide is reduzir, linguistically. "'sósequiseres"=the final es is elided (reduzido) and takes tertiary stress, in fact. I think you need to reread what I said.
    – Lambie
    Dec 26, 2019 at 19:04
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    The phonemenon is not "unaccented", that is simply a fundamental syllable quality that exists in all variants of Portuguese, and many other languages including many languages. Similarly, the intonation units don't determine any of the reduction, devoicing or deletion of vowels intonation units determine prosodic stress. Fundamentally, it comes down to —like Japanese— European Portuguese’s proclivity for reducing, devoicing, and deleting vowel sounds. Reduction can be seen in a word like verdade where the e sounds like English's "uh" (if heard). Jan 1, 2020 at 0:00

From what I've been learning, in European Portuguese basically all the vowels which are not in the tonic syllable of a word are not pronounced, or just slightly pronounced.

  • Yes, there's a strong tendency for that. But as a counter-example, "i" is "strong" and always pronounced: cintado, minar, picador, piolho.
    – ANeves
    Dec 26, 2019 at 19:01
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    Thanks for your comment, this is something that made me very difficult to understand spoken European Portuguese when I started learning, sometimes it's still hard depending on the accent of the speaker.
    – O' Bieito
    Dec 26, 2019 at 23:38


I find it really funny you spell it out like this. :)

Those radio "spots"/"jingles" are said/spelled really fast - or pronounced in an almost musical way (every second of airwave time costs money). For the native speaker the "e" is clearly there, although it's slightly altered (I don't know enough about phonetics to write the difference.)

In this case "só" has an acute accent on the "ó", and "quiseres" has a diphthong in the "que"(this set of 3 letters is invariant in the stress they're pronounced with.) So it happens the "e" vowel in "se" is sandwiched between a stress vowel "ó" and the diphthong in "que" that just make you put the emphasis/stress on both ends.

Maybe this phenomenon can be called simple laziness of correctly spelling out the less emphasized vowel in the sequence.

  • What about the last e, in the last syllable of [quisers]? That's the one that I think is most relevant for the asker's question about "vowel deletion".
    – ANeves
    Dec 26, 2019 at 18:58
  • @ANeves Estamos frente a famosa "vogal átona reduzida".
    – Lambie
    Jan 28, 2020 at 18:30
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    @Lambie estou tão feliz por ter-me juntado ao site, finalmente encontrei um pretexto para tentar aprender fonética :) Há a infíma hipótese de eu ter com quem falar sobre o assunto sem tornar-me um intelectual no isolamento. Nunca ninguém ouviu falar de linguística, o normal é terminar a escola sem saber ler nem escrever, quanto mais saber gramática...
    – bad_coder
    Jan 28, 2020 at 18:45

Though the answers so far have done a great job pointing out the phonetic rules and phonetic phenomena behind this, I also wanted to point out that there is an undeniable influence of regionality at play here.

In the Portuguese northern accent, in particular, it is a incredibly common to completely jump over or delete vowels and sounds, which I reckon must be very frustrating for non-native speakers.

Common examples are saying "pra quê" instead of "para quê", or not pronouncing the first letters of the verb "estar" and: "está-se mesmo a ver" becomes " 'tá-se mesmo a ver" (thought it might be pronounced a bit more like "tá-se mema ber", hence approximating the similar sounds - the two consecutive vowels -, dropping a sound all together - [s] - and substituting the [v] for a [b]).

  • 1
    pra que and tá bem, etc. are common in Brazilian Portuguese as well. Why would it be frustrating for other speakers? English has "coulda, shoulda, woulda", for example, and English learners have to learn to recognize these verbal forms.
    – Lambie
    Jan 28, 2020 at 15:59
  • You're not wrong, in all languages, native speakers cut words to speak faster. But I reckon it's harder to understand what we're saying if you're unfamiliar with the language. Plus, I think it doesn't help that accents in Portugal are, in my opinion, a bit more "harsh", closed and less melodical than Brazilian Portuguese, which probably makes us even harder to be understood, even when we're not cutting out vowels, hence the frustration
    – Rye
    Jan 28, 2020 at 18:02
  • I tried listing "universal" examples, but the truth is northeners have a very characteristic way of saying things and cutting sounds, which is why I brought it up. With the "ão" sounds, for instance: we pronounce "pão" like "pom" or "não" as "num", depending on context: "Eu não sabia que ias querer pão" becomes "Eu num sabia q'ias q'rer pom". It's a pretty weird accent, I guess xd
    – Rye
    Jan 28, 2020 at 18:14

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