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Google tells me that both 'legumes' and 'vegetais' mean 'vegetables'.

Can anyone give me a little more detail on their meanings and the right contexts to use them in?

  • Hello Kriss, this is a very good question! I edited your question to try to improve it; I changed the title and the content a bit. If you prefer the previous version, you can always check the revision history for your question and rollback :) to your original version. – ANeves thinks SE is evil Apr 9 at 12:02
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tl;dr — "vegetal" is a vegetable; "legume" is a vegetable from horticulture.


"Vegetal"

"Vegetal" means vegetable.
It is the same word as in English.

This word has a precise definition, and its common use matches the scientific definition.

Trees, shrubs, grasses, they are all vegetables.

The Priberam dictionary defines it as:

ve·ge·tal

adjectivo de dois géneros

  1. Relativo às plantas.

substantivo masculino

  1. Árvore; planta. [Tree; plant]

  2. Terra proveniente das decomposições vegetais. = HÚMUS

"vegetal", in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [online], 2008-2020, https://dicionario.priberam.org/vegetal [visited in 09-04-2020].

"Legume"

"Legume" is a common word for an horticulture produce.

It's a fuzzy word with a more fluid meaning.
It's the name in the supermarket for "fruits and vegetables": "frutas e legumes".

The root of the word "legume" is the same word as the root for the English word "legume" (pt: leguminosa).

The Priberam dictionary defines it as:

le·gu·me
substantivo masculino

  1. Grão das plantas faseoláceas.

  2. [Botânica] Planta hortense que dá vagem.

  3. Produto da horticultura.

  4. Hortaliça.

"legume", in Dicionário Priberam da Língua Portuguesa [online], 2008-2020, https://dicionario.priberam.org/legume [visited 09-04-2020].

I would translate that as:

  1. Grain from the Fabaceae family. ("Phaseollaceae"? Just... yeah, ignore that.)

  2. [Botanic] Horticultural plant that yields pods.

  3. Horticulture produce.

  4. Edible greenery produce from horticulture.

Kale, broad-beans, carrots, tomato, cucumber, bell-pepper, are "legumes": horticulture products.

| improve this answer | |
  • Tangent: the tomato and the cucumber are legumes (vegetables), not frutas (fruits)... but they're frutos. Fruta is a common word defined by daily usage, and fruto is a scientific word with a strict definition; so a melon is both fruto and fruta; but pumpkin is fruto and not fruta but legume. – ANeves thinks SE is evil Apr 9 at 11:57
  • In my experience, and also according to Wikipedia and dictionaries, lemon is a fruit ("fruta"), also "fruta" is simply an edible "fruto" according to, e.g., Priberam. – stafusa Apr 9 at 21:33
  • I can agree to put the lemon next to the other citrus, which are fruits; but I don't find any dictionary evidence that is is fruta. I will replace it with pumpkin or cucumber, thank you for pointing out the weak example. – ANeves thinks SE is evil Apr 10 at 2:39
  • «also "fruta" is simply an edible "fruto"» With that I don't agree. A lot of "legumes" are edible fruit, and they're not considered "fruta"; doesn't that show that the definition is not strict? Pumpkin, cucumber, tomato, they're edible fruits but not fruta, don't you agree?... this is a very interesting theme of discussion. : ) – ANeves thinks SE is evil Apr 10 at 2:48
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    @stafusa, I don't think it's a duplicate. And I would be glad to see more responses here; go ahead and post one! :) For a languages site, even if the content itself is the same, in my opinion a different presentation is enough to justify a new answer - and I think this brings very good value. Maybe one answer has a long and nitpicky explanation and another one has a clear-cut simple and short explanation... these will serve different users; or they use different styles or writing; or they focus on different cultures; or... :) – ANeves thinks SE is evil Apr 10 at 18:21

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