Let us classify the words to compare between Spanish and Portuguese into three numbered categories.

  1. The default category: Latin origin words.
  2. Loanwords from Spanish adopted into Portuguese and vice versa.
  3. Loanwords from other languages.

Spanish words with "ll" (originally pronounced /ʎ/, the pronunciation was changed to /y/ through Yeísmo, and also uses other pronunciations like /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/; words under Category 3 above may pronounce "ll" as /ll/ or /l/ or whatever is the original language pronunciation) will also fall under one of these categories.

On the other hand "ll" usually does not occur in native Portuguese words, so Portuguese words with "ll" will usually fall under Category 3 above or maybe under Category 2 above if it is borrowed from Spanish.

The Spanish verb "llamar" falls under Category 1 above as it originates from Latin "clamare". Its Portuguese equivalent is "chamar".

On the other hand "llama" the animal falls under Category 2 above and is called "lhama" in Portuguese (the pronunciation of Portuguese "lh" is between /ʎ/ and /y/).

My question here is, when does the Spanish "ll" transform to "lh", when does it transform to "ch", and when does it transform to just "l" in Portuguese?

  • 1
    Don't forget "ll" can also be turned into a single "l", such as in "apellidar"/"apelidar", both derived from the latin appellitāre (to call).
    – stafusa
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 7:41
  • 2
    @ArunabhBhattacharya Welcome to Portuguese SE and thanks for your contribution! I take that your final question is the core of your post, and your proposed categories are only accessory. If that's the case, only category (2) matters and I suggest you de-emphasize the categories or, better still, remove them altogether and only elaborate on (2), since (3) is tangential and (1) anyway assumed.
    – stafusa
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 19:22
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    (Aside: I had never heard "lhama" for the animal llama In Portugal, I knew it as "lama". The dictionary has both entries.)
    – ANeves
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 16:51
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    There is no transformation as one did not come from the other. Your questions are usually methodologically flawed. They are two different languages with two different ways words came into them from Latin. The words didn't come from one language to the other.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 15:43
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    @ArunabhBhattacharya, sorry but I don't think I have anything to contribute that is not already part of mdewey's answer. In essence, I think you need to reframe your question: in general, words don't travel from PT to ES or vice-versa; maybe loanwords travel through one to the other, such as chocolate and tupi... but those are rare and probably not interesting to study.
    – ANeves
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 19:54

2 Answers 2


Your question is based on a number of assumptions which seem to me to be questionable.

Just because two languages have a word in common or two similar words meaning the same it does not mean that one of them has borrowed the word from the other. In the case of languages with a common ancestor the default assumption must be that the words descended in parallel from a common source. As I am sure you know both Spanish and Portuguese have such a common ancestor, Latin.

Following on from that assumption your quest for a transformation from ll to lh or ch is misguided. What you should be looking for is the steps in the descent of each of them which changed the Latin, whatever that was, into the modern Spanish or Portuguese. Bear in mind as well that these rules are just summaries described by linguistic researchers of the steps they have observed. They are not rules which determined what speakers chose to do. In the same way the planets move in the way they do, they did not decide to follow Kepler's laws but rather Kepler observed their behaviour and described it.

As an aside the question ignores the information which might be obtained by looking at the descent of other Romance languages spoken in the Iberian peninsula notably in Galicia.

  • 1
    For inexperienced readers, note that Galician and Portuguese are very similar and close, both deriving from Galaico-Português. From WP: «The linguistic classification of Galician and Portuguese is still discussed today. There are those among Galician independence groups who demand their reunification as well as Portuguese and Galician philologists who argue that both are dialects of a common language rather than two separate ones.»
    – ANeves
    Commented Sep 27, 2022 at 19:48
  • The question is based on a flawed premise. It's really that simple.
    – Lambie
    Commented Sep 28, 2022 at 20:32
  • @Lambie indeed but I thought it worth posting an answer for the benefit of other people who might not have your insights.
    – mdewey
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 14:26
  • I think the question should have been closed. And I certainly don't think it should have had a bounty.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 18:43

Firstly, I will say that Spanish LL "transforming" to Portuguese is not quite the right word. Rather we should say: if I want to guess a Portuguese word from a Spanish word, what should I write in place of "ll" in a Spanish word?

Now, the real answer is that to know when to do that, you will need to know Latin.

There are many Latin morphemes that we will have to analyse to discover the pattern.

  1. -culus

This suffix, seen typically as a diminitive suffix at the end of nouns or an instrumental suffix at the end of verbs, has a long history. Still in Roman times, the first 'u' was being dropped, giving us -clus. From this -clus, we have Portuguese -lho, Spanish -jo, Italian -cchio, and so on. So from Latin spĕcŭlu-, we have Portuguese espelho, Spanish espejo, Italian specchio. From oculu-, olho, ojo, occhio.

Exception: sometimes -culus will give Portuguese -cho (macho from masculus), but the same will be true in Spanish.

Exception²: the word mácula became mancha, malha (same meaning as mancha) and mágoa in Portuguese. Spanish only evolved mancha from this word. Both PT and SPN retained the word mácula through via erudita. Priberam claims that mancha comes from a vulgar *macella, but that does not make a lot of sense.

  1. -ll-

This morpheme in Latin words will become -ll- in Spanish and -l- in Portuguese. So we have sela and silla (from sella), castelo and castillo (from castellum),

Exception: maravilla does not become maravila, but maravilha, from Latin mirabilia. When we have this ending -lia in Latin, it often becomes -lha in Portuguese (exception is família).

  1. -li-

The morphem -li- will become -lh- in Portuguese but -j- in Spanish. Examples: alho and ajo (from alium), palha and paja (from *palia, vulgar of palea), borbulhar and burbujear (from bulbulliare).

  1. -cl-

This morpheme typically became -ch- in Portuguese and -ll- in Spanish. Examples: clamare became chamar and llamar, clave- became chave and llave.

Exception: not always. Claro conserved the cl- in both languages. Compounded and derived words also tend to conserve the -cl- (concluir from concludere and cluso was the ppp of choir from cludere).

  1. -pl-

Same as -cl-, it becomes -ch- in Portuguese and -ll- in Spanish. Examples: planus became chão and llano (but also plano in Portuguese and Spanish).

Exception: not always. Platea became praça in Portuguese instead of chaça, and placere became prazer for Portuguese and placer for Spanish.

  1. -fl-

It becomes -ch- in Portuguese and in Spanish -ll-. Examples: flamma becomes chama in Portuguese and llama in Spanish, plovere (vulgar of pluere) becomes chover and llover.

Exception: flos became flor in Portuguese and Spanish, fluxus became frouxo and chocho in Portuguese but flujo in Spanish.

  1. -tulus

This is a specific case, the Latin word vetulus meant old (velho, viejo). During the times of the Roman Principate/Empire the word came to be spoken as veculus (that much is attested), and from veculus we got velho, viejo, vecchio.

But of course, not every word in these languages ​​comes from Latin. Some come from French (marchar), some from Gothic, some from English (cheque), some from German, and so on. Sometimes, Spanish will get a word from Portuguese, other times Portuguese from Spanish. In fact, there is no 100% certain way to make these cross-linguistic deductions without knowing the etymology of each word, which is much harder than just knowing each word.

When a modern word from Spanish with the graphem -ll- is loaned to Portuguese, the result is -lh-, and vice-versa. For loanwords from foreign languages, it will depend on what sound is there and how the natives of Portuguese and Spanish hear it.

  • 1
    +1 A question on point 1: Could one say "clus" oftentimes gives us "cul", as in "gotícula", "partícula", "minúsculo", "homúnculo", etc.? Also, do you know of some source with a list such this one?
    – stafusa
    Commented Jun 14 at 14:26
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    @stafusa The suffix -culus is one that a whole chapter could be written about. To answer your question in 600 characters, the -culus becomes -culo in cultismos (which are typically via erudita). In these cases the word is perfectly conserved from Latin (particula, minusculus, homunculus). You will see those words are used in more refined contexts than olho and espelho. Some words on the other hand are halfway inbetween (semicultismo) — it is the case of milagre (miraculus), attested also as myragle and miragre in Old PT.
    – Quaestoria
    Commented Jun 14 at 16:41
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    How do we know whether a word is a cultismo or vulgarismo? It is defined backwards from the evolution of the word. So 'claro' and 'flor' are cultismos (vulgar would be charo/chalo and chor) even though they are perfectly vulgar words. I don't think there is a comparative compilation of those suffixes online that keep in mind the difference between via erudita and via vulgar, I wrote the answer off the top of my head. Mas este trabalho inclui tabelas com a evolução vulgar típica em IPA: edisciplinas.usp.br/pluginfile.php/49472/mod_resource/content/1/…
    – Quaestoria
    Commented Jun 14 at 16:41
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    Correção. O artigo não usa IPA, usa um misto de IPA com símbolos fonéticos como š para a fricativa pós-alveolar muda e ž para a sonora. Não sei donde vem esse sistema — esse sons são representados assim em línguas eslavas de alfabeto romano, mas desconheço conexões entre esses factos.
    – Quaestoria
    Commented Jun 14 at 20:56

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