4

I speak Spanish as a foreign language. There, I am used to a few rules governing which syllables are stressed, and if a word somehow deviates, an explicit accent is used.

I'm learning (Brazilian) Portuguese right now, and things seem different. There are some rules, but there seem to be many exceptions, things seem kind of random to me at this point. For example, take these two words:

pede (3. person Presente) and pedi (1. person Pretérito Perfeito)

I learned that the stressed syllables (marked with capital letters) are PEde and peDI. But these words are almost identical: 4 letters, 2 syllables, both end with a vowel, no accents, and yet, one stresses the first syllable, the other stresses the second. In Spanish, the second word would need to be written 'pedí' for the last syllable to be the stressed one.

Does it have something to do with the tense? Are rules for verbs in the present and past tenses different? What about the other tenses? Would anybody have any helpful links with more information?

5
  • 1
    Welcome to every Brazilian student nightmare! Accentuation rules. There are many differences from Spanish, but many similarities. Here you can most rules, and even though the website is in Portuguese, most of it is quite easily readable, even with Google Translate.
    – Schilive
    Nov 11, 2023 at 20:25
  • 1
    @Schilive Thank you, very informative link, although doesn't answer my question directly (at least I think it doesn't). But it does mention another topic that has been driving me nuts - that Portuguese doesn't use 'ü' any more. How on earth am I supposed to know that 'pinguim' does pronounce the 'u', apart from learning the word? Seems like pronunciation is much more complicated than in Spanish, where you can read a word correctly without knowing it, because in this case, they still use 'ü' to let you know. But hey, nobody promised it would be easy.
    – wujek
    Nov 12, 2023 at 13:03
  • wujek, Portuguese used the umlaut (port. trema), but then it was removed in the orthography agreement of 1990, which made Brazil and Portugal unhappy, specially Portugal. Also, if no accent is present, you do not know whether it is open (/é/, /ó/) or closed (/ê/, /ô/), which is another problem, coming from 1911. Even better, sometimes different people use vowels open and closed! But it is probably not that bad, since a learner learns word for word. You can check the pronunciation in dictionaries (like Priberam) and also here.
    – Schilive
    Nov 12, 2023 at 19:31
  • @Schilive I hope you don’t mind, but I've taken the liberty of editing what I believe was an accidental typo in your comment, where you had written “open (/é/, /ó/) or closed (/é/, /ô/)”. I've replaced the second é with ê the way I believe you meant to write it so that open ‹é› = ɪᴘᴀ /ɛ/ and open ‹ó› = ɪᴘᴀ /ɔ/, while closed ‹ê› = ɪᴘᴀ /e/ and closed ‹ô› = ɪᴘᴀ /o/. Another difficulty for learners is the unmarked vowel quality in “stem-changing” verbs’ present indicatives (but ɴᴏᴛ their present subjunctives!) like cedo, cedes, cede, cedem /e‑ɛ‑ɛ‑ɛ/ or movo, moves, move, movem /o‑ɔ‑ɔ‑ɔ/.
    – tchrist
    Nov 13, 2023 at 0:58
  • @tchrist, thanks! I will delete this comment later.
    – Schilive
    Nov 13, 2023 at 1:17

2 Answers 2

4

In Portuguese, the spelling and accent marks fully specify which syllables are stressed. You don't need to look at any other context; the spelling is enough to be sure of the stress. What you're missing is that while the rules for Portuguese are similar to Spanish, they have some differences, too. Two of these differences have to do with "i"s and "u"s at the end of words. As someone who's learned some Portuguese and a little Spanish, both as foreign languages, I try to remember these as "opposites", where Portuguese does the opposite from Spanish, and vice versa. In both languages, this is special to the letters "u" and "i", and does not apply at all to other vowel letters, even in cases where other letters might make similar sounds.

In both languages, as you probably know, you can add an acute accent to "force" the stress onto a certain syllable, but if not shown anywhere, there are rules for the "default" syllable to take the stress.

"u" or "i" at the end of a word: takes the stress by default in Portuguese, but not in Spanish. So we write "Peru" in Portuguese, and "Perú" in Spanish, for the same pronunciation "pe-RU". If we had wanted to say "PE-ru" instead, that would be written "Péru" (or "Pero") in Portuguese, and "Peru" in Spanish.

Word ending in another vowel, with "u" or "i" immediately before it, like "-io" or "-ua": in Portuguese, this is the second-to-last syllable, so it takes the stress like most second-to-last syllables do. In Spanish, there is a special rule where the stress can "skip" over it to the third-to-last syllable. So we write "Mário e Maria" in Portuguese, but "Mario y María" in Spanish, with the same stress pattern. Same with "água" (PT) and "agua" (ES).

The rules for stress in Portuguese words are officially described in the "Acordo Ortográfico da Lingua Portuguesa" (1990). Personally I find that hard to read. There's a special jargon used for stress patterns in Portuguese that I've had a difficult time getting used to, because I first learned grammar in another language (English). But all the rules are in there.

8
  • 1
    The official language likes to use the Greek stress-related words, but you can also talk about them in Portuguese by using the same simpler versions that Spanish can also use, which in Portuguese are spelled esdrúxula, grave, aguda. (Spanish spells the first term esdrújula, though.) The first word derives from an Italian term, and can have a secondary meaning of weird or strange in Portuguese. I don't know simple versions in English for these, though; we might speak of their corresponding poetic feet, but those are also Greek. :)
    – tchrist
    Nov 12, 2023 at 0:25
  • @tchrist Thanks, I can't imagine how those could be simpler, but I do like that esdrúxula itself is esdrúxula.
    – Dan Getz
    Nov 12, 2023 at 12:19
  • @DanGetz In the case of 'Mario' (ES) and 'Mário' (PT) I think this is because 'io' is a diphthong in ES (so 1 syllable), and stresses 'a' as in 'M[a]rio' as the penultimate syllable according to rules, whereas in PT 'io' is NOT a diphthong, so without the explicit accent the pronunciation would be Mar[i]o (like 'Maria'). Same with 'agua' (ES) vs 'água' (PT) - 'ua' is a diphthong in ES. It cost me some effort to understand why 'farmacia' (ES) and 'farmácia' (PT) are pronounced the same, and why I need an explicit accent in PT. And why 'pronúncia' needs the explicit accent.
    – wujek
    Nov 12, 2023 at 13:32
  • @wujek that's part of it, but not all of it—I was surprised by a non-dipthong pronunciation of the Portuguese name Iolanda, for example—but I think this is a difference in spelling, regardless of if there's a dipthong pronunciation. For example, água has two syllables in Portuguese, according to a couple dictionaries I checked.
    – Dan Getz
    Nov 12, 2023 at 13:42
  • But even if it does have to do with diphthongs, the rule 'if ends with -u or -i, it is the stressed syllable' is actually much easier to remember. And it does easily answer my question, and it does apply to some other words I have been curious about. Would you have a link where this (and more) rules are described?
    – wujek
    Nov 12, 2023 at 13:42
4

In Portuguese, if no accent is present and the last syllable is CONSONANT + i, then the word is oxytone. Oxytone means the last syllable is the tonic one. It is quite rare to see an accent in words ending in CONSONANT + i, and when so, they are mostly foreign. Words ending in -ei are not uncommon.

per-di

vi

sa-ci

sari (from English)

Unless an accent is present, a word ending in CONSONANT + e is paroxytone. Paroxytone means the penultimate (second to last) word is the tonic one.

Pe-de

Vi-ve

do-en-te

ên-fa-se

ja-ca-

2
  • Maybe it’s just me, but personally I’ve always found the term palavra esdrúxula easier to remember than palavra proparoxítona; similarly palavra aguda in place of palavra oxítona and palavra grave in place of palavra paroxítona. The Greek versions always sound scholarly or “extra-educated”, although they are of course perfectly correct. Oddly, I don't know corresponding “simpler” versions for English to use there instead of the long Greek terms.
    – tchrist
    Nov 12, 2023 at 0:15
  • 2
    @tchrist, yeah. I could not think of any easier word to use. Funny enough I get the opposite impression. For me, esdrúxula, aguda, etc. sound more Latin to me. I think the Greek versions are easier for me because it is like your incrementing the word: "oxítona", "paro-xítona", "pro-paro-xítona". I have only heard esdrúxula, etc. in scientific articles and books.
    – Schilive
    Nov 12, 2023 at 1:51

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.