A vocabulary of Portuguese song

some fado lyrics

Table of contents

Top 30 favourite Portuguese song words

Words you're certain to hear

PortugueseWhat you hearWhat it means in English
aindaeyeEENdastill, anyway, one day
alegriaaleGRREEa****happiness, joy
barcoBARcooboat, small ship (the general word)
céuSAYoosky, heaven,
cidadeseeDARDcity, town
coisaCOYzathing, matter
comigocoMEEgoowith me
esperarespehRAR****to wait (for), hope, expect
fadoFARDoo, FARD*****fate, fado song
genteJZHENT*people, folks, we, us
lembrarlengBRAR***to remember
não NOWng**no, not
partirparTEERto leave, depart, break, be exhausted
perdido/aperDEEDoo / perDEEDalost, desperately in love (adjective m/f)
queroKAIRooI want (from verb querer)
saudadesowDARDlonging, yearning, pining, resigned sadness
sempreSENGpree***always, forever
sonhoSONyoodream (noun), I dream (from verb sonhar)
souSOI am (i.e. I am defined by being)
sozinho/asoZEENyoo / soZEENyaalone (adjective m/f)
terraTERrrrrra****land, homeland
tristezatrrreesTEZa****sadness, sorrow

For more words see below.

Notes on Portuguese pronunciation

Key to symbols in What you hear column in table above

Portuguese j and soft g (before e) sounds like the s in English measure, indicated in IPA by the sign /ʒ/. Otherwise g is mostly hard, like English gift.

ão is a key sound. Get this right and lots of other sounds fall into place. Portuguese is nasal. This is how it works. In English "cow" and "now" finish with a whoosh of air out the lips. In Portuguese "cão" and "não", which sound superficially similar, don't. What the [ng] in the pronunciation guide [NOWng] is trying to say is hold back the whoosh at the end. Just stop, or divert the air upwards. Hold your hand in front of your mouth and say "now" without the puff of air at the end. This automatically becomes nasal. If you say an extended não and pinch your nose you'll find that's where the air was coming out.

m here is a very nasal n sound, not an m at all. So once again the sound is produced not with the lips as in English m but by diverting air to the nose.

r is rolled or trilled a lot in the Portuguese of Portugal, especially by singers. Double r is prolonged and sometimes spectacular (listen for example to Ana Moura). But r at the end of words may be omitted altogether, or it may just modify the preceding vowel like in English, usually lengthening it.

Fado is famous enough to have an English pronunciation - FARdough. But in Portugal it is said with an ooh sound, FARDoo. Or the end is dropped altogether, FARD, when the word is said or sung rapidly in an unstressed way.

Portuguese as spoken around the world

In line with the focus of this site, the pronunciation given is for the language now used in Portugal itself. Over the years other Lusophone countries such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique and Cabo Verde have developed their own distinctive speaking and singing styles.

Within Portugal itself pronunciation tends to be fairly uniform. It varies much less than the way German is spoken in Germany, Italian in Italy or English as actually used across the nations and regions of the UK. So some good news for learners of European Portuguese then, as you grapple with the more unfamiliar sounds or cope with the syllables often dropped in speech.

Top 300 Portuguese song words

Found frequently in popular music lyrics

PortugueseWhat it means in English
athe [used with feminine word]
acimaabove, up (rio acima = up river)
adeusgoodbye [literally to God]
afoito/abold, daring
aindastill, anyway (ainda lembro = I still remember)
alegrehappy, cheerful
alegriahappiness, joy
Alentejoregion to south and east of Tejo river
algum / algumaone, some (alguma coisa = something)
amarto love
amigo/aboyfriend / girlfriend [either can also just mean friend]
andarto walk
andorinhaswallow [as in type of bird]
apaixonado/ain love
arrependido/asorry, regretful
arriscarto risk
arruforow, tiff
assimso, in this way, like this (assim sou eu = this is me)
barcacargo vessel
barcoboat, small ship [the general word]
basta!enough, stop!
bastanteenough, sufficient, lots of
beberto drink
bempossession, good [versus evil], darling [noun]
bemall right, OK, well, very [adverb]
bom/boagood [versus bad, adjective]
bombabomb, pump, pumping, sex
bonito/apretty, lovely
brilharto shine, sparkle, flash
cabelohair [specifically hair on the head]
cadaeach, every (cada dia = every day)
campofield, countryside
cantarto sing
cão dog [not a cow - that's vaca, pronounced VAka]
caraface [noun]
caro/adear, costly, darling
casahouse, home
certo/asure, certain
céusky, heaven
chaticenuisance, a bore
chegado/anear, close [geographically or emotionally]
cheirarto smell (cheira bem = it smells good)
cidadecity, town
cimatop (em cima de = on top of)
Coimbraancient university town in central Portugal
coisathing, matter (coisas pequenas = little things)
comboiotrain (apito do comboio = train whistle)
comigowith me
comohow, as, like
contigowith you
creioI believe [from verb crer]
culparto blame
daof the, from [de + a, with feminine noun e.g. da Madeira]
darto give [irregular verb]
deof, from [with indeterminate noun e.g. de Lisboa]
dentroinside, within [adverb]
depoisafter, afterwards
despedidaparting, farewell
destinodestiny, fate
diaday (um dia = one day)
dizhe/she/it says, you say
dizerto say
doof the, from [de + o, with masculine noun e.g. do Alentejo]
doistwo [with male word e.g. dois cantores]
doloroso/apainful, hurtful
douI give
duastwo [with female word e.g. duas cantoras]
dúvidadoubt (sem dúvida = without a doubt)
eand (pronounced EE)
éhe/she/it is, you are [pronounced EH, from verb ser])
emin, on, at
encantado/aenchanted, delighted, smitten
ésyou are [familiar, from verb ser, the defining form of verb to be]
esperançahope, expectation
esperarto wait (for), hope, expect
esquecerto forget
esse/essathat [pronoun with masculine and femine forms]
estáhe/she/it is, you are
este/estathis [pronoun with masculine and femine forms]
estarto be [used for transitory states, irregular verb]
estasyou are [familiar form of you, transitory sense of verb to be]
estavaI was, he/she/it was
estouI am [in sense I am currently]
euI [often omitted as verb endings give the subject. So eu quero = I want, quero also = I want ]
existehe/she/it exists
fadofate, Fado song
fadistaFado singer [used for either sex]
faltaabsence, shortage, fault
fazerto make, to do, to create
feio/augly, grim
felizhappy, fortunate
fogofire, ardour
folgarest, break (dia de folga = day off)
fugirto flee, escape
fuiI was, I went
gentepeople, folks, we, us (toda a gente = everybody)
grandebig, great
gritarto cry out, to shout
there is, there are
históriahistory, story
hojetoday (hoje à noite = tonight)
houverthere is, there are [used when uncertainty involved]
irto go [irregular verb]
already, yet, right away
lembrarto remember
lerto read [irregular verb]
letrawords, lyrics
lindo/lindalovely, very nice
LisboaLisbon, port city and capital of Portugal
lisboetaresident of Lisbon [of either sex]
longefar, far away, distant
louro/ablond, fair
lugarplace, position
mãemother [mãe has a nasal vowel sound, pai doesn't]
maismore, most
maluco/acrazy, daft, madman, madwoman
masbut [conjunction]
meme [object pronoun, pronounced same as English me]
medofear (ter medo = to be afraid)
meninoboy, child
meumy [possessive pronoun, used with masculine word]
mimme [form of me used with prepositions] (fado em mim = fado in me)
minhamy [possessive pronoun, used with feminine word]
Minhoriver in far North of Portugal
Mondegoriver in central Portugal on which Coimbra lies
morarto live, reside
moreno/abrunette, of dark complexion
moroI live, reside
morrerto die [opposite of viver = to be alive]
mudançachange [noun]
mudarto change
muito/amuch, many, a lot of, very
nain, on, at the [em + a]
namoradagirlfriend, lover
namoradoboyfriend, lover
não no, not
navioship [bigger than barco]
negro/ablack (barco negro = black ship)
nemnor, neither
noin, on, at the [em + o, pronounced NOO]
nóswe [pronoun, pronounced NOSH]
nosus [pronoun, pronounced NOOSH]
nosso/aour [possessive pronoun, pronounced NOSSoo]
othe [pronounced OO, used with masculine word]
obrigadathanks, thank you, obliged [said by woman]
obrigadothanks, thank you, obliged [said by man]
onda, ondaswave, waves [in sea]
ouor, either [pronounced OH not OO]
ourogold [pronounced OHroo], (de ouro = of gold, golden)
outonoautumn, fall
outro/aother, another
ouvidoear, hearing
ouvirto hear, to listen [irregular verb]
paifather (pais = fathers, parents)
parato, for (para mim = for me) [preposition, often written p'ra]
partirto leave, depart, break
penapenalty, suffering, shame (que pena! = what a pity!)
perderto lose (irregular verb)
perdido/alost (perdido por = desperately in love with)
perguntarto ask
porby, through, for
Portohistoric city in North Portugal, Oporto in UK English
praiabeach, shore
preto/ablack (vestido preto = black dress)
primaveraspring, springtime
próximonear [geographically or in time] (próximo ano = next year)
putosrascals, bastards [as used by Lisbon singers]
quethat, than, what, which [pronounced KEE]
quemwho, whom [pronounced KAYng] (Quem amo? = Who do I love?)
quererto want [irregular verb]
queroI want
quisI wanted
saudadelonging, yearning, pining, resigned sadness
seoneself, himself, herself, itself, yourself, themselves [reflexive pronoun, pronounced SEE]
seif, whether [conjunction, pronounced SEE]
seguro/asure, self-assured
semprealways, forever
senhorMr, sir, you
SenhorSir, Lord
senhoraMrs, madam, you
SenhoraLady [sometimes means Virgin Mary]
sentidosense, meaning, hurt [noun], heartfelt [adjective]
serto be [used for defining characteristics, irregular verb]
sério/aserious, genuine
only [pronounced SOH]
sonhodream [noun] or I dream [from the verb sohnar]
sorteluck, chance, lot, fate
souI am [in sense: I am defined by being, pronounced like English SO]
sozinho/aalone, lonely
suavesoft, smooth
súbito/asudden, unexpected
surpreendido/asurprised [from verb surpreender]
talvezmaybe, perhaps
tambemas well, too
tãoso, very
tardelate [adverb]
TejoTagus, river on which Lisbon lies
tempotime, (the) weather
tenhoI have, I must [from verb ter; sometimes can mean I am]
terto have, to have to, to be (ter frio = to be cold) [irregular verb]
terraland, homeland
teu/tuayour [possessive pronoun, familiar form]
tidohad [from verb ter]
todoall, every (todo a noite = all night)
tonto/asilly, daft
trabalharto work
trêsthree [used with either male or female words]
tristezasadness, sorrow
tuyou [personal and familiar version]
tudoeverything (tudo bem = everything's OK)
uma [indefinite article], one [number] [Used with male words]
umaa [indefinite article], one [number] [Used with female words]
vamoswe go, we are going; let's go! [from irregular verb ir]
vejoI see
vemhe/she/it comes, you come; come to me! [imperative]
verto see [irregular verb]
veztime, occasion (duas vezes = twice)
virto come [irregular verb]
viverto live, to be alive
vocêsyou [plural]
voltarto return, to go back
vouI am going
vozvoice, singer
zangado/aangry, bad-tempered
zonzo/adizzy, light-headed

Use Google's translation tool to switch the lists into other languages

This leaves the first column with Portuguese in it alone. It won't touch the English-based pronunciation guide in the second column of the Top 30 list either. But Google will translate the "What it means in English" column in both lists into whatever language you specify, along with any other English it finds on the page. So verdade will go into veritat in Catalan and vérité in French if you use the Select Language box to switch away from English.

Note that the "What it means" column here is being translated via my English translation, so if you specify Icelandic it goes Portuguese, English, Icelandic. So the results may be different (better or worse) than the results you'd get going from Portuguese to Icelandic directly with Google translate.

Google uses a massive-database approach to translation. It is getting pretty accurate with language pairs that have a large database of existing high-quality human translated examples to work with. It is less good with rarer language combinations. And when translating songs, it helps if it has plenty of examples from other song lyrics, fiction or speech (such as media interviews or TV captions).

For some rarer languages its corpus may over-reliant on official documents, which tend to lack openly-expressed emotions such as regret, disappointment and lust.

How this list was compiled

Scientifically up to a point, then subjectively. So this ends up being My Top 300 Portuguese song words, and yours might be different. But it is not an entirely subjective list. I started by submitting lots of Portuguese lyrics into word frequency counting tools. This is the correct approach if you want to be scientific about it.

However there's obviously a bias in whose songs you chose, and there's also a bigger bias in which artists have lyrics readily available to be fed into a counting algorithm. I started with Zeca Afonso and Madredeus, but then got less systematic, resorting to Musixmatch, LyricsTranslate and the useful Brazilian site Letras.com.br to hunt down specific artists and songs.

The Top 30 favourites was even more subjective, because the massive sample bias means I had little confidence in the rank order I was getting. That's why both lists are alphabetic rather than attempting to give a precise order. With the Top 30 favourites I also had another purpose, selecting words from the larger list that exemplified different aspects of Portuguese pronunciation. So it's not a purely frequency-based selection.

But I am very confident that Amor, Barco and Coração belong in the Top 30 on a strict frequency basis, and are probably in the Top 10, with O Mar - the sea, running them close.

But other words in top 30 are a bit haphazard - words from the Top 300 that I recognise being used a lot in the songs I'm most familiar with. Since many of these can be found elsewhere on this site this selection at least has the merit that you can hear these words in context.

Using frequency counters does bring home to you how many common everyday words also occur in songs. These include the basic (and often irregular) verbs that form the structure of the language, fundamental concepts like today, tomorrow and always, and grammatical glue words like if, that, but and because. So I've included some of these, but not too many. This leaves space for the more lyrical words demanding inclusion - the many adjectives and adverbs of feeling that often take a central role in the language of song.

A limitation of the frequency approach is the tendency of songwriters and poets to go for obscure words when they want to express themselves with precision. These infrequent but sometimes striking words won't show up in a popularity list like this. But the usual suspects do - Amor is still a winner, because people keep singing about it.

See the introduction to the Routledge Frequency Dictionary of Portuguese (or any other dictionary in this series) for the basic approach if you want to do things scientifically. It's really all about assembling an appropriate corpus of text to search and count. So to do the job properly here I would need to compile a very large and representative selection of Portuguese song lyrics from the last 50 years.

Note that because all the songs I've included are from Portugal the vocabulary list reflects the popularity of words in the songs of Portugal, as opposed to those in the songs of Brazil. Though the languages themselves are close, song themes differ - reflecting differences in cultural concerns and attitudes in the two major Lusophone civilisations.

Other useful Portuguese word lists

The Routledge frequency dictionaries aim to achieve a balance between spoken, literary and business/government/academic usage. They are beautifully organised and include translated examples, but they are expensive. However, for songs lyrics free word lists based on analysing openly available film and TV captions may be just as accurate in finding the right words.

This kind of scripted but spoken language is likely to be closer to song than older literary works or reports from business, government or academic institutions.

There's a useful free Portuguese frequency list at the volunteer Wiktionary project. This list is based on European Portuguese subtitles. Here's the same Portuguese word list cleaned up a bit and broken up into 100 word chunks.

See also:

Why Portuguese stress patterns sound natural to English speakers

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