Portuguese vs. Spanish Language: Differences and Similarities

Two brothers holding hands and walking down the street to illustrate Portuguese vs Spanish language similarities and differences

Spanish vs Portuguese Overview

Roman architecture to illustrate the origin of romance languages.

Portuguese vs Spanish language:

Portuguese and Spanish are Romance languages that share a common root: they both stem from Vulgar Latin.

However:

When comparing Portuguese vs Spanish, they are different enough to be considered separate languages, but they have nonetheless a similar grammar and lexicon that makes them closely related and, to some extent, mutually intelligible. 

Not only that.

It is relatively easy for Portuguese native speakers to understand Spanish, even speak it. But this is not entirely reciprocal.

How so?

Spanish native speakers seem to have a harder time following along with Portuguese native speakers. This imbalance is mainly due to differences in pronunciation between the two languages.

In fact:

In this article, we’ll look at the similarities and differences between Portuguese and Spanish in greater detail to better understand what’s going on.

Ready to begin?

Let’s get started.

Common Spanish and Portuguese Misconceptions

Young man looking confused about the differences between Spanish and Portuguese.

Is Portuguese Spanish?

No, Portuguese is not Spanish, but they were both born in the Iberian Peninsula somehow isolated from the rest of the land by the Pyrenees. For this reason, it’s only natural for them to resemble in a lot of ways.

Here’s the deal:

There’s an almost 90% lexical similarity between the two, meaning that 90% of their words have a cognate (equivalent) in the other language.

In other words:

If you speak one, you’ll probably understand a part of the second but don’t count on being able to speak it fluently.

Differences between Spanish and Portuguese

one brown egg among white eggs to illustrate differences in things that look similar at first sight

Portuguese and Spanish languages are least similar in their spoken form. This is mainly because Portuguese has more complex phonology compared to Spanish.

Case in point:

Although the two languages share a single heritage, they have their own unique personality and grammatical rules.

Such as:

  • The Portuguese language has been more influenced by French, whereas the influences of Ancient Arabic can be discerned in Spanish.
  • Different use of vowels
  • In terms of pronunciation, many Portuguese words reflect the French accent and intonation, while Spanish words often incorporate an Italian style of pronunciation.
  • The expression of ‘you.’
  • There are lots of false friends or cognates – these are words that look the same in both languages but have totally different meanings.

Now, if speaking Spanish is a huge advantage to start learning Portuguese, it can also be a handicap.

Why?

It is sometimes hard not to mix both and end up tangled in Portuñol, a mix of Portuguese and Spanish.

Similarities between Spanish and Portuguese

two spoons on  a wooden plate to illustrate similarities between Spanish and Portuguese

There’s an almost 90% lexical similarity between Spanish and Portuguese and it’s often suggested that individuals who speak Portuguese typically have a better understanding of spoken Spanish than Spanish speakers have of spoken Portuguese.

So in what ways, specifically, are Spanish and Portuguese similar?

  • A large number of words in Spanish and Portuguese share the same meaning
  • They share the same language, so there’s no need, for either, to learn any new letters.
  • The word ordering in both languages is largely the same, and there are some strong similarities in terms of vocabulary, too.
  • The way that both languages use gender for common nouns is a shared trait, too.

Embrace the Similarities and Differences

A group of people hugging each other to illustrate acceptance of differences and similarities between Spanish and Portuguese

The bottom line is that Spanish and Portuguese are indeed different but also quite similar.

The good news?

If you already speak Portuguese, learning Spanish will certainly become way easier and vice-versa.

Not only that:

Recognizing and embracing the similarities and differences between Spanish and Portuguese can help us learn more about these languages and the cultures they come from.

Why?

Understanding that languages can be both similar and different encourages a more nuanced view of the world, emphasizing unity in diversity and promoting a more open-minded view toward all other romance languages.

Is Spanish or Portuguese easier to learn?

Two siblings studying Spanish together

You may be trying to decide which language is considered to be the easiest to learn.

How could you decide when they’re quite similar?

Deciding which of the two is harder or easier is a subjective matter – both languages are different enough from English to be a challenge to master.

Here’s the deal:

Each learner will no doubt uniquely approach their language journey, and the time that individuals have to commit to studying is just one of many factors that will affect the speed with which a language can be picked up.

The good news?

Many people find that once they learn one of the Romance languages, picking up another is much easier than the first time around, so whichever you choose can be a springboard to the other if you find yourself bitten by the language-learning bug!

Other Portuguese vs Spanish Language Differences

person showing a few small rocks of multiple colors to illustrate differences in Languages

As we’ve mentioned before Portuguese and Spanish are different in terms of pronunciation and false cognates.

However:

There are also differences given by the area in which the language is spoken. Brazilian Portuguese is different from European Portuguese and Latin American Spanish is different from European Spanish.

Case in point:

Here are four more major differences between the two languages we should not overlook:

  • While in Spanish both yo and me are used to express the singular form of the first person “I”, in Portuguese only eu is used;
  • ñ in the Spanish alphabet becomes nh in Portuguese, so España or Spain is Espanha in Portuguese;
  • while in Spanish you have to use muy before adverbs and adjectives and mucho before a noun or after a verb, in Portuguese you just use muito;
  • while Portuguese speakers tend to use a casa dela to express possession, Spanish speakers just say su casa as you probably already know from the well-known expression Mi casa es su casa;

Final Thoughts on Portuguese vs Spanish Language

Two small children laying next to each other looking up to illustrate how similar spanish and portuguese are

Portuguese is similar to Spanish, that’s a fact. You don’t even need to be well-versed in any of these languages to realize that they are very close to each other.

However:

Although Spanish is similar to Portuguese, Spanish speakers will also have to study and practice, perhaps as intensively as any other person to reach a good level in Portuguese and speak it correctly and the same applies for Portuguese speakers trying to learn Spanish.

If you’re planning on learning Spanish, I have some good news: You can get a hold of me on my website at www.byondlanguage.com to learn about my special language learning method that emphasizes good habits and lifestyle over grammar.

Can’t wait to hear from you!

Meet Daniel

Since he was a child, Daniel has been passionate about Social Dynamics. Learn how Daniel got his start as a Language Coach, and why he decided to start this language blog. If you want to send Daniel a quick message, then visit his contact page here.

Leave a Comment