Portuguese Rules of pronunciation - Part II

Hello dear readers, today we will continue talking about letters and sounds. And the chosen one is the letter ‘s’ because it has four different sounds according to its position in a word.

  1. Sound [s] – can be compared to the sound of the word “sea” or “pepsi”.
    1. In the beginning of the word – sapato, setembro, simpático, sombra, subir
    2. Double ‘s’ between vowels – massagem, impossível, osso, essencial, possuir
    3. Consonant + S + vowel – falso, cansado, ansiedade, sensível, discurso
  1. Sound [z] – can be compared to the sound of the word “zebra” or the sound of the bee.
    1. One ‘s’ between vowels – casa, música, Brasil, televisão, mesa, presente
    2. Prefix ‘trans’ + vowel – trânsito, transação, transatlântico, transoceânico, transe
  1. Sound [ch] phonetic symbol] – can be compared to the English [sh] or the German [sch].
    1. At the end of the word – dois, ténis, livros, camas, pianos, tomates, português
    2. Vowel + S + silent consonant* – escola, estudante, desporto, descobrir
    3. Consonant + S + silent consonant – transporte, consciência, constatar, construir
  1. Sound [j] phonetic symbol [Ʒ] – can be compared to the English word sound “television”.
    1. S + sonorant consonant* – desvantagem, asma, Lisboa, Eslóvaquia, Israel
    2. Consonant + S + sonorant consonant – transmitir, translúcido, transformação, desdentado

*If you have any question about the different between silent and sonorant consonants, please read Rules of pronunciation Part I.

These pronunciation differences are very important in Portuguese specially if you don’t want to be misunderstood. For example, the words “caça” and “casa” – completely different in pronunciation and meaning. “Caça” [kasa] is pronounced [s] and means “hunting”. On the other hand, “casa” [kaza] is pronounced [z] and means “house”.


This reminds me a funny situation when I was in class with a group of students. On the first day of class, each student had to introduce himself and one of them said “Eu chamo-me John, sou inglês, tenho 37 anos e estou cansado” (My name is John, I’m English, I’m 37 years old and I’m tired). I looked at him and asked “Estás cansado ou casado?” (Are you tired or married?). He got a little confused and after my explanation he corrected the sentence and replied “Eu estou casado” (I’m married). The word “cansado” [kansadu] is pronounced [s] and “casado” [kazadu] is pronounced [z].


However, sometimes the mistakes can be much more “dangerous”. The word “pizza”, for instance, in Portuguese is written and pronounced [z], “piza”. But in Italian, Spanish or English we say it differently and that’s the reason why there’s a tendency to pronounce this word incorrectly. Some people say “piza” as [pissa] or [piça], with the sound [s]. In fact, with this pronunciation the word you are saying in Portuguese means “penis”. No worries though. In general, Portuguese people would definitely understand what you are saying and would smile and correct you.


As you can see, learning Portuguese can be very tricky but also very challenging and I can assure you that you will love it.
Now, we have a question for you. Which of the following words have the pronunciation [z]?

a. Portuguesa
b. Sexo
c. Gostar
d. Nasal
e. Poesia
f. Rússia
g. Casamento

In the next post, you will have the correct answers.