Beautiful proverbs, inspirational phrases, words and phrases on love and life, poems - there are numerous types of quotes and famous sayings. They are hooks on which we hang our hopes, our inspiration to overcome our ignorance, jealousy or simply our pessimism.

Some of them let us see the world in a new light. All languages have them - whether it be Romanian, Spanish or Arabic or Galician or English - and so does Portuguese, originating as always in love, adversity, patience, or sorrow, because these are feelings that are transferrable to any language, should we say.

And since we all love a wonderful, deep quote or saying - even in our own language they come across as beautiful and full of meaning! - then it makes sense to learn other languages through these eyes, rather than just translation of our own speech. Because to truly understand each word of a language is to understand the culture and background of where those words have come from, surely?

For lovers of philosophy and proverbs, here is a little overview of some of the most beautiful Portuguese quotes!

The Benefits of Learning Portuguese Expressions

Quotes and expressions are the keystones of learning a foreign language such as Portuguese or Spanish, because they are such lyrical languages. And the fascinating thing is that every language has its very own unique colloquialisms.

In informal speech, we are constantly using set expressions or famous quotes, even if we might not realise it. Whether it’s “raining cats and dogs”, someone’s “got the wrong end of the stick” or “hell hath no fury”, these set phrases are a staple of conversation. Imagine if a learner of English heard us using these sayings, they might think we are a little funny in the head! But then they should be reminded that they probably have funny sayings all of their own too.

We don’t only use English phrases either - Latin’s “Carpe Diem” is almost as universal as “deus ex machina” or “habeas corpus”. And what about simple expressions like 'Oh la la',  'Presto!', or 'C'est la vie!' - these are simply the best way to express ourselves sometimes! (We won't even mention 'Mangetout'  thank you of course to Del Boy, but we know you are thinking it!)

But why would you want to learn cultural expressions? People use quotes and famous expressions for various reasons:

  • To encourage people to think differently about something
  • Quoting famous authors to appear learned
  • To shine at society functions with your wit, always with the right bon mot
  • To pass for a local or seem culturally fluent when speaking a foreign language

As you can see, the reasons for learning common expressions and quotes in the Portuguese language are many and varied, not to mention for travel purposes and communicating with the locals.

What's more, Portuguese idiomatic expressions are frequently present in conversations and are often referenced in media such as Popular Portuguese music, books or television or Portuguese films. So why not invest in a Portuguese dictionary of quotes to better understand your Portuguese TV series or daily newspaper?

For Portuguese is no exception to the rule. It is a language rife with citations, idiomatic expressions and other proverbs or aphorisms. An English translation can give you an idea of what they are saying, but to truly understand them you will need to speak Portuguese regularly, if possible with a native speaker!

Did you realise that not all expressions can sensibly be translated into another language - as in the words just don't exist together in other languages as their literal meaning is so far off of the intended meaning that there is simply no equivalent way to express that phrase?

So here is that other phrasebook, for Portuguese words and expressions going way beyond the days of the week, “Obrigado!” and stilted, pre-drafted conversation snippets. Here is true idiomatic Portuguese as it is spoken on the streets, and the most lyrical and beautiful heights of Portuguese literature. Here is what Portuguese looks like outside of Portuguese lessons, where language-learning is not only hands-on but goes straight to the heart with each and every word.

Common Portuguese Expressions

Here are some common expressions, or Ditados as they say in Portugal, you might come across if you decide to learn Brazilian Portuguese:

  • Como cú e calça: “to be like arse and trousers”, to be thick as thieves
  • Jogar merda no ventilador: to throw shit on the fan
  • Se contentar com pouco: to settle for a little/ to settle for less
  • Colhe-se o que se planta: you reap what you sow
  • Meio pedra, meio tijolo: “half rock, half brick”, neither fish nor fowl
Portuguese expression to learn Portuguese
To be "like arse and trousers" is a Portuguese idiom for two things that belong together. Photo credit: Ted's photos - For Me & You on VisualHunt

In European Portuguese, you might use these expressions instead:

  • Cair de cara no chão: to fall face-first on the ground
  • Em dinheiro vivo: (to pay) in live money
  • Fora de serie: “out of the series”, exceptional
  • Uma got de água no mar: a drop of water in the ocean
  • Riso amarelo: “yellow laugh”, a hollow laugh
  • O menos de minas preocupações: the least of my worries

And many more!

Of course, knowing these expressions isn’t going to make you perfectly fluent in two flicks of a lamb’s tail (see what I did there? Thank you!), but they will help you feel more familiar with the Portuguese language, give you some insights into Portuguese culture and show others the effort you are putting into becoming a true lusophone!

Understanding Portugal Thanks To Its Famous Quotes

We look to famous quotes and phrases for insight on our internal struggles, hoping to find guidance from the great minds of the past and present.

Portuguese quotes to learn the Portuguese language
"The death of a swallow doesn't mean the end of spring", a Portuguese idiom reminding us that one setback does not a catastrophe make. Photo credit: Katsura Miyamoto on Visualhunt.com

Quotes about hope

Hope is one of the main themes of inspirational quotes, probably because it is applicable to so many aspects of life. It is a simple concept, and yet extremely metaphysical. Thus it should come as no surprise that it appears in Portuguese:

  • Não éporque uma andorinha morre que acaba a primavera: The death of a swallow doesn’t mean the end of spring. Just because something goes wrong, doesn’t mean that everything is lost.
  • Não éporque o passarinho estar na gaiola que o impede de cantar: A caged bird can still sing. Even if circumstances are not what you imagined, you can still achieve your goals - or learn to be content with what you do have.
  • Um homem sem paciência é como uma lâmpada sem azeite: A man without patience is a lamp without oil. You need patience to achieve what you want
  • É na dificuldade que se prova a amizade: Adversity shows your true friends. Those who stay with you when times are difficult are true friends - and similarly, just because times are difficult does not mean you have no friends to help you!
Portuguese idioms about love.
Love is universal - and that's why there are so many Portuguese quotes and expressions about it. Photo on VisualHunt

Quotes about love

Just like hope, love is a recurring theme - maybe even a more popular one. For who has never been in love and felt strange feelings for someone or known loss and heartbreak? Portuguese people are no exception to the rule and have a number of inspiring quotes on this subject, whether it’s about jealousy, true love or the more spiritual aspects of love.

  • E como tudo na vida, dê tempo ao tempo e ele encarregar-se hà de resolver os problemas (Saramago): In life as in everything else, give time some time and it will solve your problems for you. This quote could also be used in the category “hope”, but it also gives good relationship advice.
  • Amar é a inocência eterna, e a unica inocência é de nõa pensar (Fernando Pessoa) To love is eternal innocence and the only real innocence is not to think. Here we are encourage to live out our passions and not let thought interfere.
  • O amor com amor se paga: Love is paid by love in return. Love is a sentiment, but here it is seen as an exchange that can only effectively function when it is shared.
  • Quem sabe amar sabe castgar: he who knows how to love knows how to punish. This quote makes us understand the power that loves gives us over another person, and the power that person has over us.

Quotes about life

Between love and friendship, money worries or even destiny, Portuguese vocabulary contains expressions that will answer all your questions.

  • Quem não pouca a agua ou a lenha, não poupa nada que tenha: he who is thrifty with neither water nor wood will soon lose all that he has. This phrase could come from a Portuguese-speaking or Brazilian grandmother to remind us that the small things impact the big ones, and to always remember what’s important.
  • Se os invejosos pagassem impostos, havia muita gente ruinada! If there was a tax on jealousy, a lot of people would be bankrupt! A humorous lesson from the Iberian peninsula to remind you that you aren’t the only one out there…
  • Quem bem tece nunca se esquece: when you are a good weaver, you don’t forget it. It’s the equivalent of “it’s just like riding a bike”. If you can do something well, your skills will stay with you for a long time. This is also true for learning a second language - you might lose your active vocabulary, but the passive knowledge you gain when learning a language stays with you for a long time.
  • As nossas desgraças entram sempre por portas que nós abrimos: Our misfortunes enter by the doors we open for them. If we are receptive to bad things and bad thoughts, then it’s more likely that bad things will happen.
A Portuguese quote and Portuguese aphorism.
"He who is thrifty with neither water nor wood will soon lose all that he has" - this Portuguese expression reminds us that the devil is in the details. Photo on Visualhunt

As you can see, when you learn Portuguese you will find a wealth of inspiring expressions which will bring your holidays to Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro or Coimbra to life and let you experience Portuguese language and culture close up.

Learning Culture Through Portuguese Literature

If someone suggested that you pick up a novel written in Portuguese and told you to read it, you'd probably laugh. However, with a bit of basic knowledge of the language behind you, this is not such a funny idea and you might want to thank them. The reason for this is that reading in another language is one of the best ways to absorb the language and really let it sink in - what better way to take in information and what the author means than when it is not forced and is just - interesting and pleasurable?

Language learners often read things like newspapers in their foreign language whilst sitting in hotels on business trips to Lisbon or on holiday in the Algarve, but these can be a little on the boring side. That said, learning about current affairs and other topics that make the news is one sure fire way of finding out more about the culture of a country. Bteer than, say, sitting in a class and learning to talk about your hobbies.

But if you want a more enjoyable and distracting way of learning a language like Portuguese, then why not read some of the authors' very own stories and fables, written in their perspective?

Portuguese stories for beginners

As a non-native learner of Portuguese, we won't suggest you pick up an anthology of Portuguese stories, but reading one or two short stories is certainly going to help your language skills along. And, do you know what? you might fall in love with a new story you might never have read in English!

We have found two excellent starter short stories for Portuguese students to get you on your way (details courtesy of FluentU:

  • “Am I Small? Sou pequena?: Children’s Picture Book English-Brazilian Portuguese”
    Written by: Phillip Winterberg (Author) and Nadja Wichmann (Illustrator)
    A charming illustrated children’s tale that focuses on a little girl’s pursuit to find out whether she is as small as she thinks she is. As the young protagonist talks to the different animals she meets on her adventure, she discovers a surprising answer to her curious queries. The story is aimed at a younger audience, meaning the language is quite accessible for beginner Brazilian Portuguese learners.
  • “The Life of Cleopatra – Bilingual Book (Portuguese-English)”
    Written by: Redback Books and Bilingual Planet
    Written in an authentically modern tone, this bilingual text is well-suited for European Portuguese learners across all levels. These stories also add a bit of colloquial knowledge into the mix while conveying the legendary tale of Cleopatra: You’ll view this literary classic from a whole different perspective. The language used in these stories is more conversational and is presented in a manner that reflects how a present-day Portuguese person might tell the story themselves.

Portuguese Fables

With a classic folk tale from or influenced by Portugal, you can travel back through the history of the country and see snippets of past (and some aspects of modern) culture. These are stories that children over the years will have grown up with, much like our own fairytales and which would have greatly influenced society.

Some fabulous examples are:

  • The Hearth-Cat, the Portuguese version of Cinderella, written by Portuguese historian Pedroso Consiglieri in the 1960s.
  • Why the Alvéloa Bird Received a Blessing, written by Elsie Spicer Eells

And, for a more advanced read:

  • The Cobbler of Burgos, written by Charles Sellers

If you choose to learn portuguese online. you can both learn european portuguese online and find brazilian portuguese lessons too. Alternatively, portuguese lessons in your local town can offer you tuition in all forms of Portuguese (for example, you can search portuguese courses london).

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Daniel

A student by trade, Daniel spends most of his time working on that essay that's due in a couple of days' time. When he's not working, he can be found working on his salsa steps, or in bed.