Portuguese is a unique language, with nuances and fluidity. Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes used to say that Brazilian Portuguese is “sweet and pleasant, the most sonorous language in the world.” And just like any other language on the planet, there are some Portuguese words that just can’t be translated. These are often touchingly beautiful and expressive words.
While there are ways of translating them, it either takes away the original meaning or requires a more roundabout way to translate the concept.
So, learn the Portuguese words that can’t be translated and start using them to express your feelings!
The act of running your fingers through someone else’s hair. It is a way of showing affection to someone you love.
We use the adjective Calorento to describe someone who is always feeling hot or complaining about the heat. Some people just feel the heat more than others. We call them Calorentos.
The same thing works the other way around. When people feel cold all the time, we call them Friorentos. So, Friorento is a person who is sensitive to the cold.
In Portuguese, Calor means heat and Frio means cold.
Caprichar is a verb that means do something well, the best way possible. Capricho is the act of trying really hard to make something look good.
When going to a restaurant, for example, we may ask the chef to Caprichar while cooking our food. That means we are asking them to give them special attention and outdo themselves in their work.
People might also say “No capricho!“, which means they did their work the best they could to please you.
Gambiarra is an improvised method or solution to solve a problem, using any available material. For example, fixing a broken lamp with some wires and tapes just so it can work again.
Gambiarras are usually temporary solutions for broken things. However, it is common for Brazilians to just leave things like that as long as it is working.
As we have mentioned before on our blog post 15 Brazilian Portuguese Adjectives Every Beginner Must Know, Malandro is a word that might have a negative or positive meaning depending on the context.
We usually say most Cariocas are Malandros by nature, especially the guys.
Negatively, someone is considered Malandro if they do not like to work much, if they are always expecting friends to pay for their expenses, or if they do small non-ethical things to get what they want.
On the other hand, Malandro can also refer to a bohemian guy that loves nightlife, especially samba parties, and really enjoy the company of pretty women — a true lady-killer.
Malandro is also a smart person who thinks outside the box.
Passear means to take a walk and enjoy the day outside of the house. It means to spend time relaxing, going places, such as a park, a shopping mall, the beach, or even a friend’s house. It doesn’t matter where you go.
Quentinha is a take-away food prepared by inexpensive restaurants and usually served in styrofoam or aluminum foil containers. A typical Quentinha in Brazil consists of rice, beans, spaghetti, some kind of meat, and a side dish, usually French fries or vegetables.
Quentinhas are a cheap way to eat homemade takeout. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, Quentinhas cost between R$10 to R$20. Brazilians usually buy Quentinhas to eat at work or at home, when they don’t feel like cooking.
The dictionary defines Saudade as “a deep emotional state of melancholic longing for a person or thing that is absent.” This is a popular word among students, as it is one of the most famous Portuguese words that can’t be translated.
Saudade is the name of the feeling you have when you miss someone, something, someplace…
Some might say the idea of Saudade being a word that only exists in Portuguese is a myth. Writers claim that the word Sehnsucht in German, Hanîn in Arabic, and Natsukashii in Japanese all have the same meaning as Saudade. However, others say the concept is not exactly the same, with each language having a different way to describe the feeling of nostalgia.
A rhetorical device that carries the idea of doubt and expresses a hypothetical situation.
“Acho que vai chover amanhã.” – “Será?”
“Será que vamos conseguir vencer o campeonato?
It is a cute way to call your significant other or something you really love. It can be your love, pet, children, an object of adoration… Anything.
“Este quadro é meu xodó.” (I really like/care about this painting.)
“Saudades da minha namorada, meu xodó.” (I miss my girlfriend, my love.)
Have you enjoyed this list? Can you translate any of these words into your native language by any chance? Let us know!
Study Portuguese with Caminhos Language Centre. We are the largest and most exciting Portuguese school in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. We offer Portuguese group courses on 9 levels throughout the year. Since we opened in 2009, we continuously evaluate and develop our curriculum and services and have become the leading Portuguese school in Brazil. We offer you the complete Rio de Janeiro experience, with daily free activities for you to socialize and practice your Portuguese. At Caminhos you can learn Portuguese in Rio while having the time of your life!