When the push comes to the shove, what kind of constipation would you prefer?

Beware false friends. These are words that look very similar in two different languages but have different meanings.

When a Portuguese friend of mine first arrived in Australia she had absolutely no knowledge of English (and even now she cannot distinguish between “shits“, “shirts” and “sheets“), she was feeling ill so she went to a doctor complaining of “constipacão“. She was very happy to be given medication for this, but could not understand why for the next few days she did not get better – and she kept having to run to the loo.

What went wrong? Well, while “constipacão” does indeed mean “constipated” in Portuguese as in English, it has another meaning in popular usage in Portuguese, hence the false friend:

  • constipacão a common cold
  • pegar uma constipacãoto catch a cold
  • constipado 1. constipated; 2. suffering from a cold
  • constipar1. to constipate, cause a constipation; 2. to catch a cold.

My friend had the flu, and she had been given laxatives.

cold-156666_1280If in doubt, a safer word to use in Portuguese for a cold is resfriado (related to frio, which means cold in temperature, and resfriar, to cool again)

  • peguei um resfriado I caught a cold
  • ele está resfriado – he has a cold

Resfriado can also mean chilled, iced or frozen, while resfriamento is the act or process of cooling: hence coluna de resfriamento, a cooling tower.

I suppose in a future post I will have to study constipation in the other Romance languages.


Multilingual portals that can fast-track your language learning: try Deutsche Welle

Hello, here is another look at how international broadcasters and their websites can help you with your language learning, with a focus on my five Romance languages. In the first instalment, we looked at the BBC with its online coverage in French, Spanish and Portuguese. In the second part of the series, we found Radio France Internationale went one better by adding Romanian to the above. But alas, no Italian.

Now we will look at the German international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle. As you will see (if you have good eyesight!) from the screen grab below, taken from its English website here, its languages component is pretty impressive: 30 all up, including French, Romanian, Spanish, and both Portuguese for Brazil and Portuguese for Africa. When you go to the DW site, you have to click on the “DW.DE IN 30 LANGUAGES” on the far right of the thin light grey panel at the top of the page, and then the language options will appear as a pop-up above that.

DW languages

OK, let’s have a look at what stories DW is running on the weekend beginning February 28, and bearing in mind that sometimes these broadcasters’ websites are not so much news services but more of a platform to promote their radio or television features.

(I will switch to different coloured text from now on to distinguish my writing from DW’s. Otherwise you will get long slabs of black on white.)

Let’s start with French: the lead story on the home page (the Africa section) looks back at how 130 years ago the superpowers partitioned Africa – with little or no consideration of the needs of the Africans themselves. 

dw french newsOn the “International” page the lead story is how Islamic State militants are destroying archaeological treasures. 

dw french news2

DW’s Spanish site has a strong focus on Latin America. One of its main stories is the capture of a Mexican drug baron.

dw espagnol

On the Português do Brasil website, the assassination in Russia of former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov is given the most prominence. 

DW portuguese brasil

But Brasil does get a mention, at least via the front cover (“capa“) of The Economist

dw portuguese brasil 2um atoleiro = a quagmire, mire, marshy place, puddle, embarrassment, mess, difficulty, pickle, immorality or degradation. 

On the Português para África website, the lead story is Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s controversial and opulent 91st birthday party or “festa“.

dw portuguese port

Finally, to the Romanian page. As you would expect, much of the focus was on new Romanian President Klaus Iohannis’s recent visit to Berlin and meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss, among other things, Romania’s desire to enter the 26-nation Schengen Area, the security situation and possible Russian aggression in Moldova (which is between Ukraine and Romania). The Schengen talks also brought up the controversial issue of the emigration of Romanians to other parts of Europe, and whether this migration was good (buna) or bad (rea), and for whom, depending on whether they were skilled or unskilled workers. 

dw romanian

To read a report in English on Merkel’s and Iohannis’s meeting, go here.

Vocab: know your desafios, buracos and buracadas

Here are some news items and related vocabulary that caught my eye while reading Portuguese media this morning.

1) From BBC Brasil:

Screen shot of BBC Brasil

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

Enfrentar means to face, to meet, confront, stand up to (there are many en- verbs in the language) and desafio (the word I wasn’t too sure of) means a challenge or contest, derived from the verb desafiar, to challenge, defy, provoke, dare, incite, spur on.

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

Screen shot from BBC Brasil website

The story is about a chegada de barcos cheios de imigrantes pobres e desesperados (the arrival of boats full of poor and desperate immigrants). This has been a big issue in Australia for a good decade now and too often politics overshadows basic human principles. ‘Treat others the way you would like people to treat you or treat your mother’ is a good philosophy to have in life. I hope one day we will live in a world where people have nothing to fear or flee, but humanity seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

On a more cheerful and entertaining note, though, desafio is often used to mean a musical challenge. Here, for example, is a stirring routine from some contestants in um desafio de bateriasa drumming and percussion contest – in the state of Paraná in southern Brazil. They’re pretty good!

2) From Portal R7:

Screen shot from Portal R7

Screen shot from Portal R7

OMG! The sun is starting the new year with an enormous buraco a hole, gap, hollow, cavity, gully aperture, pit, loophole, etc. What’s going on? Fortunately, the sun is not caving in on itself. The story says o fenômeno ocorre quando a parte externa do astro fica com uma densidade de plasma menor que as outras regiões e, por isso, brilha menos, criando a impressão de ter um buraco (the phenomenon occurs when the density of the plasma on the external part of the star is less than in the other regions and, as a result, shines less, creating the impression of having a cavity).

Um buraco de fechadura is a keyhole (fechar means to shut), and buraco can be used figuratively to mean a disappointment, embarrassment or trouble.

In Brasil, it is also the name of a game of cards, a type of Canasta. According to Wikipedia, “the game is popular in the Arab world, specifically in the Persian Gulf; where it is known as ‘Baraziliya’ (Brazilian)“.

IMG_1209The reason this word caught my eye is that I have been playing Mahjong on my computer recently, and buracos is the name of one of the games (I have chosen Portuguese as the default language on my computer). It is in the Avançado section,  – it seems I am a pretty good player. This is what it looks like* – can you see the cavities?

There is a feminine form of the word, uma buraca, which signifies a big hole/gap, and in Brasil also means a leather sack used by mule and cattle drovers, while uma buracada means a rough, uneven track of land or a road with lots of potholes.

* Footnote

Apologies, the pic is very blurred. But after wasting a good half hour experimenting and looking at YouTube tutorials of how to take a screenshot of an app in Windows 8 (the most user-unfriendly and least intuitive version of Windows I have encountered) I gave up and just took a photo of my screen with my phone, but it had trouble focusing clearly on the image. That’s buracos for you!

The conditional in Portuguese

So far we’ve covered the present and future tenses in Portuguese, now let’s have a look at the conditional, which is not very complicated to form. This time, instead of using the verbs falar (to speak), comer (to eat) and partir (to leave), I shall use a different trio.

There are three sets of regular verbs in Portuguese

  1. those ending in ar, for example, andar, to walk
  2. those ending in er, for example, beber, to drink
  3. those ending in ir, for example, abrir, to open

In the present tense, you have to drop the ar, er and ir to get the verb stem, to which you add the present tense suffixes, but the conditional is like the future tense and the suffixes are merely added to the infinitive. And once again, thankfully, there is just one set of suffixes for all three verb groups. They are -ia, -ias, -ia, -íamos, -iam

Andar conjugates thus:

  • eu andaria – I would walk
  • tu andarias – you (singular, familiar) would walk
  • você/ele/ela andaria – you (singular), he, she would walk
  • nós andaríamos – we would walk 
  • vocês/eles/elas andariam – you (plural), they would walk
When it's time for "walkies", the conditional form of andar comes in useful if you are lazy. You would say "andaria mas..." ("I would walk but...) and then give your excuse not to go for a walk.

When it’s time for “walkies”, the conditional form of andar comes in useful if you are lazy. You would say “andaria mas…” (“I would walk but…”) and then give an excuse not to go.

LEARNING HINT: It’s fairly easy to remember the conditional suffixes: just remember that there is an “ia” theme, and the usual verb ending patterns apply. So as is often the case, the tu form takes an -s at the end, the nós form takes its usual -mos ending, and the third person plural (vocês/eles/elas) has its -m ending.

Beber conjugates thus: beberia, beberias, beberia, beberíamos, beberiam (I would drink, you would drink, etc)

Abrir conjugates thus: abriria, abririas, abriria, abriríamos, abririam (I would open, you would open, etc)


Like the future tense, there are three exceptions (the same three verbs with a –zer connection). As with the future, the ze is dropped and an abbreviated stem is used:

  • dizer (to say) – dir is used as a stem: diria, dirias, diria, diríamos, diriam
  • fazer (to do) – far is used: faria, farias, faria, faríamos, fariam
  • trazer (to bring) –  trar is used: traria, traias, traria, traríamos, trariam

Soon I will look at the imperfect in Portuguese, then after that we will see how Portuguese uses the conditional and imperfect in slightly different ways to English.


See the VERBS section on the main menu and also the following posts:


Haver: a handy Portuguese verb explained via David Carreira and some fado blasts from the past

What’s your favourite song on the romance language weekend soundtrack? Mine is David Carreira’s Haverá Sempre Uma Música. So let’s look at it from a linguistic point of view, as the title uses one of the most useful verbs in Portuguese, haver. First up though, here is a clip of the song with the lyrics – see if you can figure out what it is all about. David’s accent is very European Portuguese, not Brazilian, by the way.

Some words to help you understand what the song is about:

  • Mesmo que … even if
  • O tempo passe … time passes
  • O mundo pare … the world stops
  • Nossos tatuagens se apaguem … our tattoos fade (or disappear)
  • E a vida nos separe … and life separates us
  • E que estejas nos braços doutro amor … and that you are in the arms of another love
  • Haverá sempre uma música … there will always be a song
  • Haverá sempre um filme, uma hora … there will always be a film, an hour
  • Um pormenor … a detail *
  • Para (or P’ra for short) me fazer lembrar de ti … to make me remember (i.e. remind me of) you
  • P’ra me fazer lembrar assim … to remind me so

* The videoclip doesn’t include this word, but sites that give all the lyrics (letras) to the song, such as this one, include it in the second part of the chorus instead of um filme, uma hora

Meaning and usage of haver

Although haver means to have, possess or own; or to exist (among other meanings), it is most commonly used in the third person singular, present tense, , meaning there is or there are.

  • há quartos para alugar? – are there any rooms to let?
  • há altos e baixos na vida – there are ups and downs in life
  • há muito gente aqui – there are many people here

Romance language equivalents

In this way it is similar to

  • il y a in French
  • hay in Spanish
  • c’è in Italian

Usage in other tenses

As we have seen from the song, it can be used in the future:

  • haverá dança? – Will there be dancing? 

Or in the past imperfect

  • havia ali uma janela – there used to be a window there.

 Usage in expressions of time

can also mean ago or for in relation to time.

  • Há quanto tempo está em Lisboa? How long have you been in Lisbon? (Literally, There is how much time you are in Lisbon? Portuguese uses the present tense here, whereas English uses the present perfect.)
  • há muito, muito tempo – long, long ago
  • há pouco tempo – lately, a short while ago
  • há anos – years ago
  • o avião partiu há cinco minutos – the plane left five minutes ago

Here, for example, is a pictorial video from YouTube showing the Beira Rio area of Porto and Vila Nova de Guia “há muito anos atrás” (many years ago/back). On the clip you will hear two of Portugal’s most famous fado singers, Dulce Pontos (who has a magnificent and formidable voice) singing Canção De Mar (Song of the Sea), and Amália Rodrigues singing Povo Que Lavas No Rio (People Who Wash In The River).

There are other uses of haver but that is enough for now, don’t you think?

Portuguese star Tony Carreira reveals his French inclinations

My last post on the LisbonLux guide was aimed at helping English-speaking people to learn Portuguese, or vice versa; this one is aimed at those who are interested in the Portuguese-French combination.

Tony Carreira, one of the most popular singers in Portugal, has teamed up with a host of great French singers to record songs in both languages.The album, called Nos Fiancailles France/Portugal, (Our Engagement France/Portugal) was released early this year and did surprisingly well in France, peaking at No.4 on the charts. The first single from the album was Sous Le Vent (Onde Eu For), by Tony and Natasha St-Pier. You will see a lot of the Lisbon trams on this one.

The collaborations feature some great singers with remarkable voices, such as Michel Sardou (who has had no less than twelve No.1 albums in France), tenor Vincent Niclo, Hélène Ségara, Dany Brillant, Indonesian-born singer Anggun, Serge Lama, Gérard Lenorman, Didier Barbelivien and Lisa Angell.

Be warned, though, this album may mess with your brain. Usually when I want to speak in Portuguese I blabber away in French, and when I want to talk in French the Portuguese words just slip off the tongue. So this album may ruin your command of both languages, but could very well improve your Fretuguese and Portench. 😉

On the following video clip, you can hear snippets of other songs on the album, and hear Tony, speaking in French, relate how he spent a lot of his musical youth in France, so he has a great affinity for the country, its language and of course its musicians and singers. Even if you don’t speak French, this video is interesting, if only to see how artists from different backgrounds and cultures gel together (watching some of them tackle singing in Portuguese for the first time is amusing).

You can listen to snippets of each of the 13 tracks in the FNAC Jukebox section of its FNAC page listing here.

Here is an article in French on Tony Carreira, and here is some info in Portuguese.

In forthcoming posts we will have a closer look at the French singers involved.

Talk the talk with LisbonLux’s Portuguese-English guide

Lisbon, the city of light. Photo from Pixabay

Lisbon, the city of light.                                                                             Photos from Pixabay

Hello, just a quick post to share one of my favourite links with you, one that will be particularly helpful for anyone who wants to learn or improve their Portuguese: the website www.lisbonlux.com, which describes itself as “a guide to the luminous city” – referring, of course, to Lisbon – is great for a number of reasons.

  1. You get to do a lot of armchair travelling in that lovely city, which looks glorious in the summer light. Plus there are articles on easy trips to places outside Lisbon, to places such as Estoril, Sintra or Obidos.
  2. You are kept up to date with what is happening there (for example, every week, it seems, a tantalising new restaurant opens).
  3. But best of all, from a language lover’s point of view, its articles are written in both English and Portuguese, and well written too. It is so much easier reading an article and acquiring vocabulary in one language when you have a translation right next to it to refer to. Here’s a partial screen grab…
A sample of the writing on the LisbonLux website...

A sample of the writing on the LisbonLux website…

So, see you virtually in Lisbon, eh? Click on the “attractions” link on the LisbonLux website and you will definitely want to go there!



Narcotic Sound astound: sexy Brazilian female singer turns out to be Romanian man!

karaoke-160752_640Narcotic Sound & Christian D are a Romanian music outfit that for some reason sing a lot in Portuguese. They do it pretty well too – when I first heard this I thought this was a sultry, sexy Brazilian woman singing but it turns out to be Christian D (the D is short for Dumitrescu). *

They are basically a duo – Narcotic Sound is Marius Mirică, the composer/arranger/producer. They are better known for club/dance music but this is very “laidback and chill” with some smooth saxaphone. The title, Unidos Pela Musica, means “United by music“.

The musical journey might be a bit Brazilian with the references to samba etc but the videoclip voyage is very Romanian – the obligatory “babes” in the video meet up at Bucharest’s main railway station, Gara de Nord, and catch a train down to the seaside at Constanța, as many Romanians and East Europeans do at this time of the year.

Lyrics taken from http://www.versuri.ro with my quick translation into English

Unidos pela música – United by music
Na vida nos encontrera – Life will bring us together
Meu sentimento com você – My feeling with yours
Tudo vida é  – All life is
O sonido da música – The sound of music
No belos sonhos que me da – In the beautiful dreams it gives me
No mundo se encontrara – In the world you’ll find
Ritmo pra dançar – Rhythm to dance

Unidos pela música – United by music
Vem vem dançar, vem vem dançar – Come, come to dance
Unidos pela músïca – United by music
Dança samba, dança samba – Dance the samba

Here’s another song of theirs – Mamasita, probably their biggest hit – with more Portuguese lyrics in it. My visits to the hairdresser are never like this!

And here’s something in Romanian, Labirint de sentimente, just to prove they can speak it … The lyrics are here.

* If you think Bernardo must be stupid because he can’t tell a man’s voice from a woman’s, please remember that he suffers from tinnitus and that basically all singers sound like a chorus of cicadas.

Get futuristic in Portuguese

computer-23713_640In Who’s afraid of Portuguese verbs? The first steps to fluency, you saw how easy it was to learn the present tense in Portuguese. Well, the good news is that the future tense is even easier. Try to master it by this time tomorrow, OK? 😀

Remember, there are three sets of regular verbs in Portuguese

  1. those ending in ar, for example, falar, to speak
  2. those ending in er, for example, comer, to eat
  3. those ending in ir, for example, partir, to leave

Unlike the present tense, where you have to drop the ar, er and ir to get a stem, to which you add the present tense suffixes, in the future tense the suffixes are merely added to the infinitive. (But Portuguese being Portuguese will naturally throw in some exceptions.)


The good news is that there is one set of suffixes (or verb endings) for all three verb groups. They are -ei, -ás, -á, -emos, -ão

Falar conjugates thus:

  • eu falarei – I shall speak
  • tu falarás – you (singular, familiar) will speak
  • você/ele/ela falará – you (singular), he, she will speak
  • nós falaremos – we will speak
  • vocês/eles/elas falarão – you (plural), they will speak

Comer conjugates thus: comerei, comerás, comerá, comeremos, comerão 

Partir conjugates thus: partirei, partirás, partirá, partiremos, partirão 

Note that the first person singular ending -ei is pronounced like “eye” in English. Here is a pop-rock song by Jorge Ferreira, Eu Voltarei (I shall return), to give you an example. I think Ferreira comes from the Açores Islands, much of his music is very traditional and he has an accent to match.


There are three verbs in which the infinitive is not used as a stem for the future tense endings, and they have a z connection:

  • dizer (to say) – instead dir is used as a stem: direi, dirás, dirá, diremos, dirão
  • fazer (to do) – instead far is used: farei, farás, fará, faremos, farão
  • trazer (to bring) – instead trar is used: trarei, trarás, trará, traremos, trarão

As you can see, all that has happened here is that the ze bit in the middle of the infinitive was dropped, perhaps because over time the Portuguese became too lazy to enunciate it.

Brazil 2014: The festa’s almost finished. Que pena!

World cup ballsBrazil’s participation in the 2014 FIFA World Cup has reached its amazing anti-climax – one goal scored and 10 conceded in its last two games. But once Brazilians get over the humiliation their team ultimately suffered on the football field, they should take some pride in having hosted what is widely regarded as the most exciting and colourful World Cup yet. So in that sense you have to say to the host country, “Parabéns!” – congratulations.

One reason why Brazil hosted the tournament was so that people all over the world could get to know more about the country. In Australia the World Cup has been shown on television by broadcaster SBS, and I was in the studio audience last night for the final episode (number 26) of The Full Brazilian, a prime-time comedy show that has been running ever since the tournament started. The atmosphere in the studio was great, there were four sexy female samba dancers decked out in feathers, three sexy males in capoeira uniforms thumping out infectious percussion, and the studio itself had great replicas of Cristo Redentor (the statue of Christ the Redeemer) and Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf mountain), complete with cute little cable cars going up and down. The whole thing just made you want to go to carnival in Brazil immediately!

When you consider that his was just one of many offbeat shows that the event’s global broadcasters have been running over the past month, the tourism publicity for Brazil has been priceless, not just in the traditional media, but on social media too. The Guardian newspaper has given an excellent assessment of the event, from a socio-economic point of view in this editorial.

The event has also been a boost for the Portuguese language. Writers from English-language newspapers sprinkled their reports with catchphrases in Portuguese: for example, the jogo bonito, or beautiful game, for which Brazil was once renowned, which became the jogo colapso when Brazil was thumped 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals. By the end of that game every foreigner in Brazil could count to seven in Portuguese. And the non-Braziian fans who attended the tournament soon found out what a “festa” was. (On last night’s episode of The Full Brazilian, though, the host, comedian Jimeoin, took this to mean “fester“, which in English is not so pleasant. Still, by now you’d hope, journalists around the world won’t make embarrassing mistakes like this bunch of Australians did in saying that that language of Brazil was Spanish. No wait, Italian!

brazil-154542_640Many people are sad that the tournament is nearly over, but at least there is one more big festa to come – the celebrations of whichever nation that wins the final. And another consolation – we have the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 to look forward to as well. Maybe we will all still be doing the full Brazilian for years to come.

Portuguese language notes

  • parabéns = congratulations
  • dar os parabéns = to congratulate
  • festa = festival, carnival
  • festar = to celebrate, dance, party
  • que pena! = what a pity!
  • (não) vale a pena = it’s (not) worth it
  • ter pena de = to feel sorry for
  • um colapso = a collapse, breakdown, break-up; (medical) shock or fit
  • sofrer um colapso mental = to suffer a mental breakdown
  • acabar (bem/mal) = to finish (well/badly)
  • acabou-se = it’s all over
  • terminar = to finish, to conclude
  • não se lastima o que bem termina = all’s well that ends well