Reasons for having pt and pt-BR in a software

Some time ago I found some spare time to work on a different Open Source project: Skosmos. Skosmos is a web based SKOS browser and publishing tool, used to create vocabularies using the SKOS ontology.

I decided to help with translation, but there was no Brazilian Portuguese option, only Portuguese. I used a few arguments to suggest that having Brazilian Portuguese would be a good thing.

Another Open Source project that I use in a side project is LanguageTool. LanguageTool is used for proof-reading, and uses rules to find spelling and grammar errors.

Today I saw a message in the LanguageTool mailing list discussing whether having a Brazilian Portuguese page would make sense, or if it would be better to have just Portuguese, and then add rules for special cases.

I started writing the reply to that message, then realised it was getting lengthy, and repeating things I said before for the Skosmos project. So I decided to write this blog post, so that I could link to it, update it, and also share with others some arguments for having both Brazilian Portuguese and Portuguese as options in their software.

Words that are written very similarly, and with same meaning

As with British and American English words like centre and center, colour and color, that are spelled quite the same and keeping the same etymology, the same happens with some words in Brazilian and Portugal Portuguese.

Contatar is an interesting example. It means to contact, to get in touch, and while it is used in Portugal, it is rarely used in Brazil. Instead, what is used is entrar em contato, which would be translated to English as get in touch, or get in contact.

Look at this example from this news article from Público journal, 2016-07-14.

Em 1998, foi convidado a juntar-se ao comité editorial do jornal Modern Painters e contactou com nomes como Jeff Koons, Hirst e Tracey Emin. pt

In Brazilian Portuguese, it would be written in “.. e entrou em contato com nomes …”.

The last item in the list, comité, is a french word, with same meaning in Portuguese. It can be used in Portugal (see the same news article used above), but in Brazil only comitê is used.

Words that are written very similarly, but with different meaning

Whenever I meet a Portuguese, it is always fun to spend some time adjusting my vocabulary. There are many false cognates between Brazilian and Portugal Portuguese.

Words exclusive to each country

Different grammar rules for the gerund

Look at the following example for “I am studying”.

Portugueses and Brazilians can understand each other, even though they have different grammar rules for the gerund. But as for writing, you would never see “Eu estou a estudar” in Brazilian Portuguese. In Portugal, you could find both forms.

Look at this example from yesterday’s news in Portugal:

Houve caças a sobrevoar Istambul e bombas a cair na cidade da ponte que se atravessa para sair da Ásia e chegar à Europa.

In Brazilian Portuguese, that would have been written as:

Houve caças sobrevoando Istambul e bombas caindo na cidade da ponte que se atravessa para sair da ásia e chegar à Europa.

Different grammar rules for Pronominal Colocation (positioning clitic pronouns)

I will use the definition found in this blog post for pronominal colocation:

The collocation of oblique unstressed pronouns (me, te, se, o, a, lhe, nos, vos, os, as, lhes) according to the verb.

I won’t try to explain it here, as it would require probably several blog posts for that. But what is important to know, is that the Portuguese used in Brazil and Portugal have different rules for pronominal colocation.

Look at this example from one of the articles used before from the Público journal.

Entre a madrugada de sábado e o início da madrugada de domingo, a praça Taksim encheu-se várias vezes com turcos a apoiar Erdogan"

In Brazilian Portuguese, that is not incorrect. But it would have been written as follows.

Entre a madrugada de sábado e o início da madrugada de domingo, a praça Taksim se encheu várias vezes com turcos a apoiar Erdogan"

The mesóclise, for example, is not so rare in Portugal. While in Brazil you may find that in some law or old text, it is really rare nowadays.

Far-lhe-ei uma proposta irrecusável. pt

That would sound really awkward in Brazil. But could be written as.

Farei uma proposta irrecusável. pt-BR


Portuguese is a beautiful language. You can express a lot with words. But it is also really complicated, with many peculiarities. Even though Brazilians and Portugueses can understand each other, they say and write things in different ways. While English from UK and America have words with different spelling, or different words for the same meaning (like lift, ride, elevator), with Portuguese it is a bit more complicated.

We can take a look at this example from LanguageTool web site for Portuguese.

Por favor vê a lista de problemas comuns se experienciares problemas. Descarrega versões anteriores ou builds diários.

A Brazilian can definitely understand it. But it does not sound correct. But in Brazilian Portuguese, it would be written more or less as follows:

Por favor veja a lista de problemas comuns se notar algum problema. Baixe versões anteriores ou builds diários.

Here you can notice that there are different words for the same meaning, like download which is descarga in Portugal, but it is baixar in Brazil (descarga in Brazil is the toilet flush, by the way).

Also, you will never have the verb ver (to see) after the word Por favor (please), and followed by the direct object (in this case, the list of problems).

And of course that there is much more. Portugal was invaded by Arabs around the year 700, and got several words from the Arabic (e.g. açudept/assudd, açougue/assok, javali/jabali, laranja/naranj, xarope/sharab).

But Brazil has influence of some of the more than 200 languages that were spoken by natives. Some of these words are not used in Portugal, like aguapé, canjica, fruits names like maracujá and jaboticaba. There are differences within the country, such as the use of the tu pronoun, common only in the South, parts of the North and Northeast, and in a few other cities.

According to Wikipedia, there are about 260 million Portuguese speakers in the world. Where 202 million are in Brazil. But Brazil is the only country in the whole Americas that speak Portuguese, and its culture is quite different from other Latin America countries. So it is normal that there are not only spelling differences between the Portuguese that is spoken in Brazil, and the Portuguese spoken in other countries.

Does it mean every software needs two sections, two translation files? No. But if you have a page with a few paragraphs, do not expect that it makes sense for both Brazilians and Portugueses, Portugueses and Angolans, etc.

Consider the size of your public, and be aware that there are other differences, that are not simply spelling.

Finally, if you would like to take a look at some Brazilian local expressions and slangs, check out the Speak Like A Brazilian website.