Portuguese vs German: What is the Difference?

Portuguese and German are both highly unique languages with a fascinating history of evolution. The base similarities between the two languages are the strong influence of Vulgar Latin in their formation. Both languages are widely spoken, with Portuguese ranking above German as the 9th most spoken language globally. 

Portuguese is a Romance language from the Iberian peninsula, while German is a West Germanic language with roots common to modern English. German is the more phonetic of the two languages, while Portuguese uses fewer compound nouns and more prepositions. German also has a more complex grammar.

Portuguese and German are both valuable languages to learn, and each language poses its own distinct challenges to native English speakers. The consensus seems to rate Portuguese as the easier language to master due to German’s more rigid grammatical structures. Although there are several variations within the two languages, here are some general differences between German and Portuguese. 

Portuguese vs. German Vocabulary

Portuguese hails from the family of Romance languages, which includes French, Italian, and Spanish. The term ‘Romance’ language has nothing to do with being a romantic vernacular but means the commonly spoken language of the Roman Empire. 

German, like English, is of West Germanic origin.

Although the two languages had very different trajectories from their Indo-European roots, both languages were heavily influenced by Vulgar Latin, which luckily gives the languages many aspects in common.

In the 5th century, the Germanic tribes, Suebi, and Visigoths conquered the Iberian peninsula. They adapted to Roman civilization and contributed around 500 words to the emerging Portuguese lexicon. The words mostly referred to objects of industry or war, such as the Gothic words espora (‘spur’), estaca (‘stake’), and Guerra (‘war’).

Portuguese vs. German Grammar

Like English, Portuguese follows the subject + object + verb (SOV) structure, but the German language is trickier. 

The German language follows the SOV order for main clauses. However, it uses a V2 order (where the verb is always the second word in the clause) for subordinate clauses, resulting in SVO in some cases. 

The Main Differences in German and Portuguese Grammar

Here are the main differences between German and Portuguese grammar:

  • Both German and Portuguese use gender in their grammar. However, in German, gender isn’t relevant in plural nouns as they have a definite article to designate a word’s gender. 
  • Germans using modal verbs place the infinitive at the end of a sentence. for example, “should he go home?” Would be “should he to home go?” or (Soll er nach Hause gehen?) 
  • Portuguese speakers flip their adjective placement, which is opposite from German, who place their adjectives in front of nouns like in English. For example, the Portuguese refer to a blue house as “casa Azul’’ (house blue).
  • In Portuguese, you would differentiate questions and answers by context and intonation. However, in German, you frame questions in terms of word order.
  • The Portuguese verb system is more nuanced and complex than German and has more conjugation endings.
  • Germans use multiple compound nouns, sometimes to a rather amusing degree, such as Kraftfahrzeughaftpflichtversicherung for the simple term of ‘vehicle liability insurance.’

Portuguese vs. German Speaking

Portuguese and German have vastly different pronunciation rules, but they are both ultimately pretty simple to get the hang of with some practice. 

Portuguese-Speaking Challenges

Many second language students attest that Portuguese is easier to learn than German for an English speaker. That doesn’t mean that Portuguese isn’t without its challenges for English- speaking students. The most tricky aspects of speaking Portuguese for beginners is to:

  • Pronounce nasalized vowels such as ão, -ãe, -em, -ém
  • Master tricky digraphs such as sh and nh
  • Learn to disregard nouns at the end of words (particularly in Portugal)

Portuguese uses diacritics to help beginner speakers pronounce the Portuguese language. You’ll find the diacritic marks written above specific letters that indicate lexical stress and pronunciation. These include:

  • Acute accents or [‘] indicate that a vowel is open so the vowel would be sounded phonetically, such as the /e/ in ‘bed’ or /o/ in óff.’
  • The Circumflex accent or [ ^ ] such as “Â,” “Ê,” “Ô” have the “closed” sounds.
  • The tilde is a distinctive characteristic of Portuguese {~] and indicates a nasalized sound such as ão, ãe, and õe).

German-Speaking Challenges

German contains certain vowels that English speakers aren’t familiar with, and a diacritic usually accompanies these called an umlaut:

  •  ä
  •  ö
  •  ü

The German language is highly phonetic, which means that almost all the consonants and vowels are voiced, so speakers should pronounce individual letters such as the -e at the end of words. 

The German alphabet contains an extra letter ß, or Eszett stands for the /s/ phoneme in standard German when following long vowels and diphthongs. 

Portuguese vs. German Written

The Portuguese and German alphabets use the same Latinate system as English does. However, German has an extra character ß as an /s/ sound when following long vowels. Portuguese has a reduced alphabet of 23 letters, and the letters k, w, and y only apply for foreign terms. 

Unlike Portuguese writing, Germans always capitalize their nouns while Portuguese capitalizes abstract nouns such as Amor (love), Saudade (melancholy/longing), and omits capitalization in words such as:

  • Nationality (unless nouns)
  • Days of the week


In the lengthy debate between learning German or Portuguese, a student’s passion for a language ultimately determines how well they succeed. These languages each have their own intricacies, difficulties, and unique histories of influence. In terms of travel, Portuguese is the most useful to learn, while German is the better choice in European commerce.

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