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Pronunciation of Some Brazilian Portuguese Letters (M, N, L, O, E)

edited February 2018 in Portuguese

Some languages, such as Spanish and Italian, have fixed rules to pronounce letters and syllables with some few exceptions. Similar to English and French, Portuguese has some rules on how to pronounce some letter combinations, but it also has many exceptions. Note the following three instances of some rules and exceptions.

The consonants m and n either at the end or in the middle of a word before a consonant are used to nasalize the preceding vowel and aren’t pronounced on their own.

Examples: In ponte (bridge), the n makes the o sound nasal, like the on in don’t. In acampar (to camp), the first a has a nasal sound, like the un in bunch, but note that the second a is not nasalized and sounds like the a in father. 

When pronouncing words that end in m, the m nasalizes the vowel it precedes and is always pronounced as an n. Examples: In bem (well) and margem (margin) the em is pronounced like the ain in rain. Note, however that the first m in margem is pronounced like the first m in margin

Another letter that has different pronunciations depending on where it comes is the l. When l comes at the beginning or in the middle of a word it is pronounced like the l in love. Examples: Lavar (to wash), alemão (German).

Now look at these examples of when the l comes at the end of a word: In global (global) the al sounds like the ow in now; and in futebol (football) the ol sounds like ow in blow. 

Finally, the vowels e and o at the end of a word have a slightly different sound than they do at the beginning or at the middle of a word. Examples: In leme (helm) the last e sounds like the ee in Lee, but the first e sounds like the e in elephant; and in nono (ninth), the last o sounds like the oo in too, while the first o sounds like the o in home. 

Remember these are sounds made in everyday speech and can vary according to regional accents. A good way to practice understanding and saying these different sounds is listening to music since the singer usually pronounces the words as he/she would in informal conversations. Try any Bossa Nova songs from Tom Jobim (pronounced Ton Jobeen), like Insensatez (especially for the final o sounds) and Águas de Março for the final e, o and m sounds.

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