How to Be Polite in European Portuguese [Você FINALLY Explained!]

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Last updated on June 4, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

A question I get asked all the time that causes a LOT of confusion among learners of Portuguese is…

“Is the word você rude?”

If you are taking your first steps with European Portuguese, the LAST thing you want to appear when you are speaking is rude, and the truth is… the answer is a little bit complicated!

I’ve covered this in a previous blog post about the most common beginner mistakes and how to fix them, but today I’m going to dive more deeply into this and solve the problem of the word você, plus tell you how it should and shouldn’t be used in Portugal.

It’s an important distinction to bring up because if you are learning Brazilian Portuguese, then the word você is absolutely fine and not rude at all, it simply means “you” in all cases and you don’t have to worry.

So why are things more complicated in Portugal?

Well, let’s start by explaining what the word você is.

Firstly, let’s be careful with the pronunciation. Pay attention to the E (“ehh”) sound, it has a little hat on it which tells us to close the vowel a little bit and make a middle E sound. It also tells us that is where the stress will go.

If you need more help with European Portuguese pronunciation I do have a free guide to the 7 most difficult sounds complete with an audio guide that you can download here.

So, você is a personal pronoun, like “I, they, we.” And grammatically, it is the one that stands in for “you” (formal). Let’s conjugate the verb to speak – falar – and see where você comes up:

  • Eu falo
  • Tu falas (this is the you that is informal and we would only use with friends)
  • Ele, ela, você fala

So since você is the word that should literally mean “you” when we are being polite to someone, why would some people take offence if you refer to them as você?

To find the answer, we have to look back in history. Back in the day, people of a higher social status were referred to as o senhor and a senhora. So as time went on, if you were using você instead of those titles, you could be implying the other person is beneath you. In 1956 the linguist Nascentes wrote:

“Although você is used between equals, it is also used with people who are of an inferior social status, many times pejoratively, to indicate that the person being spoken to does not deserve to be called senhor.”

So this is why some people dislike being referred to as você. The confusion arises because not everyone sees it that way – you’ll find many people still using você in Portugal and being totally fine with it. Which would leave a learner like you feeling really confused.

So here’s my advice: since you can’t be sure how the person you are talking to feels – simply avoid it anyway. This takes all the guesswork out of it for you. You have enough to contend with in learning Portuguese already, so just make it easier on yourself.

So if we are going to avoid você, what should we use instead?

 → The first option is just to omit it

→ The second option is to use the person’s name

→ The third option is to use senhor/senhora

It will take a bit of practice to get your head around it but mastering this is going to make you feel so much more comfortable speaking Portuguese because you know you’re being perfectly polite!

I hope you found today’s blog post helpful – if you are just getting started with Portuguese and you need MORE practical advice like this, my one-hour free lesson for beginners is waiting for you. We tackle pronunciation, basic grammar and how to understand locals on the streets so make sure you check it out next.

Tchau for now,

Liz Sharma

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  1. Thank you, James, for bringing us this important content. I have many reasons to thank you for the Portugalist, and this is another one!


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