Confusing Words

Words can have different meanings in different contexts. The more you learn Portuguese, the more confused you get. Here you will find a list of words that can be misused or may cause confusion:


  1. Ser – Estar
  2. Ser – Estar – Ficar – Andar – Viver
  3. Estar – Fazer
  4. Ter – Sentir – Estar
  5. Gostar – Gostaria
  6. Ir – Andar
  7. Ir – Vir
  8. Levar – Trazer
  9. Precisar – Precisar de
  10. Provar – Tentar
  11. Saber – Conhecer
  12. Saber – Poder – Conseguir
  13. Ter – Ter que
  14. Tocar – Jogar – Brincar
  15. Verbos​ + que
  16. Verbos + preposições
  17. Verbos Impessoais
  18. Bem – Bom
  19. De – Do – Da
  20. Dois – Duas
  21. Gente – A gente
  22. Muito – Muitos
  23. País – Pais – Parentes
  24. Para – Por
  25. Pouco – Poucos
  26. O que – Que – Qual

1. Ser – Estar


In Portuguese, both verbs ser and estar mean to be and it is difficult to distinguish both for beginners. 

Ser is used for permanent or unchangeable situations like nationality, origin, profession, marital status, etc. 

Estar is used for temporary or changeable situations, also for a state of being.



(to be – permanent)

Ela é bonita. (sempre) She is pretty. (always)
Ele é de São Paulo.  He is from São Paulo. 
O carro é grande. The car is big.
É muito caro.  It is very expensive.


(to be – temporary)

Ela está bonita. (hoje) She is/looks pretty. (today)
Ele está em São Paulo.  He is in São Paulo. 
O carro está quebrado. The car is broken.
Está muito caro. It is very expensive.

2. Ser – Estar – Ficar – Andar – Viver


These verbs are often confused as they mean more or less the same in English.


Ser (to be) Ele é nervoso. He is nervous. (always)
Estar (to be) Ele está nervoso. He is nervous. (now)
Ficar (to become) Ele fica nervoso. He becomes/gets nervous.
Andar (to be) Ele anda nervoso. He has been nervous lately.
Viver (to be) Ele vive nervoso. He is always nervous.

3. Estar – Fazer 

In Brazil, these verbs have different meanings. 


Estar (to be) Está muito frio hoje. It is very cold today.
Fazer (to be) Está fazendo muito frio. It is very cold.
Aqui não faz muito frio. Here it is not very cold.

4. Ter – Sentir – Estar


Sentir and ter have the same meaning and their use is normally linked with some situation at a given time (at this time, at 11 o'clock, after my gym class, when, etc.). 

Estar is used for temporary situations and it is more frequently used than ter/sentir


Ter (to feel) Eu sempre tenho fome a esta hora. I always feel hungry at this time.
Sentir (to feel) Eu sempre sinto fome a esta hora. I always feel hungry at this time.
Estar (to be) Eu estou com fome. am hungry (now).

5. Gostar – Gostaria


Gostar means to enjoy or to like while gostaria is the conditional form of gostar and it is only used in unreal situations (if clauses) or as a polite form.


Gostar (to like) Eu gosto de dançar. like dancing.
Gostaria (would like) Eu gostaria de dançar. would like to dance.
Se eu soubesse, eu gostaria de dançar. If I knew how to dance, I would like to dance.

6. Ir – Andar


Sometimes verbs ir and andar have exactly the same meaning (to ride, to fly, to walk, etc.). For this reason, they are often confused. 

Ir meansto go to somewhere and it must be followed by a destination while andar is not followed by a destination.


Ir (to go) Eu vou ao Brasil de avião. am going to Brazil by plane.
Andar (to walk) Eu ando muito de avião. fly a lot.
Eu adoro andar a cavalo I love riding on a horseback.

7. Ir – Vir


Ir (to go) is used to indicate a movement away from the speaker or the place where the speaker is at the moment of speaking while vir (to come) is used to indicate a movement toward the speaker or the place where the speaker is at the moment of speaking.

If used to indicate a movement, ir (to go) is followed by the preposition lá/ali (there) while vir (to come) is followed by the preposition aqui/cá(here). The preposition is often omitted, but try to use it at least mentally in order to make it easier to distinguish both and not misuse them.


Ir (to go) Ele não foi à aula hoje. He did not go to class today.
Vir (to come) Ele não veio à aula hoje. He didn't come to class today.

8. Levar – Trazer


Levar (to take) is used to indicate a movement away from the speaker or the place where the speaker is at the moment of speaking while trazer(to bring) is used to indicate a movement toward the speaker or the place where the speaker is at the moment of speaking.

If used to indicate a movement, levar (to take) is followed by the preposition lá/ali (there) while trazer (to bring) is followed by the prepositionaqui (here). The preposition is often omitted, but try to use it at least mentally in order to make it easier to distinguish both and not misuse them.


Levar (to take) Vou levar as crianças lá. I will take the children there.
Trazer (to bring) Vou trazer as crianças aqui. I will bring the children here.

9. Precisar – Precisar de


In Brazil, there is a difference between both verbs. Precisar means to have to or must and it is followed by an infinitive verb while precisar demeans to need and it is followed by an object.


Precisar (to have to) Preciso ir ao banco. have to go to the bank.
Precisar (to need) Preciso de dinheiro. need money.

10. Provar – Tentar


These verbs are often confused as they are both the same word in English.


Provar (to try on ) Posso provar esta camisa? Can I try on this shirt?
Provar (to try) Quero provar este vinho. I want to try this wine.
Tentar (to try) Eu vou tentar falar com ele. I will try to talk to him.

11. Saber – Conhecer


Saber means to know something or to know how to do something while conhecer means to know a place or a person.


Saber (to know) Eu sei onde fica esta rua. know where this street is.
Saber (to know how) Eu sei nadar. know how to/can swim.
Conhecer (to know) Eu conheço esta rua. know this street.

12. Saber – Poder – Conseguir


Both saber and poder can be translated into English as can. However, poder is also translated as may, to be able depending on the context.

Conseguir means to manage, to be able, to getto obtaincan depending on the context.


Saber (can) Ela não sabe nadar. She cannot swim. (at all)
Poder (can/may) Ela não pode nadar. She cannot swim. (today)
Posso entrar? May I come in?
Conseguir (can) Você conseguiu falar com ele? Did you manage to talk to him?

13. Ter – Ter que


Ter means to have and it is followed by an object while ter que or ter de means to have to or must and is followed by a verb.


Ter (to have) Você tem filhos? Do you have children?
Ter que (to have to) Ele tem que viajar amanhã. He has to travel tomorrow.

14. Tocar – Jogar – Brincar


All these verbs are easily confused because they have the same meaning (to play) in English. Tocar is used for instruments; jogar is for sports/cards and brincar is used for children's play.


Tocar (to play/ring) Ele toca violão. He plays the guitar.
O telefone está tocando. The telephone is ringing.
Jogar (to play) Você joga tênis/cartas? Do you play tennis/cards?
Brincar (to play/joke) As crianças estão brincando. The children are playing.
Você está brincando?

Are you kidding?

15. Verbos + que (Verbs + que)


In Portuguese, there are some verbs which require the conjunction that (que) while in English it is not required at all or it can often be omitted. The conjunction que (that) is especially used with the subjunctive mood.


Achar (to think) Acho que ele está em casa. think that he is at home.
Dizer (to say) Ele disse que ele não pode. He said that he cannot.
Esperar (to hope) Espero que não chova. I hope that it will not rain.
Querer (to want) Ele quer que eu vá com ele. He wants me to go with him.
Saber (to know) Eu sei que ele tem tempo. know that he has time.

16. Verbos + preposições (Verbs + prepositions)


In Portuguese, there are verbs which are followed by prepositions that differ from English. Try to learn the most important verbs along with the prepositions and remember that a preposition usually varies in gender (masculine/feminine) and in number (singular/plural), if it is followed by a noun.


Gostar (to like) Ele gosta muito do Brasil. He loves Brazil.
Começar (to begin) Ele começou a trabalhar. He began working.
Ir (to go) Não posso ir à reunião. I cannot go to the meeting.
Precisar (to need) Você precisa destas cartas? Do you need these letters?

17. Verbos impessoais (Impersonal verbs)


Certain verbs in Portuguese are only used in the 3rd person. This is usually 3rd person singular (he/she/it), but may be 3rd person plural (they), if referring to animals.

These verbs often refer to natural phenomenon or are used in idiomatic expressions.


Remark: Sometimes the meaning of the verb will change when used as impersonal verb.


Chover (to rain) Choveu muito ontem. It rained a lot yesterday.
Latir (to bark) Os cachorros estão latindo. The dogs are barking.
Dar (to give) Dá pra você ligar depois? Can you call me later?
Fazer (to do) Faz um ano que moro aqui. I have lived here for one year.
Haver (there is/are) Há muita gente aqui. There are many people here.
Ter (there is/are) Tem muita gente aqui. There are many people here.

18. Bem – Bom


Bem (well) is an adverb, it always follows a verb and it is invariable while bom (good) is an adjective, it always follows a noun and it is variable. 




  • Remember that in Portuguese adjectives can be masculine or feminine (bom/boa), singular or plural (bons/boas).

  • The opposite of bem is mal and the opposite of bom/boa is ruim or mau/má. Instead of using opposites, you can put the sentence in the negative. See the second example.


Bem (well) Ele fala inglês muito bem. He speaks English very well.
Bom (good/male) O café está muito bom. The coffee is very good.
Boa (good/female) Boa ideia! Good idea!

19. De – Do – Da


Try to grasp the correct use of de/do/da as early as possible because these prepositions are frequently used and their meaning can vary depending on the context.


to link words livro de português Portuguese book
to show ownership o carro do Pedro/da Maria Peter's/Mary's car.
to specify something o gerente do banco/da firma  the manager of the bank/firm
Preciso do dinheiro. I need the money.
to generalize Preciso de dinheiro. I need money.

20. Dois – Duas


In Portuguese, numbers 1 and 2 (also numbers containing number 1 and 2 like 21, 22, 31, 32, etc.) and from 200-900 are feminine if they are followed by a feminine noun. However, if they are used as numbers or followed by a masculine noun, they are never used in the feminine form.


Dois (two/male) Dois ingressos, por favor. Two tickets, please.
Duas (two/female) Duas cervejas, por favor. Two beers, please.

21. Gente – A gente


Gente (people) and a gente (we/us) are often confused in Portuguese. Gente is usually used without the definite article, it is uncountable and its synonym is pessoa(s) while a gente is a colloquial form, always preceded by the definite article and it is often used instead of nós/nos (we/us) in speech.


Gente (people) Oi gente! Hi, everybody!
Nossa! Quanta gente! Wow! What a crowd!
Tem muita gente aqui. There are many people here.
A gente (we/us) A gente não sabe ainda. We still do not know.
Você vai com a gente? Are you going with us?

22. Muito – Muitos


Muito (very/a lot) is an adverb, therefore invariable while muito (many/much) is an indefinite pronoun and can be masculine or feminine (muito/muita), singular or plural (muitos/muitas).


invariable Ele trabalha muito. He works a lot.
A casa é muito bonita.  The house is very nice.
countable Ele tem muitos amigos. He has many friends.
uncountable Ele bebe muita água. He drinks a lot of water.

23. País – Pais – Parentes


These three words have different meanings. Paí(stressed on i) means country, has two syllables and it can be separated (pa-ís) while pais means parents or fathers, has one syllable and cannot be separated.Parentes means relatives, not parents. 


País (country) De que país ele é? Which country is he from?
Pais (parents) Meus pais são italianos. My parents are Italian.
Parentes (relatives) Temos muitos parentes. We have many relatives.

24. Para – Por


Both prepositions are very often confused as they sometimes have the same meaning in English. Paraindicates direction and can vary in gender (para o/para a) and in number (para os/para as). Para also meanstofor and in order to.

Por is very often used in idiomatic expressions, along with some verbs, as the agent of the passive voice or even to indicate time. In this case, its use is optional and it is normally omitted. Only with time and some practice can you use them correctly. Por can also vary in gender (pelo/pela) and in number (pelos/pelas).


para – para o – para a (to/for) Vamos para o Brasil. We are going to Brazil.
Vou dar este livro para ela. I will give this book to her.

por – pelo – pela



Obrigado por tudo. Thanks for everything.
Fui atendido pela Dra. Ana. I was examined by Dr. Ann.
Passamos pelo aeroporto. We passed by the airport.
Vou viajar (por) dois dias. I will travel for two days.

25. Pouco – Poucos


Pouco (little) is an adverb, therefore invariable while pouco (little/a few) is an indefinite pronoun and can be masculine or feminine (pouco/pouca), singular or plural (poucos/poucas).


invariable Ele trabalha pouco. He works little.
countable Ele tem poucos amigos. He has few friends.
uncountable Ele bebe pouca água. He drinks little water.

26. O que – Que – Qual


O que, que and qual have sometimes the same meaning and can easily be confused.
O que and qual are always followed by a subject pronoun (você) and a verb while que is always followed by a noun. Qual usually implies a choice.
O que is usually followed by é que (ever), but it can be omitted without altering the meaning of the phrase. É que is normally used to emphasize.


O que (what (ever)                 O que você disse? What did you say?
O que (é que) você disse? What (ever) did you say?
Que (what) Que horas são? What time is it?
Qual (which/what) Qual (dos dois) você quer? Which one do you want?
Qual/Como é seu nome? What is your name?

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