Second Preliminary Lesson

Lesson Objectives- Objetivas da Lição

  • This lesson presents the general rules of syllable division and stress in Portuguese.
  • After completing this lesson, the student will be able to better recognizes syllables in pronounce words according the correct stress.

Syllabification and Stress- Silabificação e acentuação

In English we frequently hesitate when we have to divide a word into syllables. We are not sure whether to write me-dal or med-al, glimp-sing, glimps-ing, pos-sible or poss-ible. In Portuguese the rules are simpler and more mechanical. Syllable division works according to the following rules:

1. Syllabification- Silabificação

1.1 A single consonant between vowels always belongs with the following syllable:

bagagem ba-ga-gem
amazonas a-ma-zo-nas
sotaque so-ta-que

A group of consonants begins a syllable provided it can also begin a word; combinations of consonant plus l and r are not split even though some of these combinations do not occur at the beginnings of words:

acredito a-cre-di-to
obrigado o-bri-ga-do
palavra pa-la-vra
aclamar a-cla-mar

Note that s is always separated from a group of consonants:

espada es-pa-da
prescindir pres-cin-dir

1.2 Two successive consonants between vowels other than the groups just mentioned accordingly belong to different syllables:

confortante con-for-tan-te
conforme con-for-me
português por-tu-guês

1.3 When there are more than two consonants between vowels, generally only the last one goes with the following syllable unless it is l or r:

transporta trans-por-ta
inspetor ins-pe-tor
sempre sem-pre
abstrair abs-tra-ir
inclemente in-cle-men-te

1.4 The syllable division falls between rr and ss:

sorriso sor-ri-so
passar pas-sar

1.5 The written combinations ch, lh and nh represent single sounds and hence are not divided:

achar a-char
mulher mu-lher
senhor se-nhor

1.6 Diphthongs are never divided. A diphthong is a combination of any vowel with i or u (but not ii or ui):

caixeiro cai-xei-ro
animais a-ni-mais
aurora au-ro-ra

But diphthongs do not occur before nd, nh, or mb, or before final l, r, z, m, ns (see further paragraph 2.3 below). Diphthong-like combinations in these positions and all other combinations of vowels belong to different syllables:

ainda a-in-da
rainha ra-i-nha
voar vo-ar
coordenar co-or-de-nar
raíz ra-iz

2. Stress- Acentuação

Portuguese words are stressed on the last syllable, the second-last syllable, or, less commonly, the third-last syllable. Usually the place of the stress can be determined from the form of the word, according to the rules given below; when this is not the case, the place of the stress must be marked (see further the rules for use of diacritical signs, paragraph 3 below). Following are a few rules for determining the place of the stress from the written form of the word. The first step is to divide the word into syllables, following the rules given in paragraph 1 above. The principal rules for unmarked stress can then be:

2.1 When the last syllable ends in a, e, o, or am, em with or without s, the stress falls on the second-last syllable:

mesa me-sa
contente con-ten-te
baixos bai-xos
aborrecem a-bor-re-cem
arranjam ar-ran-jam
homens ho-mens
simples sim-ples

2.2 When the last syllable has any other form it receives the stress:

abacaxi a-ba-ca-xi animais a-ni-mais
hotel ho-tel ruins ru-ins
camarim  ca-ma-rim bombom bom-bom
comum co-mum estudar es-tu-dar
dizer di-zer abrir a-brir
assaz as-saz pururu pu-ru-ru
falou fa-lou dizei di-zei
mingau min-gau museu mu-seu

2.3 The treatment of two or more successive vowels:

Penultimate (Second-to-last) syllable- Penúltima Sílaba

Recall that a diphthong is any vowel followed by i or u not standing before nd, nh, or mb. A diphthong is always stressed on its first member:

caia cai-a
aulas au-las
feira fei-ra
caixeiro cai-xei-ro
flibusteiro fli-bus-tei-ro

But if the i or u is stressed, this combination is no longer a diphthong and the stress must be marked:

saía sa-i-a
viúvo vi-u-vo
heroína he-ro-i-na

A diphthong-like combination before mb, nd, and nh belongs to two separate syllables, and thus the second of the two (standing in the second-last syllable) is stressed:

Coimbra Co-im-bra
ainda a-in-da
rainha  ra-i-nha

All other combinations are treated as two separate syllables, just as if there were a consonant between them:

diabo di-a-bo
baeta ba-e-ta

When the words with i or u plus vowel require the stress on the i or u, i.e., on the third-to-last syllable, the place of the stress must be marked:

fazíamos fa-zi-a-mos
período pe-ri-o-do

At the end of the word- No final de uma palavra

A combination which forms a diphthong is stressed on its first member and comprises the vowel of the final syllable:

chamou cha-mou
alemão a-le-o
falai fa-lai
comeu co-meu
mau mau
escrevei es-cre-vei

If the last member of such a combination is stressed, that is, if it alone forms the final syllable, it must be marked:

saí sa-i
baú ba-u

In the infrequent instances in which two diphthong combinations are possible within a succession of three vowels, the last two form the diphthong:

saiu sa-iu
contribuiu con-tri-bu-iu

Recall that since diphthongs do not occur before the final l, r, m, ns, or z, a combination resembling a diphthong in this position actually belongs to two different syllables, the last of which (by rule 2.2) is stressed:

paul pa-ul
cair ca-ir
pium pi-um
ruins ru-ins
juíz ju-iz

All other combinations of vowels belong to different syllables, and the word follows the general rule in stressing the second-last syllable:

dia di-a
boa bo-a
continuo con-ti-nu-o
arredio ar-re-di-o
existia e-xis-ti-a
principio  prin-ci-pi-o

When the stress falls on another syllable, it must be marked:

férias fe-ri-as
Bíblia Bi-bli-a
aliás a-li-as
princípio prin-ci-pio
contínuo con-ti-nuo

Words ending in –iu or –ui combination are stressed on the first vowel unless a written accent indicates otherwise:

contribui con-tri-bu-i
existiu e-xis-ti-u

3. Diacritical signs- Os sinais diacríticos

The place of the stress is marked in Portuguese only when it is not in accord with the basic rules given above (paragraphs 2.1 and 2.2). When an a, e, or o is marked for stress, its quality is also indicated at the same time, in the following ways:

3.1 The acute accent (´) is the primary indicator of stress, and can be used on all vowel letters.

When it occurs on e, o, or a it simultaneously indicates open [ε] and [ɔ], and front [a]. It is used in monosyllabic words ending in -a, -e, or -o with or without -s which normally receive stress in the sentence:


In the diphthongs éi [εi], éu [εu], ói [ ɔi], to distinguish them from the identically spelled diphthongs with closed [e] or [o]

papéis céu dói
hotéis véu lençóis
anéis chapéu sóis

In a few words, to distinguish them from identically spelled words:

pára [he stops] para [for]
péla [he peels] pela [for/by the]

3.2 The circumflex accent (^) is used before nasal consonants only over e, o, and a to indicate stressed closed [] and [õ] and stressed central [ɐ͂]:

bênção lâmpada
cômodo ângulo

The circumflex is also used:

over the oral stressed closed [e] and [o] of monosyllabic words ending in -e, -es, or -os which normally receive stress in the sentence:

lês vês mês

over the stressed vowel followed immediately by the same vowel:

crêem perdôo
lêem abençôo

in some plural verb forms to distinguish them from identically spelled (and often identically pronounced) verb forms:

vêm [they come] vem [he, she, you come(s)]
têm [they have] tem [he, she, you have/has]

on the third person singular of the preterite tense of poder:

pôde [he, she, you could] pode [he, she, you can]

3.3 The grave accent (`) indicates contractions between two as:

à = a + a [at the]
àquele = a + aquele [at that]

3.4 The til (˜) indicates nasalization and stress, unless there is another written accent mark:

irmã impõe
botões balangandã
alemão alemães


bênção ben-ção
órfão or-não

or unless a syllable follows:

irmãzinha rãzinha

3.5 The cedilla (ç) under c indicates pronunciation as [s]:


açúcar desço

EXERCISE: Pronounce the following words, stressing the proper syllable in accord with the preceding rules for pronunciation:

  • contribuí
  • dobradiço
  • gaudério
  • indiferente
  • galã
  • útil
  • honestidade
  • Brasil
  • campo
  • fuzil
  • dízimo
  • fuzuê
  • divisão
  • armezim
  • bonança
  • arnica
  • cafeteria
  • polícia
  • arranchar
  • barururu
  • azedume
  • indômito
  • gogó
  • Cleópatra
  • hidráulica
  • traduzem
  • carmim
  • nabal
  • inteiram
  • pândega
  • nácar
  • continuo
  • contíguo
  • constitui
  • contribui