Os Números–Numbers in Portuguese

Posted on | Leave a comment
They’ve got our numbers!

I know a very well-educated woman in Rio, a carioca who spent a year as a high school exchange student with a farm family in a small town in Minnesota. Shortly after her arrival there, several neighbors came by to welcome her. Many of them had never met a foreigner, much less someone from faraway, exotic Brazil.

That evening everyone sat around the farm house as she patiently answered questions about Rio and life in Brazil–all predictable questions until one well-meaning farm boy asked “Do you use the same numbers that we do?”

He thought that, aside from a different language, Brazilians might also use a different numerical system. Holding back a laugh, she told him that most of the world had adopted what we call “Arabic numbers” several centuries ago. That boy grew up to be a prominent attorney, and she still enjoys telling the story today.

Fortunately, as students of Portuguese, we don’t have to learn a new number system or a new alphabet—just a few accents marks and other spelling and pronunciation aids. Also, the number “1” is often written with a “tail” descending to the left, and the “7” may have a line across the long stroke, to differentiate it from the “1”. That’s about it, so far as differences are concerned.

There are, however, some interesting variations you’ll want to know:

6 is pronounced “meia”What?? (“O que??”) In English we say “six of one, half a dozen of the other” to mean “it’s about the same”. Brazilians say “trocar seis por meia dúzia” (to exchange six for half a dozen). Simple enough, but did you know that the word “meia” (half) is used in Brazil to also express the number 6 (“seis”)? Maybe it’s because the words “três” and “seis” sound so similar that Brazilians normally say “meia” for the number six, especially in a sequence. The street address 163 becomes “um-meia-três”. A sixty-five year old may tell you that his age is “meia cinco”. Most people count items this way: “um, dois, três, quarto, cinco, meia, sete, oito…”

Masculine and Feminine Numbers: If you’ve studied Spanish you know that the number ONE is “uno/un” or “una” depending whether you’re talking about masculine or feminine nouns: un hombre (“one man” or “a man”), una mujer (“one woman” or “a woman”).

In Latin this differentiation of numerals continues on to TWO and THREE (not to mention NEUTER!). Portuguese is right in between Spanish and Latin, splitting the number 2 into masculine and feminine: dois homens (“two men”), duas mulheres (“two women”).

Use duas also for any feminine noun: duas laranjas (two oranges), duas canetas (two pens), duas camisas (two shirts); but dois carros (two cars), dois pratos (two plates). Also use duzentos  (masculine) or duzentas (feminine) for 200, trezentos/trezentas, for 300, etc.

This masculine/feminine difference for numbers extends infinitely: vinte e dois carros (22 cars), trinta e duas mesas (32 tables), duzentas e sessenta e duas pessoas (262 persons), quinientas e vinte e duas alunas (522 female students), oitocentas mil libras (800,000 pounds), o filme começa às vinte e duas horas (the film starts at 22:00—10 P.M.)

171:  If someone is “171” (um-sete-um), they are tricky, dishonest, a liar, someone likely to take advantage of you. It’s based on Article 171 of the Brazilian Penal Code, quoted here: “Art. 171 – Obter, para si ou para outrem, vantagem ilícita, em prejuízo alheio, induzindo ou mantendo alguém em erro, mediante artifício, ardil, ou qualquer outro meio fraudulento.  Pena – reclusão, de um a cinco anos, e multa.” Punishment from one to five years no cárcere (in jail). This expression is often used informally to mean a bothersome person, somewhat like we use “86” in the United States.

“13” (treze): Bad luck in English is “azar” in Portuguese.

“24” (vinte e quatro): In the lottery game “jogo do bicho” (see article on “Português na Rua”), the number 24 corresponds to the deer, which is “veado” in Portuguese. “Veado” (pronounced vee-AH-doo) also is a derogatory word for “gay,” so most men in Brazil don’t like to be associated with the number 24. You will never see any Brazilian soccer player with 24 on his uniform.

“Even and Odd” (“par” e “ímpar”): In English “odd” is a somewhat negative  word. But in Portuguese “uma pessoa ímpar” is “a unique person”, generally a positive quality.

X-9 (pronounced sheesh-KNOW-vee): a “X-9” is a snitch, a tattle-tale, a person who denounces someone to the police, the boss, his wife, or another authority.

X-burger: You figure it out–the letter X is pronounced “sheesh”; so what is a X-burger?

V6: “Vocês” (“you all”–text talk)

Um zero à esquerda: a “zero”, a loser (literally, a zero in the left column = adds no value)

Ela é um número:  She’s a real character!

And when it’s time to leave (sair) the botequim and go home for the night, ask for:

A saideira: “One for the road”



Posted on | Leave a comment

To maximize your learning, try to get as much exposure as possible to different sources of language and cultural information. Try out these sites:

EatRio.net (http://eatrio.net) started out as a blog about the restaurants and recipes of Rio de Janeiro, but has evolved into a collection of well-written articles about the culture, habits, language, and idiosyncracies of “cariocas” (residents of “A Cidade Maravilhosa”–The Marvellous City), with forays into other parts of Brazil, such as Bahia. The blogster is a Brit married to a carioca, living and working in Rio. His photos and descriptions are very well done and should be required reading for anyone who wants to get beyond the standard tourist aspects of Rio. Sample posts include: “Bolinhos de Bacalhau“, about fish poppers and other delicious boteco food, with mouth-watering photos; “Video Post: How to Samba“, which could help even a Gringo learn to dance samba; and “A Rio Caipirinha“, about the popular (and powerful) drink made with cachaça. Check out this blog before you leave for Brazil–and after you’ve arrived!


Semántica Portuguese (http://www.semantica-portuguese.com/): This is an excellent language learning site. They charge for their lessons, but the price is reasonable. I found out about it when I saw them filming an episode in Rio–a young man and woman (actors) talking on a sidewalk in a residential area of Copacabana. Here’s their own description: “Everything is clear, crisp, understandable. Our videos are designed to train your ear. You will find yourself literally absorbing new phrases and vocabulary as you get into the story. If you’re learning a language to communicate in real life, expose yourself to real language and real situations. Your brain figures out a new language in two parts: rules analysis, and training (practice). We’re the training part.”


Inglês no Supermercado (“English in the Supermarket”, www.inglesnosupermercado.com.br): Although the name seems to imply that it’s for people who work in a market, this site can teach you tons of interesting Portuguese words and phrases. For example, a recent post says “Como se diz ‘rabo de cavalo’ em inglês?”, which gives you the translation of “ponytail” and other hair styles. A related article entitled “14 nomes engraçados de roupas femininas em inglês” (14 humorous names for feminine clothes in English), includes “biquini fio dental” (dental floss bikini), meaning “thong bikini”. I love the name “vestido tomara que caia” (the “I-hope-it-falls-down” dress) for a strapless gown.

If you’re hungry for learning, you’ll also take more lessons from this last entry: “tomara” means “I wish” or “let’s hope”, as in “tomara que ganhe o nosso time” (Let’s hope our team wins). Intermediate students of Portuguese will also notice that the verbs “caia” and “ganhe” are the subjunctive forms of the verbs “cair” and “ganhar“, and that “tomara” at the start of the phrase requires the other verb to be subjunctive, as in “Tomara que cheguem os seus amigos” (I hope your friends arrive). Subscribe for free to this site, and you’ll receive short useful lessons several times a week.


Brazilmax (www.brazilmax.com): “The Hip Guide to Brazil” provides information and resources on everything from the Amazon Rainforest to the nightclubs of Rio. A very extensive website with lists, links, articles. It covers almost any Brazil-related topic you can imagine. Subscribe for free.


  • The list goes on! If you find any other good sites related to language learning (especially Portuguese), please let me know. Subscribe to www.funportuguese.com and you’ll be the first to know when new information is available. Obrigado!