Grammar Tips (#10): Turning English words into Portuguese (1): nouns

Learning a language – especially when it comes to vocabulary – is usually a long game: you learn new words and expressions as you move along in your learning journey, but by necessity these have to be doled out so as not to cause your brain to enter critical overload…

But, what if there was a way to magically turn some words from a language to another and establish rules that can be replicated with that set of words to ease your way into that language? As it turns out, that’s a possible route from English to Portuguese, since many English nouns and adjectives borrowed from Latin (via French) have obvious connections to the Portuguese equivalents.

Important note: There are quite a few cases where these rules don’t apply (due to different nouns being used between languages for the same idea, or different endings applying). This series of posts doesn’t deal with those cases, which should be learned separately.

#1: English abstract nouns (from Latin/French) that end in -tion usually become Portuguese feminine nouns ending in -ção

  • solution [a] solução
  • nation[a] nação
  • fiction [a] ficção
  • friction [a] fricção
  • ignition [a] ignição
  • justification [a] justificação
  • action [a] ação (acção before the Orthographical Agreement)
  • retaliation [a] retaliação
  • annexation [a] anexação

Please beware of words that, while ending in -tion, may not come from Latin (Wiktionary lists gumption as one such example) and therefore will almost certainly not have a Portuguese counterpart that can be reworked like this.

It’s also relevant to note that these rules predict the ending and gender of the word better than they do with the radical; one such example is words ending in -ution becoming -uição in Portuguese:

  • pollution [a] poluiçãois never a double consonant in Portuguese as it is in French (and English), and the Portuguese word comes directly from the Latin verb form polluere, which became Portuguese polui(to pollute).
  • prostitution [a] prostituição
  • attribution [a] atribuição
  • constitution [a] constituição
  • distribution [a] distribuição
  • substitution [a] substituição

Important note: words can contain a -ti with a “sh” sound elsewhere in the sentence also see it change, into -ci (with a “s” sound):

  • patient [o/a] paciente (also patience > [a] paciência)
  • quotient, but [o] quociente
  • national > nacional
  • additional > adicional
  • traditional > tradicional

#2: English abstract nouns (from Latin/French) that end in -(s)sion usually become Portuguese feminine nouns ending in -(s)são

  • mission [a] missão
  • fission [a] fissão
  • fusion [a] fusão
  • possession [a] possessão (more common [a] posse)
  • inclusion [a] inclusão
  • vision [a] visão
  • confusion [a] confusão
  • depression [a] depressão
  • illusion > [a] ilusão
  • aggression [a] agressão
  • commission [a] comissão
  • suppression [a] supressão

As you can see by the last four examples (and annexation, pollution, and attribution on rule #1 above), you need to take into account the fact that Portuguese doesn’t have many of the double consonants English inherited from French and Latin; only ss and rr can exist as double consonants, and for very specific, phonetics related issues (as I’ve discussed previously).

There are also a few outliers here in terms of ending:

  • passion [a] paixão
  • confession [a] confissão (but verb confessar)

#3: English abstract nouns (from Latin/French) that end in -gion usually become Portuguese feminine nouns ending in -gião

  • region [a] região
  • legion [a] legião
  • religion [a] religião

But:

  • contagion [o] contágio 

#4: English nouns with ending in -ence/-ency usually become Portuguese feminine nouns ending in -ência (more rarely -ença or -esa)

  • patience [a] paciência
  • existence [a] existência
  • negligence [a] neglicência
  • consequence [a] consequência
  • agency > [a] agência
  • addherence [a] aderência (only in the sense of “close physical union between two objects”; “accession to a cause or faithful support to a cause” is [a] adesão)
  • science [a] ciência
  • transparence [a] transparência
  • preference [a] preferência
  • interference [a] interferência
  • irreverence [a] irreverência
  • convergence [a] convergência
  • dependence [a] dependência
  • divergence [a] divergência
  • conference [a] conferência
  • difference [a] diferença
  • licence/license [a] licença
  • defense [a] defesa
  • offense [a] ofensa; only with the meanings”the act of offending” or “the state of being offended or displeased” [1]; in team sports, offense is [o] ataque (noun, offensive strategy) or [o/a] atacante/avançado (adjective or noun for the team members in that position).

But:

  • belligerence [a] beligerância
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