Ask Luís! (#11): The sound of final o

Hello, everyone! I’ve just received a very interesting question about European Portuguese pronunciation from Sarah:

I’ve been using Memrise but I’m confused with the o at the end of the word.

Sometimes I can hear it quite clearly and other times it seems to have vanished. Is there an easy way to know when to pronounce it or not?

Obrigada

Hello, Sarah! Thank you for following the blog and for your interesting question.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, European Portuguese has a very peculiar way of pronouncing its vowels: sometimes they’re accented and stronger, some other times it’s almost like they’re not there at all; this is because it is a stress-timed language (just like English), meaning that in every word one syllable is emphasized, while the others become “weaker”, softer, less pronounced (or more curtly so).

Anytime you have an o with an accent, ó, at the end of a word, it means that the stress lies on that word and that the should be open (like the in otter)

  • [o] pódust
  • só: just / only (adv.) | alone / lonely (adj.)
  • [a] avógrandmother

Unstressed Os, regardless of their place inside a wordshould be pronounced as /u/ (like the oo in English fool, but shorter). When you speak fast it may seem like there’s no sound at the end – and in some cases people actually clip or skip these unstressed vowels (I’ve recently shared a video on my Facebook page that illustrates this issue in a very funny way, and which in ways is even more radical in the vowel cutting that I would admit). Sometimes it’s a regional accent, others just plain speed of speech.

I hope this was helpful. If you or anyone else has any other questions, please post them using this form. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on Facebook and on Twitter to get interesting news or posts related to Portugal and the Portuguese language!

Continuação de bons estudos!

 

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