Both Spanish and Portuguese are Indo-European languages derived from Latin, and they developed on the Iberian Peninsula during roughly the same period. Though the two languages are closely related, important differences exist between Spanish and Portuguese, which can create problems for those acquainted with one of the languages when they try to learn the other.
Despite the fact that the Spanish and Portuguese lexicons are very similar, the languages differ significantly in terms of pronunciation. Phonetically, Portuguese bears greater resemblance to French or Catalan while Spanish pronunciation is much closer to Italian. Portuguese includes a greater phonemic inventory than Spanish, which may explain why it is generally more difficult for Spanish speakers to understand, in spite of the strong lexical similarity between the two languages.
Linguistic differences between Spanish and Portuguese appear more pronounced in the written language than in the spoken one due to differences in spelling conventions; however, the two languages do share a great deal of vocabulary that is spelled either exactly the same (but may be pronounced rather differently) or almost the same (but may be pronounced in more or less the same way).
Differences in vocabulary between the two languages evolved due to several reasons:
- While Spanish retained a great deal of its Mozarabic vocabulary of Arabic origin, Portuguese’s Mozarabic substratum was not as influential. In many cases, Portuguese words of Arabic origin were eventually replaced with Latin roots.
- During the languages’ development during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Spanish remained more autonomous, while Portuguese was more greatly influenced by other European languages, namely French.
- Spanish and Portuguese incorporated differing influences from Amerindian, African and Asian languages.
Besides a number of “false friends,” Spanish and Portuguese share several cognates whose meaning is broader in one language than in the other. For example, Spanish makes a distinction between the adjective mucho (much/many) and the adverb muy (very/quite). Portuguese uses muito in both cases.
Generally speaking, Portuguese and Spanish grammars do not greatly differ, though minor differences do exist in terms of possessives, the use of pronouns, certain verb tenses, and prepositions.