Speak More Fluently with These Portuguese Filler Words
The student went completely silent.
I thought I had done something wrong. Perhaps I spoke too fast, used some unknown vocabulary?
Then the student spoke again — after almost 1 minute.
He did that for one reason I learned later on. He didn’t know the Portuguese filler words he could’ve used to fill the silence.
Like that one student, many people face those awkward silences in their conversations. It’s not because they don’t know what to talk about. It’s just they don’t know how to talk, then… they need to think.
And it’s at times like these that you want to have some tools to keep the ball rolling without squirming uncomfortably.
And that’s exactly what the Portuguese fillers help you avoid — awkward silences.
Portuguese Filler Words
Filler words are by definition meaningless [article from Grammarly].
They don’t have a meaning in and of themselves. But they do perform an important role in the conversation.
Sometimes they help you include the listener in what you’re talking about.
Other times they help you introduce a new topic or take a new turn in the conversation.
But mostly, they help you make time to think — and that’s their most important role.
When you speak with someone — especially if the subject is new or if you want to consider it carefully — you have to think before you speak.
And countless times we’ve heard that we should think before speaking. “Life would be so much easier.”
And when you’re speaking Portuguese, thinking becomes even more important.
You are not only organizing things the way you want to present. You try to figure out how to say it and what words to use in a foreign language.
The problem is, you might not have the vocabulary you need ready.
In fact, you’re likely to fumble for it. It’s almost a physical effort. You can feel the words churning in your mind.
The fillers will give you time while your mind is trying to produce just the right words.
Okay, you could do that in silence. But it might take you some time to reach the right expression. In the meantime, the person you’re speaking to might feel a bit distressed. Bad thoughts creep up. “Does she hate me? Am I talking nonsense?”
That’s why you need filler words. And below you have fifteen of the most common ones in Portuguese.
This one is multipurpose.
You can use it to soften the blow or to hand that you are not sure about something. Those are the respective senses of the examples below.
- Bem, eu acho que ele não me entendeu muito bem. Well, I think he’d didn’t understand me very well.
- Se eu posso te ajudar? Bem, acho que posso, mas não prometo. If I can help? Well, I think I can but I don’t promise anything.
This one doesn’t have a clear translation. It’s just a humming sound we make when we want to think of it — and we show we are thinking.
You see, it’s very useful but you don’t want to overdo it. 1 to 2 seconds are enough.
- .. quero esse. Hmmm… I want this one.
- .. hmmm… acho que vou levar esse. I… hemmm… I guess I’m buying this one.
It works the same way as “uh” in English. The difference is just the vowel. You want to make it long and open.
(The English one in Portuguese is used we want to say someone is a bit dense, like “duh” in English.)
- Éeee…. eu… éeeee que…
4. Tipo, Tipo Assim
When I was a teenager, I avoided using this one. A TV show taught me not to. It was about a young blonde girl who was really dumb and vapid. To this day, I still hear her voice saying “tipássim”.
It’s used the same way as “like” in English. It’s a soft transition into the next sentence.
- Você não entende o que ele fez. Tipo, o que ele fez foi muito grave. You don’t understand what he did. Like, what he did was really serious.
- Se eu entendi? Tipo assim, entender, entendi, mas preciso de outra explicação. If I understood? Like, I did but I need some other explanation.
5. Na Verdade
The important thing you have notice here is that “actually” doesn’t mean “atualmente”. It’s a false friend. The latter word means “currently”.
- Eu entendo. Na verdade, não só entendo como vou resolver essa situação. I see. Actually, I not only understand but also will solve this situation.
- Eu não posso sair. Na verdade, até posso, mas prefiro ficar em casa por causa da quarentena. I can’t come out. Actually, I can but I prefer to stay home because of the quarantine.
When you want to draw someone’s attention to what you’re about to say, you can use “sério”.
- Sério, você precisa assistir a esse filme. É muito legal. Seriously, you need to watch this movie. It’s so cool.
- Sério, meu. Você não vai se arrepender. Seriously dude. You won’t regret it.
7. Sabe, Sabe Como É, Viu
Those are reinforcers— i.e. it’s just to reinforce the sentence you’re saying and and/or emphasize whatever question you are using.
“Sabe como é” (sacomé) sounds a bit like “you know what I’m saying?” But the way one of my friends pronounce it — something like “y’know wha’I’msayin’?” in one breath.
- Obrigado, viu? Você é muito simpático. Thank you so much. You’re very kind.
- Ele é um pouco doido, sabe como é? He’s a bit crazy, you know what I’m saying?
8. Né, Né Não (não é? Não é não?)
In English, at least the way I learned it, you can use this to ask a question after a statement.
Something like, you’re going to help me, aren’t you?
But in Portuguese, you have more flexibility with it.
It’s like the combination of “isn’t it” and “right?” And something we used just to confirm that people are listening.
Oh, and we also use it but we want to think of what we can say next.
“Né não?” is stronger and used to give more emphasis to some request that you want confirmation of.
- Você vai me ajudar, né não? You going to help me, aren’t you?
- Estou um pouco cansado, né? Não tem como trabalhar o tempo todo. I’m a bit tired, okay? I can’t work all the time.
9. Quer Dizer (I mean)
- Você pode me ajudar com isso. Quer dizer, se você quiser, claro. You can help me with that. I mean, if you want to of course.
- Eu quero te ajudar; quer dizer, quero saber como te ajudar, mas não tenho ideia. I want to help you. I mean, I want to know how I can help you but I have no idea.
10. No Fim Das Contas (after all, in the end of the day, in the end)
- No fim das contas, vou precisar refazer todo o trabalho. In the end, I will need to redo all the work.
- Choveu, as roupas ficaram molhadas e, no fim das contas, precisei desistir da festa. It rained, the clothes got soaked up and, in the end, I needed to give up on the party.
11. Acredite [Se Quiser]
We add the “se quiser” part to give emphasis and to make our statement match the irony of the reality. It’s like “believe it or not.” And, it’s very Brazilian.
- O Juliano está namorando a Mariana. Acredite se quiser. Juliano’s dating Mariana. Believe it or not.
- Acredite, Suzana, eu vi o Eliezer na rua com a Tiane. Believe me, Susanna, I saw Eliezer on the streets with Tiane.
12. E Tal
It sounds like “et cetera” or “and all” but it’s very informal and used only in speaking.
- E você disse que ia trabalhar, estudar e tal. Eu só vejo você o dia inteiro dentro de casa. And he told me that you were going to work, study and etc. All I see is you at home all day long.
- Eu sei é que ele prometeu comprar isso, aquilo, etcetera e tal. Não trouxe foi nada. All I know is that he promised to buy these, to buy that, and all. He didn’t bring me anything, though.
13. Então (So)
- Então, é que eu ainda não arranjei um emprego. So, it’s just that I didn’t get a job yet.
- Então, né? Eu não entendi muito o que você disse. I didn’t get much what you said.
It’s like “uh-huh” but… make it very, very nasal, friend. We don’t even open our lips sometimes.
- Ãrrã, é esse mesmo que eu quero. Uh-huh, that’s the one I want.
15. Tá… Ah, tá
That’s my favorite one.
It sounds like “okay” when you acknowledge that you understand the situation. But depending on your tone, you can convey a high level of irony and sarcasm.
The first example below may be ironic depending on the situation.
The second one is more neutral. I tried to come up with a context it’s ironic, but failed happily and miserably to do it.
- Ah, tá. É que eu pensava que você já tinha um emprego. Oh, okay. It’s just that I thought you already had a job.
- Ah, tá. Pensei que fosse outra pessoa, mas é só você. Oh, okay. I thought it was someone else but it’s just you.
Some people may refrain from using filler words when they talk. They think not using them is a mark of distinction. That’s bollocks. In a language, the filler words fulfill an important role. You do well by using them.
And now, if you have, ah-hem, if you want to, tell me in the comments below: what is your favorite filler word in Portuguese and in your language?