Impress Your Brazilian Friends by Using These Greetings
Saying hello in Brazilian Portuguese is an art.
Many foreigners fail to greet appropriately, never knowing what to do and when. Shake hands? Kiss?
And we still have to grapple with the vocabulary!
But worry not. In this article, you’ll learn how to greet like a Brazilian.
By far the most common greeting, the words Oi and Olá (stress on the second syllable) are nevertheless used in a broad range of situations, each requiring your social awareness.
Oi sounds like O-ee, but you should be careful to shorten the first sound, excluding that soft W sound that comes after the English O.
You can use it as a conversation opener, usually coupling it with Tudo bem? (see below) or the name of the person you are talking to.
“Oi, Bernardo, tudo bem?”
The common answer is Oi, too.
Olá sounds somewhat more formal. In a country like Brazil, though, where formalities are usually frowned upon, people typically prefer Oi over Olá, perhaps on account of the pronunciation of the former being perceived as more comfortable.
Although being composed by the words for “good” and “day”, bom dia actually means good morning. You should use it from whatever time you wake up in the morning up to 11:59 am.
The pronunciation of this expression may pose some problems to native English speakers or to speakers of those languages where nasal vowels don’t exist.
Bom is pronounced with a nasal O, like the first part of the French word bonjour, or the nasal sound in the English word genre. When saying it in isolation, your lips should not touch to form the final M sound.
Another small difficulty here is the word DIA, commonly pronounced as DJEE-ah. In some Brazilian states, the syllable DE is pronounced DEE as in Dean.
Dia is a masculine word, so the word good is BOM. If you want to say good afternoon, the word bom changes into BOA, and you have the expression “boa tarde” (BO-ah.TAHR.djee).
You should pronounce the R in tarde like a puff of air rather than like in the word woRd, for instance.
Boa noite (BO-ah.NO-ee-tchee) means at once good evening and good night.
Como vai (KO-moo.VAH-ee) means literally “how you go”, but in practical terms, it means how do you do, or how are you. This is a song that will make you remember this structure forever.
Some people abide by the social convention of answering “tudo bem” (all well, see below) or “vou bem” (VO-oo.BEM, very nasal, lips not closing to form the final M), but some take it as an invitation to tell you about their day. If someone does so, and you want to escape from this awkward situation, you can check simply say Com licença (Kõ.lee-SEN-sah, excuse me) and walk away politely.
“Oi, Paula, como vai?”
“Vou bem, Carlos. E voce?” (vo.SAY, you)
Tudo bem (TOO-.doo.BEym) means literally “all well,” but in everyday conversations, it is taken as a Como vai? (see above). The answer is usually either Vou bem or Tudo bem, this time with falling intonation.
One note about the pronunciation
The T in Brazilian Portuguese should never be pronounced with aspiration.
You should say it the way you pronounce the T in the English word stink, softly.
The D, conversely, always has the hard D when placed before an O, A, or U. It doesn’t sound like the American flap D that makes us foreigners confuse MEDAL and METAL.
Bonus Section: Greet People the Brazilian Way
The expressions found above are the bread and butter of Brazilian Portuguese greetings. By using them, you will be successful in most social expressions.
But if you really want to sound like a Brazilian, if you really want to understand Brazilians when you set foot on our country, then you should use the following expressions.
Tudo beleza (bay.LAY.zah) is a variation of the expression tudo bem, and like that one there are dozens of other expressions.
Beleza means Beauty, but, again, in practical terms, it means tudo bem.
Other variations are:
- belezinha? (bay.lay.ZEEnya)
- tudo joia (ZHAW-yah, jewel)
- tudo em cima? (em.SEEmah, on, above)
- and my favorite one, tudo belê (bay.LAY, a reduction of the first expression).
All of the mentioned expressions are in common use and are informal.
E aí (ee.ah.EE) is the most informal way of greeting someone and one of the most economical as well. It means literally “and there,” but in practical terms, it means “What’s up?”
You should use that only in very informal situations, and your reply to this form of greeting is e aí, too, sometimes pronounced e aê (ah.AY).
Now that you have a new usable vocabulary how about going up to your friends and greeting them the Brazilian way? They will be flabbergasted at your language prowess.
And if you have been to Brazil and know some other formulae for greetings, share it with us in the comment section.