Even after a decade since I picked up my first Brazilian Portuguese grammar book, I still wonder about the placement of an accent here or there. Online, there’s tons of blogs and sites in Portuguese that talk about the spelling reform from a few years back, and all the rules that accompanied it. A lot of that information concerns (mostly) accute accents and whether the word is paroxytone or proparoxytone, etc (linguistic terms regarding syllable stress).
I tried to not involve myself too much in those details and instead focus on the words I use frequently. Still, there are words that I’m pretty sure haven’t changed due to the reform but which trip me up nonetheless. Below is a short list I found on a Portuguese grammar blog. The first word is how some people might write it, the second word is how it actually should be written and the third word is the English translation I've added.
There are words that a lot of people think have an accent, but they don’t. See a few cases below:
- Tabú => Tabu / Taboo
- Bambú => Bambu / Bamboo
- Côco => Coco / Coconut (the synonym for "number 2" has an accent on the second O…)
- Mêses = > Meses / Months (Mês, yes, in the singular it has an accent)
- Rápidamente, Públicamente => Rapidamente, Publicamente / Quickly, Publicly (Rápido and Público have accents, but when they become an adverb – getting the suffix of "mente" – they lose the accent)
- Cajú => Caju / Cashew
- Hífens = > Hifens / Hyphens (Hífen, when singular, has an accent; in the plural, it doesn’t)
- Ítem => Item / Item
Of that list, I have often thought that “months” has a circumflex accent (the “little hat”), and both “quickly” and “publicly” have them too.
One that’s not on the list is “Portuguese people”, or portugueses. I would often throw an unneeded circumflex accent on the plural version.
Just like with native speakers of any accented language, you'll find people writing words differently in real life (sometimes it depends on where you are at the moment, because in Portugal, for example, they prefer the acute accent to the circumflex). As always, the most important thing is communication rather than gramatical perfection.
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