31 Portuguese Sayings You Will Want To Use ASAP

31 Portuguese Sayings You Will Want To Use ASAP

Like almost every language around the world, Portuguese has a lot of sayings that reflect the unique and fascinating culture and mindset of its speakers.

Many Portuguese sayings translate well and are understandable to beginner language learners. There are also several that will have corresponding or similar sayings in English and other languages. However, there are also quite a few that are unique and, if not “untranslatable”, just a little confusing to someone who is hearing them for the same time.

If you really want to develop the ability to have proper, long conversations with Portuguese speakers, you need to learn Portuguese sayings. These sayings are often used daily by native speakers so by memorizing them, you can better understand what is being said to you and around you.

Start by memorizing the following Portuguese sayings and their meanings. 

8 Funny-sounding Portuguese Sayings with Animals

Take a break from the “serious” business of memorizing common Portuguese phrases and vocabulary words and learn the meanings of these rather funny Portuguese sayings that use animals to make a point.

1. Engolir sapos

Translation: Swallow frogs

Meaning: Do something you don’t want to do

No one really wants to swallow frogs, so the Portuguese use this saying to describe their reluctance to do something.

2. Mais vale um pássaro na mão do que dois a voar

Translation: It is worth more to have one bird in the hand than two flying

Meaning: Be happy with what you have.

This is basically the equivalent of the English saying, “a bird in one hand is worth two in a bush”. Both basically caution you against being “greedy” and not appreciating what you have.

3. Cada macaco no seu galho

Translation: Each monkey to its own branch

Meaning: Don’t interfere with other people’s business

This saying is something you can use when you are tired of getting unsolicited advice. If you are fed up with someone interfering in your business, you can use this phrase to say you want them to leave you to live your “own life”.

4. Cão que ladra não morde

Translation: Dog that barks does not bite

Meaning: All talk, no action

This is similar to the English saying “all bark and no bite”. Basically, this refers to an arrogant person who tries to intimidate others but is actually a coward or powerless. When confronted, they will back down.

5. Pulga atrás da orelha

Translation: Flea behind the ear

Meaning: To be suspicious

If you have a vague feeling of discomfort about a situation or a person, you have a “flea behind the ear” or a hunch that things are not as they seem. You are suspicious about someone’s intentions.

6. Macaquinhos na cabeca

Translation: Have little monkeys in the head

Meaning: To be suspicious

This is another Portuguese saying that refers to the vague feeling of discomfort or unease that you feel when something seems suspicious. You have an “inner voice” or “little monkeys” telling you that something is not right.

7. Vai Pentear macacos!

Translation: Go comb monkeys!

Meaning: Go away

If someone has annoyed or angered you to the point that you don’t want to see them anymore, you can use this phrase. It’s basically the same as saying “Get lost!” or “Drop dead!”.

8. Macacos me mordam!

Translation: Monkeys are biting me!

Meaning: I’m very curious

You might hear someone use this phrase referencing monkeys if they are impatiently waiting for news or for a surprise to be revealed.

6 Portuguese Sayings That Reference Body Parts

The following sayings make use of references for body parts. They are also a bit of a “study aid” they can help you remember what is the Portuguese word for a specific body part.

1. A mentira tem pernas curtas

Translation: The lie has short legs

Meaning: Liars get found out

This Portuguese saying cautions against lying and a “lie” has short legs. In other words, it can’t go far and you will be found out eventually.

2. Quem vê cara não vê coração.

Translation: Who sees face does not see the heart

Meaning: Don’t judge by appearances

This Portuguese saying imparts some wisdom about how looks can be deceiving. It’s the equivalent of an English speaker saying that you shouldn’t “judge a book by its cover”.

3. Queimar as pestanas

Translation: Burn the eyelashes

Meaning: Reads a lot

If you read a lot or want to say someone is a “bookworm” in Portuguese, this is the saying to use.

4. Acordar com os pés de fora

Translation: Wake up with the feet outside

Meaning: Wake up in a bad mood

This is Portuguese saying is similar to the idea of “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”. Instead of waking up rested and ready to face the day, you woke up in a bad mood.

5. João sem braço

Translation: John without arms

Meaning: Playing dumb

A Portuguese speaker will use this saying to describe someone who is “playing dumb”.

6. Tens mais olhos do que barriga

Meaning: You have more eyes than belly

Translation: You have too much food

If you piled your plate with food and are now unable to finish it, you might hear a Portuguese speaker say this. It’s basically similar to the idea that “your eyes are bigger than your stomach”.

7 Portuguese Sayings About Food and Eating

One of the great joys of life, in Portugal and elsewhere is eating. Given that, it shouldn’t be too surprising that there are a lot of Portuguese sayings about food.

1. Estar com os azeites

Translation: Be with the olive oils

Meaning: To be angry

If you want to say that someone is angry or in a bad mood use this Portuguese saying.

2. Cabeca d’Alho Chocho

Translation: Ahead of dry garlic 

Meaning: Distracted

If someone uses this Portuguese saying to describe someone, they are saying that their “head isn’t in the game”. They are not focused on the present or the task at hand but are distracted and thinking about other things. 

3. Quem come a carne que roa oss ossos

Translation: Who eats the meat, gnaws the bones

Meaning: Finish what you started

This saying is used to say that, once you’ve started something, you need to finish it.

4. Estás aqui estás a comer!

Translation: You’re here to eat!

Meaning: Behave

When someone uses this Portuguese saying, they are admonishing someone that they need to behave or “get a hold of themselves”. They are acting in a way that is inappropriate and making people angry.

5. Com papas e bolos se enganam os tolos

Translation: With porridge and cakes you fool the fools

Meaning: Don’t take the first offer

This Portuguese saying cautions you about making hasty decisions. Don’t jump at the first offer, see if you can get a few better concessions.

6. É de pequenino que se torce o pepino

Translation: It’s when it’s small that the cucumber is bent

Meaning: Good habits develop at a young age

This saying gives some insight into the Portuguese mindset about child-rearing. Basically, the belief that childhood experiences and lessons can shape your character.

7. Dá Deus nozes a quem não tem dentes

Translation: God gives nuts to those who don’t have teeth

Meaning: What a waste

You will hear this Portuguese saying used to refer to someone who squandered an opportunity or who didn’t appreciate a good thing when they had it.

10 Wise Portuguese Sayings to Guide You Through Life

Of course, most sayings in Portuguese are actually “words of wisdom” that can give you key insights into the hearts and minds of their speakers. Here are a few interesting ones.

1. Aqui se faz, aqui se paga

Translation: Here it is done, here it is paid

Meaning: Bad karma

If you hear this being said, someone is basically warning you that actions have consequences or that karma exists. Basically, it says that if someone acts badly, they themselves will eventually get treated badly. So the “fates” will get revenge for you. Conversely, it is also a warning about treating other people well, lest you want karma to come for you.

2. O que não mata, engorda

Translation: What doesn’t kill you fattens you up

Meaning: Enduring makes you strong

This is basically the Portuguese equivalent to the English saying “what does not kill you, makes you stronger”.

3. Águas passadas não movem moinho

Translation: Past waters don’t move the mill

Meaning: Don’t dwell on the past

This is a wise Portuguese saying about life that basically says that you shouldn’t dwell on the past. Similar to the English saying “water under the bridge”, a Portuguese speaker will use this to claim that they are no longer bothered about something and are ready to “move on”.

4. Não há fome que não de em fartura

Translation: There is no hunger that does not lead to abundance

Meaning: Better days will come

This Portuguese saying gives us an interesting glimpse into their character. They believe that, even if things are bleak now, they will always get better eventually.

5. Quem não arrisca não petisca.

Translation: Those who do not risk, do not have a snack

Meaning: Who dares, wins

This Portuguese saying about life basically advises people that you need to “dare” to do something. This is the advice that a Portuguese speaker will give you if you are dithering over a career move or even just saying “hi” to your crush.

6. Nem o que reluz é ouro

Translation: Not everything that shines is gold

Meaning: Don’t take things at face value

This is another wise saying that cautions against judging people by their looks. It also cautions against taking an opportunity that sounds too good to be true. When evaluating a person or an opportunity, look at it closely and try to go beyond that “good face” they initially present.

7. Para bom entendedor, meia palavra basta

Translation: To a good “understander”, half a word is enough

Meaning: Clever people will grasp the meaning quickly

This is used to say that, sometimes you don’t need to give a long explanation. If you can give a simple explanation, that will work. 

8. E melhor prevenir do que remediar

Translation: It is better to prevent than to mend

Meaning: Better to avoid a problem, it is easier than having to solve a problem

This is a cautionary piece of Portuguese wisdom against taking avoidable risks or putting yourself into a bad situation.

9. Mãos frias, coração quente

Translation: A cold hand, a warm heart

Meaning: Good-hearted

A Portuguese speaker uses this to “defend” someone who might not have made a good first impression. They are basically saying, that the person might not seem it initially, but they are actually kind and good-hearted.

10. Grão a grão enche a galinha o papo

Translation: Grain by grain the hen fills her belly

Meaning: Patience and perseverance pays off

This is another saying that provides an interesting insight into the Portuguese mindset. They believe that being patient and just “plugging along” will eventually add up to a success.

To expand your Portuguese vocabulary even further, consider these dynamic learning options:

Try Babbel’s fun, easy-to-follow lessons that fit effortlessly into your daily life.

For those desiring an in-depth study of Portuguese, check out Udemy’s extensive course that spans from essential vocabulary to sophisticated linguistic structures.

If you prefer a more interactive approach, enroll in Lingoda’s classes with native Portuguese speakers to enhance your speaking and comprehension skills.


Learning Portuguese sayings are not only important for you to be able to communicate with native speakers, but they can provide an interesting look at the Portuguese culture and the values that Portuguese speakers hold dear. 

To really gain fluency, you need to learn Portuguese sayings, expressions, and idioms. You should also try to learn Portuguese slang and even swear words.

Going through a list of Portuguese expressions such as this with a tutor will help you learn how to say them properly and use them appropriately. 

What are the funniest Portuguese sayings?

Engolir sapos. Translation: Swallow frogs. Meaning: Do something you don’t want to do; Cada macaco no seu galho. Translation: Each monkey to its own branch. Meaning: Don’t interfere with other people’s business; Macaquinhos na cabeca. Translation: Have little monkeys in the head. Meaning: To be suspicious

What does it mean "A mentira tem pernas curtas"?

Translation: The lie has short legs. Meaning: Liars get found out. This Portuguese saying cautions against lying and a “lie” has short legs. In other words, it can’t go far and you will be found out eventually.

What does it mean "Aqui se faz, aqui se paga"?

Translation: Here it is done, here it is paid. Meaning: Bad karma. If you hear this being said, someone is basically warning you that actions have consequences or that karma exists. Basically, it says that if someone acts badly, they themselves will eventually get treated badly. So the “fates” will get revenge for you. Conversely, it is also a warning about treating other people well, lest you want karma to come for you.

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