5 Brazilian expressions that will make you sound fluent


Have you ever, when learning a language, heard an expression that didn’t make any sense to you – yet all the locals seemed to have understood it perfectly? Well, if you go to Brazil, you’ll hear lots of them! We love to use our popular expressions to sum up what we’re saying, and, as crazy as they may seem, they actually make a lot of sense! So let’s put things into context: I’m going to show you some of our expressions by introducing you to our new imaginary best friend, Fernanda. Fernanda is very caring and we love hanging out with her! 

1. Colocar a mão no fogo por alguém (to put one’s hand in the fire for someone)

Fernanda is trustworthy and we think she is a lovely person. In Brazil, we’d say “Eu colocaria a mão no fogo por ela.” (lit. “I’d put my hand in the fire for her.”) Obviously we don’t mean it literally, this is just a way of metaphorically exemplifying how much we trust someone.

2. Segurar vela (to hold a candle)

So now Fernanda’s got a new boyfriend, but you still want to hang out with her, right? Well, be prepared to “segurar vela” (lit. to hold a candle). In Brazil, “segurar vela” means to hang out with a couple when you are single.

3. Dar um bolo (to give a cake)

Oh, no! Although we all love cakes, this is actually a bad thing! If Fernanda forgot she was supposed to meet you and went out with her boyfriend instead, you’d say that she “deu um bolo”  or she “gave you a cake”. We say this when someone doesn’t show up to something they had previously agreed to without letting the other person know either. Very rude!

4. Pisar na bola (to step on the ball)

You don’t like the fact that Fernanda “deu um bolo” so you might say, “Você pisou na bola.” (lit. You stepped on the ball.) This is the best way to express that you don’t agree with someone’s actions or words if they do or say something you’re not happy about.

5. Dar o braço a torcer (to give your arm to be twisted)

Fernanda now recognises that “dar um bolo” wasn’t a nice thing to do. So, she “deu o braço a torcer” (lit. gave her arm to be twisted), which means she’s admitted that she was wrong and has changed her mind. By doing this, she promises to never do it again, so now the friendship is restored!

Well, as I like reconciliations, I’ll leave this story with Fernanda here for now. There are many more expressions, such as “quebrar um galho” (lit. to break a wooden stick –  to do someone a favour), “lavar as mãos” (lit. to wash your hands – to not do anything about something), and “fazer uma tempestade em copo d’água” (lit. to make a storm in a glass of water – to exaggerate in something), but I guess I could be here for hours talking about them, so if you’d like to find out more about (Brazilian) Portuguese and our expressions, why not try our (Brazilian) Portuguese course?

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Juliana is the Head of Research and Senior Portuguese Language Expert. She was born in Minas Gerais in Brazil where she studied Social Communication and Journalism. Later she studied Portuguese Literature and Language and did an MA in Digital Media, Culture and Education and another one in Management. When she’s not studying, she loves dogs, travelling and dancing! Her favourite food is pão de queijo (that’s Brazilian cheese balls if you didn’t already know!)


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