5 fun Brazilian Portuguese phrases (& what they mean)

November 10, 2023

Discover these 5 fun Brazilian Portuguese phrases – and what they mean in English

Have you ever, when learning Portuguese, heard a Brazilian Portuguese phrase 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! 

Just like in Spanish, or any other language for that matter, we Brazilians love to use our most common idiomatic expressions to add a bit of flair to 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 essential Brazilian Portuguese expressions by introducing you to your new imaginary best friend, Fernanda. 

Imagine your friend Fernanda is a real gem. She’s brilliant and caring, and you love hanging out with her…

Add these 5 fun Brazilian Portuguese phrases to your vocabulary

1. Colocar a mão no fogo por alguém 

Literal translation: to put one’s hand in the fire for someone

English equivalent: to do anything for someone

You’ve just entrusted Fernanda with some top-secret information. It reminds you how trustworthy and lovely she is, and how you’d do anything for her. 

In Brazil, we’d say:

Eu colocaria a mão no fogo por ela.

I’d do anything for her.

Obviously we don’t mean it literally – putting your hand in the fire is a little extreme! It’s just an expression we use to show how much we trust someone.

2. Segurar vela

Literal translation: to hold a candle

English equivalent: to be a third wheel

So now Fernanda’s got a new boyfriend, but you still want to hang out with her, right?  

Well, be prepared to..“segurar vela”.

Segurar vela

To be the third wheel

In Brazil, “segurar vela” describes that sometimes awkward act of gatecrashing quality time of two of your favourite lovebirds. 

3. Dar um bolo 

Literal translation: to give a cake

English equivalent: to stand somebody up

No, sadly your good friend Fernanda did not turn up at your door with a cake. Here’s what actually happened: Fernanda forgot she was supposed to meet you, and went out with her boyfriend instead. You turned up none the wiser, as she didn’t message you to cancel.

Deu um bolo.

She stood me up. 

Bad form, Fernanda! We don’t approve of no-shows.

4. Pisar na bola

Literal translation: to step on the ball

English equivalent: to screw up

You (quite rightly!) aren’t thrilled with the fact that Fernanda deu um bolo, and you confront her. 

Você pisou na bola.

You screwed up.

This is the perfect Portuguese expression to use in Brazil if you don’t agree with something someone has done or said.

5. Dar o braço a torcer

Literal translation: to give your arm to be twisted

English equivalent: to eat a slice of humble pie

Fernanda’s had some time to think and now feels awful for having stood you up. 

She admits she was wrong. In other words:

Deu o braço a torcer. 

She ate a slice of humble pie. 

With her arms thoroughly twisted (or no more humble pie left to eat!), Fernanda promises she’ll never do it again. You hug and make up, and your friendship is restored!

I’ll leave the every-so-slightly cheesy story with Fernanda there – one row is enough for one day.

If you’re curious about other Brazilian Portuguese expressions that would go down a treat with locals,  there are too many to count.

To name a few, we’ve got:

  • quebrar um galho

Literal translation:  to break a wooden stick 

English equivalent: to do someone a favour

  •  lavar as mãos

  Literal translation: to wash your hands

English equivalent: to not to anything about something

  •  lavar as mãos

Literal translation: to make a storm in a glass of water

English equivalent: to exaggerate

But I could be here for hours. 

If you’d like to find out more about Portuguese in Brazil and our idiomatic sayings, why not try our app’s (Brazilian) Portuguese course

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