This article focuses on the pronunciation of Portuguese words containing the letter s. The distinctive shh sound that can often be heard in conversations is explained here, with tips on learning the “dos and don’ts” and a fun tongue twister exercise to help students on their way to better pronouncing words containing the letter s.




Don’t be misled by the title, you haven’t mistakenly clicked on the lyrics to a Björk song, nor are you being asked to be quiet while learning a language. Now that would be something! It’s actually the contrary. Speaking loudly and clearly with confident delivery may be part of your learning objectives, but there are several aspects you should consider first to effectively achieve this. One of them is pronunciation.


Don’t get too caught up in mastering vocabulary, grammar, and all else that comes with learning a new language without paying close attention to pronunciation. This shouldn’t just be considered after you’ve nailed a broad array of ‘must-know’ words. To help you on your way to speaking like a true native, pronunciation should be learned on a “practice as you learn” basis.


Sounds obvious right? However, you’d be surprised how many students decide to focus solely on reaching ‘conversational level’ as quickly as possible without caring so much about their pronunciation. Many even think, “If it’s good enough for you to make out what I am saying, then it’s good enough for me”. As much as this isn’t necessarily a huge problem at first (depending on why you are learning the language), it’s definitely not the best way to go about it, since looking at this process as a race will only lead to poor results.



Throw curiosity, attention to detail, and fun into the mix!


There are many ins and outs when it comes to pronouncing words in European Portuguese, but in this article we will focus solely on the s sound.


During your journey of learning Portuguese, you might have already noticed an excessive amount of shh sounds at the end or middle of certain words. It almost sounds as if someone is whispering a secret into someone else’s ear right? Only it’s being done out loud.


If you are one of those students that is curious about everything and loves to ask why? and what?, then well done! You’ve probably already questioned this recurring sound, why it comes up so much, and why it is so accentuated in certain words. If you haven’t yet noticed this, then you should probably set some time aside to listen to a few Portuguese podcasts or even a soap opera if you dare. See if you can hear this characteristic in the pronunciation of words containing the letter s.


Generally, the shh sound can be heard whenever a word has s at the end or when the s is before a consonant other than s itself.


So for example, the following are pronounced with the shh sound where s appears:



1. At the end of a word


  • Fatos (Fah-toosh) / Suits
  • Laços (Lah-soosh) / Bows
  • Quartos (Kwar-toosh) / Rooms
  • Ratos (Rah-toosh) / Rats
  • Reis (Reh-ish) / Kings
  • Roupas (Rouh-pash) / Clothes
  • Luzes (Loo-zesh) / Lights



2. Before a consonant other than itself


  • Hospital (Oh-sh-pee-tahl) / Hospital
  • Hóspede (Oh-sh-peh-deh) / Guest
  • Mascara (Mash-cah-rah) / Masc
  • Festa (Fesh-ta) / Party
  • Lesma (Lesh-ma) / Slug
  • Triste (trish-teh) / Sad
  • Frasco (Frash-coo) / Flask
  • Fresco (Fresh-coo) / Fresh


Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the sweet sounding shh’s which will often pop up in conversations, try it out yourself. Don’t wait for the opportunity to arise; be proactive and practice as often as possible! Also, be sure to have fun while you’re at it. On that note, why not try some good old Portuguese tongue twisters?


Below are some popular Portuguese tongue twisters (also translated for your reading pleasure). You might want to try them out with your teacher or even challenge a Portuguese-speaking friend to say them out loud rapidly and clearly. And remember, shhhhhhh!



Trava Línguas Portugueses (Portuguese Tongue Twisters)


Although not very long, these Portuguese tongue twister are bound to have you banging your head against the wall after a few frustrating attempts:


  1. Três pratos de trigo para três tristes tigres. Three plates of wheat for three sad tigers.
  2. O rato roeu as rolhas das garrafas do rei da Rússia. The rat nibbled the bottle corks of Russia’s King.
  3. Um tigre, dois tigres, três tigres comem trigo de um trago. One tiger, two tigers, three tigers swallow wheat.
  4. Um limão, mil limões, um milhão de limões. One lemon, a thousand lemons, a million lemons.
  5. Os naturistas são naturalmente naturais por natureza. Naturalists are naturally natural by nature.
  6. Em uma casa tem quatro quartos. Em cada quarto tem quatro quadros. E cada quadro é quadrado. Quantos quadros quadrados tem na casa? In a house there are four rooms. In each room there are four frames. And each frame is squared. How many squared frames does the house have?


Want to make sure you’re pronouncing the above correctly? Then be sure to check out this video tutorial. Remember, practice makes perfect so don’t give up. Have fun practicing!


Hero image by Alex Blăjan on Unsplash