Ask Luís! (#15): On the sound of word-ending nasal vowels + Text revision

Hello, everyone! Olá a todos!

It’s been a long time since someone asked me a question through the Q&A Form, but I’m glad to be back – hopefully it’s something that can be of help to all of you! Today’s question is from Ben – his message went as follows:

Olá, Luís! Muito obrigado por este sito! Aprendo tanto quando leio os teus postagens!

Tenho uma questão sobre a pronúncia dos vogais nasais. Sei que “am” e “em” se pronunciam nasalmente quando ficam no fim duma palavra. Isto é mesmo quando a palavra seguinda começa com um vogal? Ou se pronuncia o “m”? Alguns exemplos: O homem arrogante… Eles falam apesar de… Elas queriam acabar…

Espero que a minha questão é clara! Também queria que correte a minha gramática se tu podes!

Muito obrigado, Luís!



My answer, as always, can be found just after the jump (:

Hey, Ben! Thank you so much for the kind words of support! I hope you’re already acquainted with the blog’s pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon. Make you check them all out to get the most out of your European Portuguese learning experience!

To answer your question, words ending in nasal vowels don’t really lose their nasal quality based on whether another (oral) vowel follows. In all the examples you quoted, the ending sound (a nasal diphthong) is pronounced nasally, then followed by the corresponding sound that starts the word. In the standard speech, the nasal sound remains unchanged regardless of what follows, so there isn’t a case of sandhi (the linguistical term for sound changes on the boundaries of words).

Pronunciation of the sentences on your list (using IPA; final nasal sounds in bold)

O homem arrogante – u ˈɔmɐ̃j̃  ɐʀuɡˈɐ̃tɘ

Eles falam apesar de – elɘʃ  fˈalɐ̃w̃  ɐpɘzˈaɾ  dɘ

Elas queriam acabar – ˈɛlɐʃ  kɘɾˈiɐ̃w̃  ɐkɐbˈaɾ

Regarding these word final nasals, what you may find is a “reanimation” of a corresponding oral sound (usually /n/ or /m/) in related words/verb forms if the syllable that contains the nasal sound stops being the last one, or if it becomes surrounded by vowels (which breaks the nasal aspect of the syllable). For example, if with [eles] falam you have a nasal diphthong at the end because -am is part of the same syllable, with [nós] falamos you have a separation between the -a- and the -m- (the syllable break is FA-LA-MOS), hence you have a consonantal /m/ sound, and no nasal aspect to the preceding A (which becomes an oral vowel). Also, many words related to homem have this change as well, like humano (from Latin humanus), humanidade, desumano, desumanidade,

That’s not to say that common, fast spoken European Portuguese is not rife with changes in the sounds of words at their boundaries (i.e. the ending of one and the beginning of the next). We’re quite the masters of gobbling up syllables and twisting sounds when words meet! (The case of is quite special, as I’ve mentioned in a Grammar Tips article from last year, but we do it with vowels as well) If you feel comfortable enough with your Portuguese, feel free to read this article to learn more about this phenomenon (or at least to get an idea of the sound changes involved, since there are a lot of sound clips in there – I’ll hopefully find some time to turn all this information into an English-language article in the future).

Text revision

You asked for it, so here goes – my “as best as possible” revision of your work

Olá, Luís! Muito obrigado por este sito[sítio/site]! Aprendo tanto quando leio os teusas tuas postagens!

Tenho uma questão sobre a pronúncia dosdas vogais nasais. Sei que “am” e “em” se pronunciam nasalmente quando ficam no fim duma [de uma] palavra. Isto é[acontece/ocorre] mesmo quando a palavra seguida começa com uma vogal? Ou pronuncia-se o “m”? Alguns exemplos: O homem arrogante… Eles falam apesar de… Elas queriam acabar…

Espero que a minha questão é seja [tenha sido] clara! Também queria que corretecorrigisses a minha gramática se [tu] podes puderes!

Muito obrigado, Luís!


That was a really good effort, Ben! There are some things you’re doing really well (verb forms in the present indicative), some that are more hit and miss (the gender of some words, which is completely normal) and others that need some extra attention (the uses of the subjunctive, which really are terribly tricky, so don’t worry about it).

Just some quick notes to guide your revision later:

  • In European Portuguese, we commonly use the words [o] site and [o] post for the Internet terms (we even pronounce them closely to English, following some English rules – “site” with the “i” as in eye, and “post” with the /st/ sound that doesn’t naturally occur in standard EP pronunciation). That said, the words [o] sítio [da Internet] (if you need to specify, since sítio can mean just “a place”) and [a] postagem are just as good, and “more Portuguese” alternatives to the borrowings we tend to use in our daily lives. If you want to learn more about the gender of words related to technology and the Internet, please read this article I wrote about that subject.
  • European Portuguese is more lenient with the merger of de + article than it is with other compounds. This means can write either duma or de uma (I generally use the latter), but with em you should almost always use the forms with n- (num/numa, never em um / em uma like Brazilians do).
  • Be careful with similar words with different spelling (and therefore pronunciation): seguinte (next, followinghas a nasal sound in there, while seguido/a (followed/pursued [by]) does not.
  • Espero que… [i.e. when “esperar que” is in the present] is always followed by a verb in the present subjunctive. That’s a pretty easy rule once you know it, and it might help you learn the present subjunctive easier if you memorize it like that (believe me, even native speakers like myself have to do some mental acrobatics to know how to use the subjunctive properly, it’s perfectly normal not to get it right at first)!
  • Tenha sido is just the indirect [reported] speech correspondent of seja, using either one is fine.
  • Queria que… is in the imperfect [indicative], so the verb that follows goes to the imperfect subjunctive. The same train of thought works for Espero que… above, and the rule I gave for it above also applies if you’re using querer que… in the present (that is… quero que + present subjunctive; and esperava que + imperfect subjunctive). This happens because these are subjunctive constructs, i.e. even though they are in the indicative, they are used to introduce requests, desires, pleas, hopes, etc.
  • Here, I used se puderes (that is, se + future subjunctive) since it’s a hope/request projected into the future (if eventually you can, if you find the time). You could also use the imperfect subjunctive (which can sometimes be used to ask something more politely, similar to English If you could…), but since I had already used it with corrigir it just wouldn’t feel right.

Best of luck with your studies! Continuação de bons estudos!


2 thoughts on “Ask Luís! (#15): On the sound of word-ending nasal vowels + Text revision

  1. Ben November 20, 2017 / 7:32 pm

    Muito obrigado pela tua resposta, Luís!

    Thanks for your corrections and your thorough explanation! I will definitely work on my subjunctive! Having gotten pretty advanced in French before starting to learn Portuguese, learning how the subjunctive is used differently in the two languages has always been a challenge. In French, “espérer” (= esperar) does not take the subjunctive in affirmative sentences, and “aimerais” (= queria) takes the present subjunctive, not the past. There are more differences than I previously thought, but it will definitely be a good thing for me to work on in the future!

    I actually saw your article about Internet vocabulary just after I sent in my question :)

    Again, thanks for this site! I am just starting to learn Portuguese again after quite a long break, and I can’t stress enough how helpful this has been!

    Muito obrigado!

    Liked by 1 person

    • luisdomingos November 20, 2017 / 10:50 pm

      De nada, Ben! Yes, there are quite some differences between the French and Portuguese subjunctives, so it’s not always easy to transpose some French construct into Portuguese (but there are some very similar structures as well). That said, it helps knowing about the subjunctive, what it is and how it’s used :) If you’re interested in practicing your written EP, grammar and vocab, I’ve just set up a private chatroom where all my students and readers can chat, ask questions to each other, and help motivate one another! If you’re interested in joining, please hit me up on FB, Twitter, or send me a message to ;) Continuação de bons estudos!

      Liked by 1 person

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