Grammar Tips (#22): Foreign place names in EP

Foreign place names are one of the trickiest things for a learner to assimilate, since all languages have different ways of adapting place names into their own lexicon, and most of those are associated with the country and language’s specific history and relation to those locations.

Here are a few tips regarding foreign place names in European Portuguese:

#1: Names of cities in Europe are more prone to being changed, especially when 1) the original name of the city doesn’t fit Portuguese pronunciation/spelling; 2) the location has historical relevance enough to be changed through common use.

Examples of this are:

  • La Coruña > (A) Corunha
  • Den Haag (The Hague) > (A) Haia
  • Amsterdam > Amesterdão
  • Rotterdam > Roterdão
  • Antwerp > Antuérpia
  • Avignon > Avinhão
  • Praha (Prague) > Praga
  • Warszawa (Warsaw) > Varsóvia
  • London > Londres
  • Wien (Vienna) > Viena
  • Milan (Milano) > Milão
  • Philadelphia > Filadélfia

#2: Names that don’t get changed fit two similar and interconnected patterns: 1) the name fits Portuguese pronunciation/spelling; 2) either the city is extremely important to Portugal (historically), or not at all.

  • Madrid (but Bagdade)
  • Barcelona
  • Paris
  • Roma
  • Astana
  • Antananarivo
  • Goa

#3: Place names containing at least one common noun (islands), adjective (new, old) and/or if they’re named after a landmark (New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, New York) are usually translated in full; however, people’s names in placenames aren’t usually translated.

  • New Caledonia > [a] Nova Caledónia
  • New Zealand > [a] Nova Zelândia
  • Papua New Guinea > [a] Papua Nova Guiné
  • New York > Nova Iorque
  • Marshall Islands: [as] Ilhas Marshall
  • Cook Islands: [as] Ilhas Cook
  • Bismarck Archipelago: [o] arquipélago de Bismarck
  • Maldives: [as] (ilhas) Maldivas

#4: Names of seas (not oceans or lakes), archipelagos, straits, gulfs, bays, peninsulas, deserts need de [“of”] after their designations if they are named after another noun (person or landmark); no preposition is required when they are named after adjectives (colors, features, etc.).

  • Mediterranean Sea > [o] Mar Mediterrâneo (or simply [o] Mediterrâneo).
  • Red Sea > [o] Mar Vermelho
  • Sea of Japan > [o] Mar do Japão
  • Azores Archipelago > [o] arquipélago dos Açores (or simply [os] Açores).
  • Madeira Archipelago > [o] arquipélago da Madeira (or simply [a] Madeira).
  • Chagos Archipelago > [o] arquipélago de Chagos


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