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  5. How to pronounce nh, lh, ão, …


How to pronounce nh, lh, ão, and ãe?

I can't seem to figure out how to pronounce these four combinations of letters... can anyone help?

I think I've got nh... it seems to be kind of like a y sound in English. In English, an n sound involves touching your tongue to the roof of your mouth. In Portuguese, it seems like you get really close to touching, but you don't actually touch. Like in espanhol, that seems to be one example of this. Admittedly, senhora kind of destroys my theory with its g-like sound in the middle. But, senhora still doesn't involve any tongue touching, so maybe it still works.

For lh (as in lhes, espelho, etc.), I have no idea. Maybe it's just a normal l except more complicated?

Ão. Appearing in words as simple as pão, this sound was the first instance where I was absolutely dumbfounded. I think I've gotten the hang of it now, I think it's like the long o in English, just a little bit guttural.

And then my least favorite out of all these sounds, ãe. I haven't really seen this anywhere besides mãe and pãe, but it irks me to no end. My fluent friend claims that the ã and the e have a little bit of a stop between them (mãe would be pronounced my-ee in English phonetics, for example).

So, can anyone explain these sounds? Am I right? Am I way off? Please help!

April 1, 2018



Listen on Forvo to:

  • Amanhã

  • Mulher

  • Não

  • Mãe or Pãe

try to pronounce them

April 1, 2018


Very good website! It has famous names pronunciations.

April 6, 2018


Hey, I'm Brazilian and I found a lot of useful information in this topic. But I'd like to make some corrections that will improve your understanding of these sounds.

First of all, I don't know if it was a typo, but the word "pãe" doesn't exist. I guess you meant "pães", which is the plural form of "pão".

Second, if you have studied either Italian or French, the Portuguese "nh" sound is closer to their "gn" than to the Spanish "ñ".

Good luck with your studies and try to use Forvo as much as needed. I think it's very helpful.

April 2, 2018


I thought I remembered pãe from the same lesson as mãe, but maybe I was thinking of pai

Thanks for all the other advice; I haven't gotten too far into neither Italian nor French, but I'll probably come across the gn sound soon enough

April 4, 2018


Hi, I'm a native English speaker also learning Portuguese. I will try to approximate these Portuguese sounds in English for you.

'nh' is a rare sound in English. A few words that I can think of are oNIon uNIon and caNYon. Notice how your tongue is more back in the mouth and your lips are more open and wide then when you pronounce the letter 'n.' Say canyon and cannon a few time and take notice of your tongue and mouth positions when you pronounce the 'n.'

'lh' is another sound seldom found in English. The only approximate examples I could think of are million and billion. Again, notice how your tongue starts to move to the back of your mouth, as opposed to when you pronounce words like lamb or low.

ão & ãe: Unfortunately I can't help you much here as these nasal sounds don't exist in English. If you knew French or Polish you would be familiar with similar nasal vowels. Google translate and Forvo do a great job pronouncing these sounds. Just keep listening and eventually you'll get the hang of it. The key is that these sounds are pronounced with your nose. If you put your hand to your nose you will feel air coming out of it, because the velum blocks some of the airstream from coming out of the mouth, forcing it through the nose. In English we have 'm' and 'n' which are nasal consonants.

April 6, 2018


If you still need help after following the excellent advice you've already been given, try listening to these podcasts (and reading the associated transcripts):


These will be particularly helpful if you are familiar with Spanish but that's not essential.

April 1, 2018


I might give those a try - muito obrigado!

April 1, 2018

  • nh: indeed a nasalized y (when succeding a, e, i), or an in-between of ng and Spanish ñ (at the beginning of a word e.g. nhoque, or when succeding u, o)

  • people who say it is just like Spanish ñ either do not really know Spanish, do not pay attention to their own language, or have a thick borderland accent. we have an nh sound/ñ sound distinction: sonha (ng-ñ mix) vs Sônia (pure ñ sound)

  • lh: place the body of your tongue against your molar teeth and produce a y. you'll notice it will be l-like. the lh sound is when you begin an l with the blade of your tongue against your upper gum and finish the sound with the tongue-body-against-molars y trick. a pure y with tongue against molars is a palatal lateral approximant, but the Portuguese and Catalan are alveolo-palatal, that is, they are in-between the English l and this sound.

People don't realize that Brazilian Portuguese phonology really works like this:

  • x/ch/sh j/g: alveolo-palatal fricatives
  • tch dj ti di: alveolo-palatal affricates
  • lh: alveolo-palatal lateral approximant
  • ni+vowel following stressed syllable: alveolo-palatal nasal stop
  • nh: nasalized palatal approximant or post-palatal nasal stop/pre-velar nasal stop
May 25, 2018
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