Phoneme and letter in the Portuguese Alphabet

Phoneme and letter represent respectively the sounds (speaking) and the graphic signs (writing). Phonemes are the sound units that make up the speech and letters, are the graphic signs that make writing possible. Together and in an a certain sequence and form, letters make up the alphabet.

Example 1

coçar = 5 letras

/k/ /o/ /s/ /a/ /r/ = 5 fonemas

Example 2

máximo = 6 letras

/m/ /á/ /s/ /i/ /m/ /o/ = 6 fonemas

Although the number of phoenems and letters coincide in many words, it is not always the case.

Exemplo 1:

acesso = 6 letras

/a/ /c/ /e/ /s/ /o/ = 5 fonemas

Exemplo 2:

chute = 5 letras

/x/ /u/ /t/ /e/ = 4 fonemas

How are Phoenems classified?

We can classify these by vowels, consonants and semi-vowels ( vogais, consoantes e semivogais).

Vogais / Vowels

Are all sounds issued without obstacles only throuth the mounth (a, e, i , o, u), or by the mouth and the nasal cavities (ã, ẽ, ĩ, õ, ũ).


pia, ando, cesto, quero, lente, li, lindo, sonho, avó, som, susto, untar.

Consoantes / Consonants

Consonants find obstacles during its passage throughthe mouth, hence, they always need to be followed by vowels.


base, deduzir, falar, pedaço, redigir, sintetizar.

Semivogais / Semi Vowels

Semi vowels are the /i/ e /u/ phoenems that appear together with a vowel, forming a syllabus. Its important to note that, while vowels are essential in the formation of syllabus, semi vowels aren't.


cárie, mau, pais, rei, seita, venceu.

Letras / Letters G and J

Letters G and J may represent the same phoenem when they are next to the vowels E and I: ge = je and gi = ji.

Example 1:

singelo = 7 letras

/s/ /ĩ/ /j/ /e/ /l/ /o/ = 6 fonemas

Example 2:

refúgio = 7 letras

/r/ /e/ /f/ /ú/ /j/ /i/ /o/ = 7 fonemas

Letra / Letter H

In the begining of the word, the letter H is not a phoneme.

Example 1:

harpa = 5 letras

/a/ /r/ /p/ /a/ = 4 fonemas

Example 2:

hoje = 4 letras

/o/ /j/ /e/ = 3 fonemas

Letras / Letters M and N

Whereas letters M and N have a nasal function, they aren't considered phonemes.

Example 1:

campo = 5 letras

/k/ /ã/ /p/ /o/ = 4 fonemas

Example 2:

atento = 6 letras

/a/ /t/ /ẽ/ /t/ /o/ = 5 fonemas

Whereas letters M and N don't have a nasal function, they are considered phonemes.

Example 1:

navio = 5 letras

/n/ /a/ /v/ /i/ /o/ = 5 fonemas

Example 2:

soma = 4 letras

/s/ /o/ /m/ /a/ = 4 fonemas

Letra / Letter X

The letter X may represent the phonemes /s/, /z/ e /ks/.

Example 1:

sexto = 5 letras

/s/ /e/ s/ /t/ /o/ = 5 fonemas

Example 2:

exalar = 6 letras

/e/ /z/ /a/ /l/ /a/ /r/ = 6 fonemas

Example 3:

fixo = 4 letras

/f/ /i/ /k/ /s/ /o/ = 5 fonemas

Dígrafos or Consonantic sounds

Besides the above letters, we also find consonantic sounds in the Portuguese Language. This means that two letters together issue one phoneme.


ch: chuva /x/ /u/ /v/ /a/

nh: arranhar /a/ /rr/ /a/ /nh/ /a/ /r/

qu: quindim /k/ /ĩ/ /d/ /ĩ/

rr: aborrecer /a/ /b/ /o/ /rr/ /e/ /c/ /e/ /r/

sc: nascer /n/ /a/ /c/ /e/ /r/

Do you feel brave enough to try some exercices?

Exercícios / exercices

1. In which of the words below we can find more letters then phonemes?

a) achado b) táxi c) cadeira d) surpresa e) redigir

Answer: a achado = 6 letras

/a/ /x/ /a/ /d/ /o/ = 5 fonemas

Following alternatives: b: táxi = 4 letras

/t/ /á/ /k/ /s/ /i/ = 5 fonemas

c: cadeira = 7 letras

/c/ /a/ /d/ /e/ /i/ /r/ /a/ = 7 fonemas

d: surpresa = 8 letras

/s/ /u/ /r/ /p/ /r/ /e/ /z/ /a/ = 8 fonemas

e: redigir = 7 letras

/r/ /e/ /d/ /i/ /j/ /i/ /r/ = 7 fonemas

2. Identify the letters and the phonemes below:

a) habilidoso


habilidoso = 10 letras

/a/ /b/ /i/ /l/ /i/ /d/ /o/ /z/ /o/ = 9 fonemas

b) andar


andar = 5 letras

/ã/ /d/ /a/ /r/ = 4 fonemas

c) nascimento


nascimento = 10 letras

/n/ /a/ /c/ /i/ /m/ /ẽ/ /t/ /o/ = 8 fonemas

d) gabar


gabar = 5 letras

/g/ /a/ /b/ /a/ /r/ = 5 fonemas

e) exílio


exílio = 6 letras

/e/ /z/ /í/ /l/ /i/ /o/ = 6 fonemas

f) hipótese


hipótese = 8 letras

/i/ /p/ /ó/ /t/ /e/ /z/ /e/ = 7 fonemas

g) mundo


mundo = 5 letras

/m/ /ũ/ /d/ /o/ = 4 fonemas

h) osso


osso = 4 letras

/o/ /s/ /o/ = 3 fonemas