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Unravelling Portuguese Expressions: 5 Surprising Differences from English

Learning a new language often involves discovering unique expressions that don't have direct equivalents in your native tongue and even the best translators can leave you puzzled. Portuguese is no exception, and it's filled with intriguing idiomatic expressions that can add depth to your language skills. In this blog post, we'll explore five common Portuguese expressions that may leave you pleasantly surprised. We'll provide explanations and examples to help you understand their meanings.

1. "Puxar a brasa para a sardinha"

Literal translation: "To pull the ember for the sardine"

Meaning: This phrase is used when someone is promoting their own interests or trying to benefit from a situation.


- Ele sempre puxa a brasa para a sardinha dele durante as reuniões da equipe.

He always promotes his own interests during team meetings.

- Em vez de trabalhar em equipe, eles só querem puxar a brasa para a sua sardinha.

Instead of working as a team, they only want to look out for their own interests.

- Ele está sempre puxando a brasa para a sua sardinha, não importa o que aconteça.

He's always looking out for his own interests, no matter what happens.

2. "Estar com a pulga atrás da orelha"

Literal translation: "To have the flea behind the ear."

Meaning: This expression indicates suspicion or doubt about someone or something.


- Ele sempre está com a pulga atrás da orelha quando se trata de negócios.

He's always suspicious when it comes to business.

- Ela estava com a pulga atrás da orelha sobre as intenções dele desde o início.

She had doubts about his intentions from the beginning.

- Não sei por que, mas estou com a pulga atrás da orelha sobre essa oferta.

I don't know why, but I have doubts about this offer.

3. "Queimar as pestanas"

Literal translation: To burn the eyelashes

Meaning: To study or work hard, often late into the night.


- Ele queimou as pestanas estudando para o exame final.

He burned the midnight oil studying for the final exam.

- Estou queimando as pestanas para terminar este relatório antes do prazo.

I'm working hard to finish this report before the deadline.

- Queimar as pestanas é necessário às vezes para alcançar seus objetivos acadêmicos. Burning the midnight oil is necessary sometimes to achieve your academic goals.

4. "Ficar a ver navios"

Literal translation: To be left seeing ships

Meaning: To be disappointed or let down when expecting something that doesn't happen.


- Cheguei tarde e fiquei a ver navios, pois o filme já tinha começado.

I arrived late and was disappointed because the movie had already started.

- Ele esperava encontrar seu amigo no aeroporto, mas seu amigo não apareceu, deixando-o a ver navios.

He expected to meet his friend at the airport, but his friend didn't show up, leaving him disappointed.

- A equipe trabalhou duro no projeto, mas o cliente desistiu no último minuto, e eles ficaram a ver navios.

The team worked hard on the project, but the client backed out at the last minute, and they were let down.

5. "Encher o saco"

Literal translation: To fill the bag

Meaning: To annoy or bother someone.


- Ele não para de falar, está me enchendo o saco.

He won't stop talking; he's getting on my nerves.

- Não encha o saco dele enquanto ele estiver concentrado no trabalho.

Don't bother him while he's focused on work.

- Ela estava tentando relaxar na praia, mas vendedores ambulantes continuavam a encher o saco para comprar produtos.

She was trying to relax at the beach, but street vendors kept bothering her to buy products.

These expressions showcase the richness and diversity of the Portuguese language. Learning them not only enhances your language skills but also provides insights into the culture and thought processes of Portuguese speakers. Don't forget to follow our Instagram page @portugueselanguagecentre for more fascinating language tips, videos, and posts to help you on your language-learning journey. Happy exploring!

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