Idioms are wonderful because they make a language richer and so much more unique. However for non-natives, idioms can really be confusing because when they are literally translated they make absolutely no sense!
In European Portuguese there are hundreds of idioms that we use on a daily basis- some involving animals, food and body parts. Many of them sound pretty hilarious!
If you are learning EU Portuguese and want to learn some popular idioms so that you sound more fluent and authentic, you have reached the right place.
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How To Learn Portuguese Idioms
It can be quite hard to learn new idioms from textbooks and even in classroom settings. They mainly focus on grammar and tenses.
Another great way to pick up new idioms is to watch films and series in the target language. That’s where Lingopie comes in. On the Lingopie website you can find a variety of Portuguese movies, series, documentaries and more. By watching these, you can learn new popular idioms in the language (as they are mainly used when speaking!). It’s great, especially if you can’t be immersed in the language in-person.
But today we have put together a list of 16 commonly used idioms in Portuguese for you.
European Portuguese Idioms You Should Know
So, now let’s take a look at 16 popular European Portuguese idioms (some of these are also used in Brazilian Portuguese too). I have included some examples so that you can see how they are used exactly.
Tira o cavalinho da chuva
Literal translation: “Take the horse out of the rain”
What it means: In Portugal, this expression is used to express that something is not likely to happen, so there is no point in getting one’s hopes up! In English, we would say “Don’t hold your breath”.
Example: ‘Ela já tem namorado. Podes tirar o cavalinho da chuva’/ ‘She already has a boyfriend. Don’t hold your breath.’
São muitos anos a virar frangos
Literal translation: “It is many years flipping chickens”
What it means: This idiom is used when someone is an expert at something because they have been doing it for a very long time. When someone does a good job, it’s because they have many years experience ‘flipping chickens’- brilliant!
Example: ‘Rui, tu cozinhas muito bem!’ ‘Pois é, são muitos anos a virar frangos.’ / ‘ Rui, you’re a very good cook!’ ‘I know right, I have many years experience’.
Vai pentear macacos
Literal translation: “go and comb monkeys”
What it means: Telling someone to “vai pentear macacos” is simply telling someone to get lost! Perfect for when someone is being annoying or bothering you. It can be used in a friendly way with your loved ones. This expression is also used in some parts of Brazil.
Example: ‘Pára de me chatear. Vai pentear macacos./ ‘Stop bothering me. Get lost!’
Ter muita lata (Tu tens muita lata)
Literal translation: “to have a lot of cans”
What it means: “Ter muita lata” means to “have a lot of nerve”. It’s a great phrase to use to describe someone who is completely shameless in their actions.
Example: ‘Ela usou o meu dinheiro todo. É preciso ter muita lata!’/ ‘She used all my money. You’ve got to have a lot of nerve!’
Bater as botas
Literal translation: “beating the boots”
What it means: Very simply, ‘bater as botas’ means to die! In English we have the expression ‘to kick the bucket’ which I think is very similar.
Example: ‘O nosso vizinho bateu as botas enquanto dormia’/ Our neighbour kicked the bucket (died) whilst he was sleeping.’
Dar o braço a torcer
Literal translation: “to give one’s arm to be twisted”
What it means: This expression means to be very firm in one’s decision and to not change one’s mind very easily. Perfect to describe someone who is extremely stubborn.
Example: ‘Ele é uma pessoa muito difícil, nunca vai dar o braço a torcer!’ ‘ He is a very difficult person, he’ll never give in!’
Meter a pata na poça
Literal translation: to put the paw in the puddle
What it means: In English we have the expression ‘I’ve put my foot in it’ which is a perfect equivalent to this. It means to make a mess of something or to make a huge mistake.
Example: ‘Insultei o meu patrão. Desta vez meti mesmo a pata na poça’ / ‘I insulted my boss. This time I really put my foot in it.’
Está para nascer um burro
Literal translation: “a donkey is about to be born”
What it means: I love this idiom, it is so funny. It is used to refer to a situation that is so unusual that it is almost impossible to believe.
Example: “O João está a fazer a cama. Deve estar para nascer um burro!”/ John is making the bed. A donkey is about to be born. (John never usually makes the bed)
Estar feito ao bife
Literal translation: “to be done to the steak”
What it means: If a Portuguese person tells you that you are ‘feito ao bife’ it definitely means that you are in some sort of trouble or in a tricky situation. In English we might say ‘I’m screwed’.
Example: ‘Atropelei o gato do vizinho. Acho que estou feito ao bife.’ ‘I ran over the neighbor 's cat. I think I’m screwed.’
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Cair em si
Literal translation: “to fall into oneself”
What it means: This is a great Portuguese expression to express coming to one’s senses. It’s used when someone realizes they have made a mistake or becomes conscious about something that has happened.
Example: “Ela caiu em si e deixou o marido abusivo.”/ ‘She came to her senses and left her abusive husband.’
Vira o disco e toca o mesmo
Literal translation: “turn the record and play the same song”
What it means: This Portuguese idiom is used to describe someone who repeats everything they say or is always saying or doing the same thing. In English we say something along the lines of ‘it’s the same old story.’
Quem tem boca vai a Roma
Literal translation: “who has mouth goes to Rome”
What it means: This idiom means something along the lines of ‘if you ask for directions or help, you will always find the way’. Or ‘if you search (ask for it), you will find it’. Essentially, it is saying that you should use your voice to ask for what you want (as this is how you get to places in life)!
Sometimes in English we say ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get’ which is very similar.
Passar das marcas
Literal translation: “to cross the lines”
What it means: ‘Passar das marcas’ means to take something too far, to not behave appropriately, or to break the rules. In English we sometimes say “to get out of line”.
Example: ‘Desta vez ela passou mesmo das marcas.”/ ‘This time she really crossed the line.’
Pôr o rabo entre as pernas
Literal translation: “to put one’s tail between one’s legs”
What it means: This expression is used to describe someone who is a coward, who feels ashamed of something or even who feels scared (dogs put their tails between their legs when afraid which is probably where this expression comes from).
Example: ‘Disse-lhe o que tinha para dizer e ele saiu com o rabo entre as pernas’/ ‘I told him what I had to say and he left with his tail between his legs (he felt ashamed/ he chickened out)’
Sem papas na língua
Literal translation: “Without mushy food on the tongue”
What it means: ‘Sem papas na língua’ is an idiom used to describe someone who is extremely outspoken, and unafraid to speak what is on their mind. In English we can say that the person ‘doesn’t beat around the bush’.
Example: ‘O meu filho não tem papas na língua. Ele diz as coisas como são.’/ ‘My son doesn’t beat around the bush. He says things exactly as they are.’
Não bater certo (Isso não bate certo)
Literal translation: “to not hit right”
What it means: This expression is used when something doesn’t add up, or something doesn’t quite sound right.
Example: ‘Ela contou-me uma história e ele contou-me uma história completamente diferente. Qualquer coisa aí não bate certo…’/ ‘She told me one story and he told me a completely different story. Something there doesn’t quite add up…’
So there we have 16 commonly used European Portuguese idiomatic expressions. Were you familiar with any of these? Of course there are plenty more but we would be here all day listing them all.
Using idiomatic expressions is one of the best ways to begin sounding authentic Portuguese. If you go to a Portuguese speaking country you will see how frequently natives use them on a daily basis!
If you want to become familiar with more Portuguese idioms, watching movies and series in the target language is an optimal way to do this. Remember that with Lingopie, there is a large selection on offer. To make things easier, every show comes with subtitles in both English and Portuguese, so that you don’t get lost along the way!