Portuguese vs. Italian : Are they similar languages or not at all?

Portuguese and Italian are both Romance languages which have evolved from Latin, the ancient language of the Roman Empire.

Portuguese vs Italian vocabulary

In linguistics, lexical similarity is a statistic which indicates how similar two languages are in terms of their vocabulary.

Portuguese and Italian are more similar in their vocabulary than either of these languages is to French. (lexical similarity scores obtained from reference [1])

lexical similarity between Portuguese and Italian in relation to other language pairs

Portuguese, Italian, French, Spanish and Romanian are the five main Romance languages. Each of these languages has evolved from Latin, and Latin derived words account for a large part of their vocabulary.

In terms of vocabulary Portuguese and Italian have stayed closer to Latin, compared to French (which has had Gallic and Frankish influences) and Romanian (which has had some Slavic influences).

There are many similar words between Portuguese and Italian. Here are some examples:

More similar vocabulary words between Portuguese and Italian :
English Portuguese Italian
green verde verde
tall alto alto
snow neve neve
sea mar mare
horse cavalo cavallo
think pensar pensare
cat gato gatto
guilt culpa colpa
slow lento lento
water agua acqua
love amar amore
finger dedo dito
shirt camisa camicia
white branco bianca
cold frio freddo
eye olho occhio
dangerous perigoso pericoloso
war guerra guerra
wise sábio saggio
week semana settimana
empty vazio vuoto
eggs ovos uova
bread pão pane
truth verdade verità
language língua linguaggio

Naturally, since Portuguese and Italian are different languages, there are also some vocabulary words which are completely different between the two languages. Here are some examples:

English
Portuguese
Italian
river
rio
fiume
yellow
amarelo
giallo
red
vermelho
rosso
pants
calça
pantaloni
woman
mulher
donna
lunch
almoço
pranzo
work
trabalho
lavoro
wedding
casamento
nozze
seasons
temporadas
stagioni
bird
pássaro
uccello
country
país
nazione
funny
engraçado
buffo

Portuguese and Italian have more than one copular verb

Portuguese and Italian both have two verbs which correspond to the English verb “to be”.

Italian verb « stare »
io
sto
tu
stai
lui/lei
sta
noi
stiamo
voi
state
Portuguese « estar »
eu
estou
tu
estás
ele/ela
está
nós
estamos
vós
estais
Italian « essere »
io
sono
tu
sei
lui/lei
è
noi
siamo
voi
siete
Portuguese « ser »
eu
sou
tu
és
ele/ela
é
nós
somos
vós
sois

Portuguese and Italian are null-subject languages

In Portuguese and in Italian, the subject is often left out of a sentence. In these cases the subject which is omitted is implicit and can be inferred from the form of the conjugated verb.

In Linguistic terms, this means that Portuguese and Italian are null-subject languages. In contrast, in languages such as English or French leaving out the subject almost always leads to a grammatically incorrect sentence.

Here are example sentences in Portuguese and Italian where the subject pronoun is omitted:

English I am studying
Portuguese Estou estudando
Italian Sto studiando

Portuguese and Italian both have two “you” pronouns

Portuguese and Italian both have 2 “you” pronouns: “tu” / “você” in Portuguese, and “tu” / “Lei” in Italian.

In Italian, the pronoun “tu” is informal while the pronoun “Lei” is formal.

In Portuguese (particularly in Brazilian Portuguese), the distinction between the pronouns “tu” and “você” is less about polite speech and more about regional differences.

Portuguese vs Italian: Spelling and Pronunciation

A distinguishing feature between Portuguese and Italian spelling is the use of the tilde in Portuguese (for example: 'ã').

There is a pattern between many Italian nouns ending “-zione”, and Portuguese nouns ending in “-ção”. Often these pairs of words are derived from a common Latin word ending in “-tiō”.

Here are some examples:

English Italian Portuguese
education educazione educação
information informazione informação
direction direzione direção
introduction introduzione introdução
solution soluzione solução
evolution evoluzione evolução
activation attivazione ativação
condition condizione condição
selection selezione seleção
position posizione posição
repetition ripetizione repetição
separation separazione separação
section sezione seção
notion nozione noção
translation traduzione tradução
generalization generalizzazione generalização
recommendation raccomandazione recomendação

Portuguese and Italian nouns have genders

In Portuguese and Italian where each noun has a gender.

For example, “lua” (the Portuguese word for “moon”) is feminine. Similarly “luna” (the Italian word for “moon”) is also feminine.

Another example, “céu” (the Portuguese word for “sky”) is masculine. And similarly “cielo” (the Italian word for “sky”) is also masculine.

Although their parent language, Latin, had a third grammatical gender (neuter), Portuguese and Italian just have two (masculine and feminine).

Here too, Portuguese and Italian share some common patterns. In both these languages, nouns ending in “-o” are more likely to be masculine and nouns ending in “-a” more likely to be feminine.

Portuguese vs Italian language difficulty

Portuguese and Italian are both among the easiest languages for English speakers to learn.

One of the reasons for this is that English speakers can recognize some of the Latin derived vocabulary words in Portuguese and Italian.

Although the English language does not come from Latin, there are many English words derived from Latin, which have entered the English language as loanwords from French.

Both Portuguese and Italian are widely spoken languages so there are many opportunities to practise these languages.

There are about 250 million native speakers of Portuguese (Brazil is the country with the most Portuguese speakers), and about 65 million native Italian speakers.

References:
  1. [1] Gábor Bella, Khuyagbaatar Batsuren, and Fausto Giunchiglia. A Database and Visualization of the Similarity of Contemporary Lexicons. 24th International Conference on Text, Speech, and Dialogue. Olomouc, Czech Republic, 2021. (http://ukc.disi.unitn.it/index.php/lexsim/)