Top 10 Tips for College Admissions Essays
In the admissions process, US colleges and universities generally use three criteria for determining which students to accept and which to reject:
- Previous coursework – your college preparatory work and grade point average (GPA)
- Standardized test scores – SAT and ACT are the two most respected.
- Admission/Entrance essays
Of the three criteria, the college entrance essay provides you with the greatest opportunity to distinguish yourself from your competition and show off the person behind the statistics. This article will help in writing a college essay and help you boost your chances of being accepted by an American university or college
Section 1: Planning Your Essay
Tip #1: Understand the Admissions Board Psychology
When you have compiled all the pieces of your application and sent it to the college/university of your dreams, all of your hard work gets placed in a pile with hundreds of other applications. Then a small group of admissions officers will review each application, looking over the scores and coursework and reading the college application essays.
The key to convincing the admissions officers is in understanding what they are looking for. They want students who will:
- Succeed once they are admitted;
- Contribute to the educational experience of other students; and,
- Bring honor and prestige to the university once they graduate.
In your college admissions essay, you want to portray yourself as a student who will meet those needs. Of course, the specifics of what qualifies as “succeed” or “bring honor” will depend a bit on the particular university, but all admissions officers share these three goals.
Before you write your college admissions essay, take a few minutes and jot down some answers to the following questions:
- How can I reassure the admissions board that I will succeed in their school?
- How will I show that I am determined and ambitious; that I will not get poor grades or drop out?
- How can I contribute positively to the educational experience of other students?
- How might I bring honor and prestige to the university?
- What are my long-term goals? Might I win an award someday, or start a business, or improve a scientific process?
Your answer to these questions will help you frame the content of your essay.
Tip #2: Determine Your Essay Goals
Along with the three questions above, you should contemplate how you want the admissions officers to perceive you. After reading your college admissions essay, what should they think of your personality and activities?
Most students want the college admissions board to view them as responsible, dependable, and academically ambitious. These are excellent essay goals, but you should also consider the essay in relation to your classwork. If your classwork already shows that you are studious and determined (because you have taken a wide variety of advanced classes), then you may want to highlight another feature of your personality.
Along with developing an image of your character, writing the college admissions essay allows you to feature other aspects of your life that are not reflected in your pre-college coursework. Some aspects to consider:
- Have I worked at an interesting or relevant job?
- Do I belong to any clubs or organizations?
- Have I demonstrated leadership or teamwork?
- Have I demonstrated compassion or community-responsibility?
Tip #3: Distinguish Yourself from the Other Applicants
This bit of strategic thinking should be fairly easy. As an international student, you by definition are different from the bulk of American citizens who apply to American universities. However, it is not enough to simply say, “Well, I’m not from around here.” Instead, you need to reference the strengths of your home culture. You don’t need to elaborate at length; a sentence or two should be enough to ensure that the admissions board pays attention to you.
Remember that you are more than just an international student from an interesting background; you are a complete person with a lifetime of experiences. You should take some time to think about what else makes you different from most the other hundreds of students writing college admissions essays. Add those features (plays piano, excellent at football, speak five languages) to your growing list of essay goals.
Tip #4: Contribute to the University
Remember that one of the goals of the admissions board when reading college admissions essays is to find students who will enhance the educational experience of other students. In other words, how can you contribute to other students’ learning? As with tip #3, you already have an edge by being an international student.
One of the general goals of education is to broaden people’s experiences, so that they come to realize the limits of their own intellect, and then grow beyond those limits. As an international student, you offer other students an opportunity for cultural diversity. As with Tip #3, it is not enough to assume the college admissions board will recognize this benefit. You need to highlight it in your essay. Again, a sentence or two should be enough to accomplish this goal.
Again, remember that you are more than just an international student. You have so much more to contribute to the campus social and learning environment than just your home culture. Take a few moments to consider what else you may contribute.
- Maybe you are excellent at study groups or other forms of collaborative work.
- Maybe you will join a student organization or athletic team.
- Maybe you will write for a student newsletter or blog.
Whatever you feel you can contribute, add that to your list of essay goals.
Tip #5: Understand and Answer the Essay Prompt
At this point, you’ve come up with more ideas than you can possibly fit into one essay. Now you need to focus your goals to only three or four ideas – the ones that will make you the most attractive to the college admissions board. No matter what the prompt asks, you want to ensure you include those three or four ideas in your college admissions essay.
The concept is to present a few ideas very well, rather than list all your ideas poorly. A narrowly focused essay will be much more effective than a general, vague one.
Reading and answering the prompt may seem a bit obvious, but it’s often the obvious that people ignore. You should take the time to read and re-read the essay prompt, so you can answer it fully. Don’t be intimidated; unlike some college exams, the college application essay prompt is not designed to trick you. However, you must demonstrate that you can read and follow directions. Think of that great pile of applications. The admissions officers are looking for a reason to disregard candidates. Don’t let them reject you because you hastily overlooked a sentence in the essay prompt.
On the other hand, the prompt is designed to give you some freedom for creativity, which will allow you to work in those three or four key ideas that you have developed through tips 1 through 4. You are encouraged to find novel ways of answering the prompt, so long as you do indeed answer the questions provided.
If you need more help choosing a topic, you can find some tips on our Choosing a Topic for Your College Essay page.
Section 2: Writing Your Essay
At this stage in the college admissions essay writing process, you have considered the goals and psychology of the college admissions board. You have produced a list of ideas/attributes/details about yourself that colleges will find appealing. You have narrowed that list to the three or four most important ideas – the ones that will get you into your preferred college/university. Now it is time to actually write the essay.
Tip #6: Write with Specific Details
The key to excellent and memorable writing is to write in fine detail. The more specific your essay, the stronger an impression it will make on the admissions board. If you are trying to show that you are a dedicated scholar, don’t write: “I never missed an assignment deadline, no matter how poorly I was feeling the night before.” Instead you write: “In my junior year, I came down with a terrible case of pneumonia. Despite having a 103 degree fever and being required to stay in bed, I still completed my draft speech on the possible impacts of global warming on agriculture.” The latter will make a stronger impression; and people vote for the people they remember.
As you are writing your essay, ask yourself:
- Is there a specific instance or example that shows this?
- Can I add imagery (colors, shapes) to make it more interesting?
- Can I replace general nouns (“class” or “car”) with something specific (“Honors Geometry” or “Honda Civic”)?
You may be thinking, “I don’t really like to boast about my personality; I prefer to let my record speak for itself.” While you should try to avoid sounding too arrogant, the college application essay is not the time for modesty. The admissions officers are expecting you to celebrate yourself, to underline your strengths and personality, so they can make a quick, accurate judgment about you.
Tip #7: Demonstrate College-Level Diction
Diction (word choice) is the fundamental structure of writing. Your word choice reveals a great deal about your personality, education and intellect. Furthermore, as an international student, you want to reassure the college admissions board that you have an excellent command of the English language (remember: they want you to succeed; they need to know that you can actively participate in English-only instruction).
With this in mind, you should replace lower-level words (bad, sad, thing, nice, chance) with higher-level words (appalling, despondent, phenomena, comforting, opportunity). You might consider looking up SAT/ACT vocabulary words and working a handful of those into your essay.
You should also remove any slang or casual diction; the university is not interested in casual language in their admissions essays.
Tip #8: Demonstrate College-level Style
An American proverb states, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” In other words, you want to present yourself as being ready for the next job. In this instance, you want to show that you already have college-level writing skills. So, in writing your college application essays, you should write with the following features in mind:
- Write primarily in complex sentences, rather than simple or compound sentences;
- Include figurative language such as a metaphor, a simile, personification; and
- Include a trope or scheme, such as chiasmus, oxymoron or anaphora.
As with tip #7, this serves two functions: 1) it distinguishes your essay from those that are poorly written; and 2) it reassures the admissions board of your excellent command of written English.
Tip #9: Have Someone Proofread Your Essay
This is one of the most important tips on this list. Everyone who writes knows that the words in your head don’t always make it onto the page the way they should. Because you know what it should say, it’s easy to trick yourself into thinking the essay says something that it doesn’t. For this reason, you should ask a friend or a relative (or an English teacher) to look over your essay and check your:
- Grammar: did you write in complete sentences? Do all your subjects and verbs agree?
- Diction: are all the words used properly for an American audience?
- Organization: have you grouped sentences together coherently?
Tip #10: Pay Attention to Deadlines
College admissions essays require a tremendous amount of work. As you work and rework the essay, pay attention to the admission deadlines and requirements. Every school has their own system for how and when to file your application. Do not assume that, because one school uses e-mails and PDFs, that another school does as well.
The best way to stay organized through the college admissions process (and at the university when courses begin) is to rigorously maintain a calendar that includes:
- Final deadlines
- Reminders of upcoming deadlines
- Process deadlines (breaking larger tasks into smaller steps)
Bonus Tip: Post, but Don't Panic
At some point, you will file your college admissions application. After you post it, please don’t panic. With these tips, and your determined intellect, you have an excellent chance of being accepted to an American university.
Take a look at our college essay samples to get an idea of what colleges are looking for in your essay.
For Brazilians of Portuguese descent, see Portuguese Brazilian.
Brazilian Portuguese (português do Brasil[poʁtuˈɡez du bɾaˈziw] or português brasileiro[poʁtuˈɡez bɾaziˈlejɾu]) is a set of dialects of the Portuguese language used mostly in Brazil. It is spoken by virtually all of the 200 million inhabitants of Brazil and spoken widely across the Brazilian diaspora, today consisting of about two million Brazilians who have emigrated to other countries.
This variety of the Portuguese language differs, particularly in phonology and prosody, from the dialects spoken in Portugal and Portuguese-speaking African countries. In these latter countries, the language tends to have a closer connection to contemporary European Portuguese, partly because Portuguese colonial rule ended much more recently in them than in Brazil. Despite this difference between the spoken varieties, Brazilian and European Portuguese differ little in formal writing (in many ways analogous to the differences encountered between American and British English).
In 1990, the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP), which included representatives from all countries with Portuguese as the official language, reached an agreement on the reform of the Portuguese orthography to unify the two standards then in use by Brazil on one side and the remaining Lusophone countries on the other. This spelling reform went into effect in Brazil on 1 January 2009. In Portugal, the reform was signed into law by the President on 21 July 2008 allowing for a 6-year adaptation period, during which both orthographies co-existed. All of the CPLP countries have signed the reform. In Brazil, this reform has been in force since January 2016. Portugal and other Portuguese-speaking countries have since begun using the new orthography.
Regional varieties of Brazilian Portuguese, while remaining mutually intelligible, may diverge from each other in matters such as vowel pronunciation and speech intonation.
Portuguese language in Brazil
The existence of Portuguese in Brazil is a legacy of the Portuguese colonization of the Americas. The first wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants settled in Brazil in the 16th century, but the language was not widely used then. For a time Portuguese coexisted with Língua Geral—a lingua franca based on Amerindian languages that was used by the Jesuit missionaries—as well as with various African languages spoken by the millions of slaves brought into the country between the 16th and 19th centuries. By the end of the 18th century, Portuguese had affirmed itself as the national language. Some of the main contributions to that swift change were the expansion of colonization to the Brazilian interior, and the growing numbers of Portuguese settlers, who brought their language and became the most important ethnic group in Brazil.
Beginning in the early 18th century, Portugal's government made efforts to expand the use of Portuguese throughout the colony, particularly because its consolidation in Brazil would help guarantee to Portugal the lands in dispute with Spain (according to various treaties signed in the 18th century, those lands would be ceded to the people who effectively occupied them). Under the administration of the Marquis of Pombal (1750–1777), Brazilians started to favour the use of Portuguese, as the Marquis expelled the Jesuit missionares (who had taught Língua Geral) and prohibited the use of Nhengatu, or Lingua Franca.
The failed colonization attempts by the French in Rio de Janeiro during the 16th century and the Dutch in the Northeast during the 17th century had negligible effects on Portuguese. The substantial waves of non-Portuguese-speaking immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (mostly from Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Japan and Lebanon) were linguistically integrated into the Portuguese-speaking majority within few generations, except for some areas of the three southernmost states (Paraná, Santa Catarina, and Rio Grande do Sul)—in the case of Germans, Italians and Slavs—and in rural areas of the state of São Paulo (Italians and Japanese).
Nowadays the overwhelming majority of Brazilians speak Portuguese as their mother tongue, with the exception of small, insular communities of descendants of European (German, Polish, Ukrainian, and Italian) and Japanese immigrants – mostly in the South and Southeast – as well as villages and reservations inhabited by Amerindians. And even these populations make use of Portuguese to communicate with outsiders and to understand television and radio broadcasts, for example. Moreover, there is a community of Brazilian Sign Language users whose number is estimated by Ethnologue to be as high as 3 million.
The development of Portuguese in Brazil (and consequently in the rest of the areas where Portuguese is spoken) has been influenced by other languages with which it has come into contact, mainly in the lexicon: first the Amerindian languages of the original inhabitants, then the various African languages spoken by the slaves, and finally those of later European and Asian immigrants. Although the vocabulary is still predominantly Portuguese, the influence of other languages is evident in the Brazilian lexicon, which today includes, for example, hundreds of words of Tupi–Guarani origin referring to local flora and fauna; numerous West AfricanYoruba words related to foods, religious concepts, and musical expressions; and English terms from the fields of modern technology and commerce. Although some of these words are more predominant in Brazil, they are also used in Portugal and other countries where Portuguese is spoken.
Words derived from the Tupi language are particularly prevalent in place names (Itaquaquecetuba,Pindamonhangaba,Caruaru, Ipanema, Paraíba). The native languages also contributed the names of most of the plants and animals found in Brazil (and most of these are the official names of the animals in other Portuguese-speaking countries as well), including arara ("macaw"), jacaré ("South American caiman"), tucano ("toucan"), mandioca ("cassava"), abacaxi ("pineapple"), and many more. However, many Tupi–Guarani toponyms did not derive directly from Amerindian expressions, but were in fact coined by European settlers and Jesuit missionaries, who used the Língua Geral extensively in the first centuries of colonization. Many of the Amerindian words entered the Portuguese lexicon as early as in the 16th century, and some of them were eventually borrowed into other European languages.
African languages provided hundreds of words as well, especially in certain semantic domains, as in the following examples, which are also present in Portuguese:
- Food: quitute, quindim, acarajé, moqueca;
- Religious concepts: mandinga, macumba, orixá ("orisha"), axé;
- Afro-Brazilian music: samba, lundu, maxixe, berimbau;
- Body-related parts and conditions: banguela ("toothless"), bunda ("buttocks"), capenga ("lame"), caxumba ("mumps");
- Geographical features: cacimba ("well"), quilombo or mocambo ("runaway slave settlement"), senzala ("slave quarters");
- Articles of clothing: miçanga ("beads"), abadá ("capoeira or dance uniform"), tanga ("loincloth, thong");
- Miscellaneous household concepts: cafuné ("caress on the head"), curinga ("joker card"), caçula ("youngest child", also cadete and filho mais novo), and moleque ("brat, spoiled child").
Although the African slaves had various ethnic origins, by far most of the borrowings were contributed (1) by Bantu languages (above all, Kimbundu, from Angola, and Kikongo from Angola and the area that is now the Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and (2) by Niger-Congo languages, notably Yoruba/Nagô, from what is now Nigeria, and Jeje/Ewe, from what is now Benin.
There are also many loanwords from other European languages, including English,French, German, and Italian. In addition, there is a limited set of vocabulary from Japanese.
Portuguese has borrowed a large number of words from English. In Brazil, these are especially related to the following fields (note that some of these words are used in other Portuguese-speaking countries):
- Technology and science: app, mod, layout, briefing, designer, slideshow, mouse, forward, revolver, relay, home office, home theater, bonde ("streetcar, tram", from 1860s company bonds), chulipa (also dormente, "sleeper"), bita ("beater", railway settlement tool), breque ("brake"), picape/pick-up, hatch, roadster, SUV, air-bag, guincho ("winch"), tilburí (19th century), macadame, workshop;
- Commerce and finance: commodities, debênture, holding, fundo hedge, angel, truste, dumping, CEO, CFO, MBA, kingsize, fast food ([ˈfɛstʃ ˈfudʒɪ]), delivery service, self service, drive-thru, telemarketing, franchise (also franquia), merchandising, combo, check-in, pet shop, sex shop, flat, loft, motel, suíte, shopping center/mall, food truck, outlet, tagline, slogan, jingle, outdoor ("billboard", [ɑwtʃiˈdɔʁ]), case (advertising), showroom;
- Sports: surf, skating, futebol ("soccer", or the calque ludopédio), voleibol, wakeboard, gol ("goal"), goleiro, quíper, chutar, chuteira, time ("team", [ˈtʃimi]), turfe, jockey club, cockpit, box (Formula 1), pódium, pólo, boxeador, MMA, UFC, rugby, match point, nocaute ("knockout"), poker, iate club, handicap;
- Miscellaneous cultural concepts: okay, gay, hobby, vintage, jam session, junk food, hot dog, bife or bisteca ("steak"), rosbife ("roast beef"), sundae, banana split, milkshake, (protein) shake, araruta ("arrowroot"), panqueca, cupcake, brownie, sanduíche, X-burguer, boicote ("boycott"), pet, Yankee, happy hour, lol, nerd ([ˈnɛʁdʒi], rarely [ˈnɐɻdz]), geek (sometimes [ˈʒiki], but also [ˈɡiki] and rarely [ˈɡik]), noob, punk, skinhead ([skĩˈχɛdʒi]), emo ([ˈẽmu]), indie ([ˈĩdʒi]), hooligan, cool, vibe, hype, rocker, glam, rave, clubber, cyber, hippie, yuppie, hipster, overdose, junkie, cowboy, mullet, country, rockabilly, pin-up, socialite, playboy, sex appeal, strip tease, after hours, drag queen, go-go boy, queer (as in "queer lit"), bear (also the calque urso), twink (also efebo/ephebe), leather (dad), footing (19th century), piquenique (also convescote), bro, rapper, mc, beatbox, break dance, street dance, free style, hang loose, soul, gospel, praise (commercial context, music industry), bullying ([ˈbuljĩɡɪ], but very often closer to the pronunciation [ˈbɐlĩ(ŋ)]), stalking ([ˈstɑwkĩ], very often closer to [ˈstɔwkĩ(ŋ)]), closet, flashback, check-up, ranking, bondage, dark, goth (gótica), vamp, cueca boxer or cueca slip (male underwear), black tie (or traje de gala/cerimônia noturna), smoking ("tuxedo"), quepe, blazer, jeans, cardigã, blush, make-up artist, hair stylist, gloss labial (hybrid, also brilho labial), pancake ("facial powder", also pó de arroz), playground, blecaute ("blackout"), script, sex symbol, bombshell, blockbuster, multiplex, best-seller, it-girl, fail (web context), trolling (trollar), blogueiro, photobombing, selfie, sitcom, stand-up comedy, non-sense, non-stop, gamer, camper, crooner, backing vocal, roadie, playback, overdrive, food truck, monster truck, picape/pick-up (DJ), coquetel ("cocktail"), drinque, pub, bartender, barman, lanche ("portable lunch"), underground (cultural), flop (movie/TV context and slang), DJ, VJ, haole (slang, brought from Hawaii by surfers).
Many of these words are used throughout the Lusosphere.
French has contributed to Portuguese words for foods, furniture, and luxurious fabrics, as well as for various abstract concepts. Examples include hors-concours, chic, metrô, batom, soutien, buquê, abajur, guichê, içar, chalé, cavanhaque (from Louis-Eugène Cavaignac), calibre, habitué, clichê, jargão, manchete, jaqueta, boîte de nuit or boate, cofre, rouge, frufru, chuchu, purê, petit gâteau, pot-pourri, ménage, enfant gâté, enfant terrible, garçonnière, patati-patata, parvenu, détraqué, enquête, equipe, malha, fila, burocracia, birô, affair, grife, gafe, croquette, crocante, croquis, femme fatale, noir, marchand, paletó, gabinete, grã-fino, blasé, de bom tom, bon-vivant, guindaste, guiar, flanar, bonbonnière, calembour, jeu de mots, vis-à-vis, tête-à-tête, mecha, blusa, conhaque, mélange, bric-brac, broche, pâtisserie, peignoir, négliglé, robe de chambre, déshabillé, lingerie, corset, corselet, corpete, pantufas, salopette, cachecol, cachenez, cachepot, colete, colher, prato, costume, serviette, garde-nappe, avant-première, avant-garde, debut, crepe, frappé (including slang), canapé, paetê, tutu, mignon, pince-nez, grand prix, parlamento, patim, camuflagem, blindar (from German), guilhotina, à gogo, pastel, filé, silhueta, menu, maître d'hôtel, bistrô, chef, coq au vin, rôtisserie, maiô, bustiê, collant, fuseau, cigarette, crochê, tricô, tricot ("pullover, sweater"), calção, culotte, botina, bota, galocha, scarpin (ultimately Italian), sorvete, glacê, boutique, vitrine, manequim (ultimately Dutch), machê, tailleur, echarpe, fraque, laquê, gravata, chapéu, boné, edredom, gabardine, fondue, buffet, toalete, pantalon, calça Saint-Tropez, manicure, pedicure, balayage, limusine, caminhão, guidão, cabriolê, capilé, garfo, nicho, garçonete, chenille, chiffon, chemise, chamois, plissê, balonê, frisê, chaminé, guilhochê, château, bidê, redingote, chéri(e), flambado, bufante, pierrot, torniquete, molinete, canivete, guerra (Provençal), escamotear, escroque, flamboyant, maquilagem, visagismo, topete, coiffeur, tênis, cabine, concièrge, chauffeur, hangar, garagem, haras, calandragem, cabaré, coqueluche, coquine, coquette (cocotinha), galã, bas-fond (used as slang), mascote, estampa, sabotagem, RSVP, rendez-vous, chez..., à la carte, à la ..., forró, forrobodó (from 19th-century faux-bourdon). Brazilian Portuguese tends to adopt French suffixes as in aterrissagem (Fr. atterrissage "landing [aviation]"), differently from European Portuguese (cf. Eur.Port. aterragem). Brazilian Portuguese (BP) also tends to adopt culture-bound concepts from French. That is the difference between BP estação ("station") and EP gare ("train station"—Portugal also uses estação). BP trem is from English train (ultimately from French), while EP comboio is from Fr. convoi. An evident example of the dichotomy between English and French influences can be noted in the use of the expressions know-how, used in a technical context, and savoir-faire in a social context. Portugal uses the expression hora de ponta, from French l'heure de pointe, to refer to the "rush hour", while Brazil has horário de pico, horário de pique and hora do rush. Both bilhar, from French billard, and the phonetic adaptation sinuca are used interchangeably for "snooker".
Contributions from German and Italian include terms for foods, music, the arts, and architecture.
From German, besides strudel, pretzel, bratwurst, kuchen (also bolo cuca), sauerkraut (also spelled chucrute from French choucrout and pronounced [ʃuˈkɾutʃi]), wurstsalat, sauerbraten, Oktoberfest, biergarten, zelt, Osterbaum, Bauernfest, Schützenfest, hinterland, Kindergarten, bock, fassbier and chope (from Schoppen), there are also abstract terms from German such as Prost, zum wohl, doppelgänger (also sósia), über, brinde, kitsch, ersatz, blitz ("police action"), and possibly encrenca ("difficult situation", perhaps from Ger. ein Kranker, "a sick person"). Xumbergar, brega (from marshal Friedrich Hermann Von Schönberg), and xote (musical style and dance) from schottisch. A significant number of beer brands in Brazil are named after German culture-bound concepts and place names due the fact that the brewing process was brought by German immigrants.
Italian loan words and expressions, in addition to those that are related to food or music, include tchau ("ciao"), nonna, nonnino, imbróglio, bisonho, entrevero, panetone, colomba, è vero, cicerone, male male, capisce, mezzo, va bene, ecco, ecco fatto, ecco qui, caspita, schifoso, gelateria, cavolo, incavolarsi, pivete, engambelar, andiamo via, tiramisu, tarantela, grappa, stratoria. Terms of endearment of Italian origin include amore, bambino/a, ragazzo/a, caro/a mio/a, tesoro, and bello/a; also babo, mamma, baderna (from Marietta Baderna), carcamano, torcicolo, casanova, noccia, noja, che me ne frega, Io ti voglio tanto bene, and ti voglio bene assai.
Fewer words have been borrowed from Japanese. The latter borrowings are also mostly related to food and drink or culture-bound concepts, such as quimono, from Japanese kimono, karaokê, yakisoba, temakeria, sushi bar, mangá, biombo (from Portugal) (from byó bu sukurín, "folding screen"), jó ken pô or jankenpon ("rock-paper-scissors", played with the Japanese words being said before the start), saquê, sashimi, tempurá (a lexical "loan repayment" from a Portuguese loanword in Japanese), hashi, wasabi, johrei (religious philosophy), nikkei, gaijin ("non-Japanese"), issei ("Japanese immigrant")—as well as the different descending generations nisei, sansei, yonsei, gossei, rokussei and shichissei. Other Japanese loanwords include racial terms, such as ainoko ("Eurasian") and hafu (from English half); work-related, socioeconomic, historical, and ethnic terms limited to some spheres of society, including koseki ("genealogical research"), dekassegui ("dekasegi"), arubaito, kaizen, seiketsu, karoshi ("death by work excess"), burakumin, kamikaze, seppuku, harakiri, jisatsu, jigai, and ainu; martial arts terms such as karatê, aikidô, bushidô, katana, judô, jiu-jítsu, kyudô, nunchaku, and sumô; terms related to writing, such as kanji, kana, katakana, hiragana, and romaji; and terms for art concepts such as kabuki and ikebana. Other culture-bound terms from Japanese include ofurô ("Japanese bathtub"), Nihong ("target news niche and websites"), kabocha (type of pumpkin introduced in Japan by the Portuguese), reiki, and shiatsu. Some words have popular usage while others are known for a specific context in specific circles. Terms used among Nikkei descendants include oba-chan ("grandma"); onee-san, onee-chan, onii-san, and onii-chan; toasts and salutations such as kampai and banzai; and some honorific suffixes of address such as chan, kun, sama, san, and senpai.
Chinese contributed a few terms such as tai chi chuan and chá ("tea")—also in European Portuguese.
The loan vocabulary includes several calques, such as arranha-céu ("skyscraper", from French gratte-ciel) and cachorro-quente (from English hot dog) in Portuguese worldwide.
Use of the reflexive me, especially in São Paulo and the South, is thought to be an Italianism, attributed to the large Italian immigrant population, as are certain prosodic features, including patterns of intonation and stress, also in the South and Southeast.
Some authors claim that the loss of initial es- in the forms of the verb estar (e.g. "Tá bom") —now widespread in Brazil —reflects an influence from the speech of African slaves.[dubious– discuss] The same feature, however, can be found in European Portuguese and several other Romance languages. It is also claimed that some common grammatical features of Brazilian Portuguese —such as the near-complete disappearance of certain verb inflections and a marked preference for the periphrastic future (e.g. "vou falar") over the synthetic future ("falarei") —recall the grammatical simplification typical of pidgins and creoles[dubious– discuss].
Other scholars, however—notably Naro & Scherre—have noted that the same or similar processes can be observed in the European variant, as well as in many varieties of Spanish, and that the main features of Brazilian Portuguese can be traced directly from 16th-century European Portuguese. In fact, they find many of the same phenomena in other Romance languages, including Aranese, French, Italian and Romanian; they explain these phenomena as due to natural Romance drift. Naro and Scherre affirm that Brazilian Portuguese is not a "decreolized" form, but rather the "nativization" of a "radical Romanic" form. They assert that the phenomena found in Brazilian Portuguese are inherited from Classical Latin and Old Portuguese. According to another linguist, vernacular Brazilian Portuguese is continuous with European Portuguese, while its phonetics is more conservative in several aspects, characterizing the nativization of a koiné formed by several regional European Portuguese varieties brought to Brazil, modified by natural drift.
Written and spoken languages
The written language taught in Brazilian schools has historically been based on the standard of Portugal by law enforcement, and until the 19th century, Portuguese writers have often been regarded as models by some Brazilian authors and university professors. Nonetheless, this closeness and aspiration to unity was severely weakened in the 20th century by nationalist movements in literature and the arts, which awakened in many Brazilians the desire for true (own) national writing uninfluenced by standards in Portugal. Later on, agreements were made as to preserve at least the orthographical unity throughout the Portuguese-speaking world, including the African and Asian variants of the language (which are typically more similar to EP, due to a Portuguese presence lasting into the end of the 20th century).
On the other hand, the spoken language suffered none of the constraints that applied to the written language and Brazilian Portuguese sounds very different than any other derivative of Portuguese. Brazilians, when concerned with pronunciation, look up to what is considered the national standard variety, and never the European one, specially after a lot of tension between Portugal and the settlers (immigrants) in Brazil since the country's de-facto settlement, as immigrants were forbidden of speaking freely on their native languages in Brazil by fear of severe punishment by the Portuguese law enforcers. Lately, Brazilians in general have had some exposure to European speech, through TV and music. Often one will see Brazilian actors working in Portugal, and Portuguese actors working in Brazil, despite the differences on spoken language.
Regardless, modern Brazilian Portuguese was highly influenced by other languages introduced by immigrants through the past century, specifically by German, Italian and Japanese immigrants. This high intake of immigrants not only caused the incorporation and/or adaptation of many words and expressions from their native language into local language but also created specific dialects as it is the case of German's Hunsrückisch dialect in the South of Brazil. This is also one of the main reasons why Brazilian Portuguese sounds so different from other Portuguese derivatives.
The written Brazilian standard differs from the European one to about the same extent that written American English differs from written British English. The differences extend to spelling, lexicon, and grammar. However, with the entry into force of the Orthographic Agreement of 1990 in Portugal and in Brazil since 2009, these differences were drastically reduced.
Several Brazilian writers have been awarded with the highest prize of the Portuguese language. The Camões Prize awarded annually by Portuguese and Brazilians is often regarded as the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Literature for works in Portuguese.
Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, João Guimarães Rosa, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Graciliano Ramos, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Cecília Meireles, Clarice Lispector, José de Alencar, Rachel de Queiroz, Jorge Amado, Castro Alves, Antonio Candido, Autran Dourado, Rubem Fonseca, Lygia Fagundes Telles and Euclides da Cunha are Brazilian writers recognized for writing the most outstanding work in the Portuguese language.
Further information: Reforms of Portuguese orthography
The Brazilian spellings of certain words differ from those used in Portugal and the other Portuguese-speaking countries. Some of these differences are merely orthographic, but others reflect true differences in pronunciation.
Until the implementation of the 1990 orthographic reform, a major subset of the differences related to the consonant clusters cc, cç, ct, pc, pç, and pt. In many cases, the letters c or p in syllable-final position have become silent in all varieties of Portuguese, a common phonetic change in Romance languages (cf. Spanish objeto, French objet). Accordingly, they stopped being written in BP (compare Italian spelling standards), but continued to be written in other Portuguese-speaking countries. For example, we had EP acção / BP ação ("action"), EP óptimo / BP ótimo ("optimum"), and so on, where the consonant was silent both in BP and EP, but the words were spelled differently. Only in a small number of words is the consonant silent in Brazil and pronounced elsewhere or vice versa, as in the case of BP fato, but EP facto. However, the new Portuguese language orthographic reform led to the elimination of the writing of the silent consonants also in the EP, making now the writing system virtually identical in all of the Portuguese-speaking countries,
However, BP has retained those silent consonants in a few cases, such as detectar ("to detect"). In particular, BP generally distinguishes in sound and writing between secção ("section" as in anatomy or drafting) and seção ("section" of an organization); whereas EP uses secção for both senses.
Another major set of differences is the BP usage of ô or ê in many words where EP has ó or é, such as BP neurônio / EP neurónio ("neuron") and BP arsênico / EP arsénico ("arsenic"). These spelling differences are due to genuinely different pronunciations. In EP, the vowels e and o may be open (é or ó) or closed (ê or ô) when they are stressed before one of the nasal consonants m, n followed by a vowel, but in BP they are always closed in this environment. The variant spellings are necessary in those cases because the general Portuguese spelling rules mandate a stress diacritic in those words, and the Portuguese diacritics also encode vowel quality.
Another source of variation is the spelling of the [ʒ] sound before e and i. By Portuguese spelling rules, that sound can be written either as j (favored in BP for certain words) or g (favored in EP). Thus, for example, we have BP berinjela / EP beringela ("eggplant").
Language Register - Formal vs. Informal
The linguistic situation of the BP informal speech in relation to the standard language is controversial. There are authors (Bortoni, Kato, Mattos e Silva, Bagno, Perini) who describe it as a case of diglossia, considering that informal BP has developed – both in phonetics and grammar – in its own particular way.
Accordingly, the formal register of Brazilian Portuguese has a written and spoken form. The written formal register (FW) is used in almost all printed media and written communication, is uniform throughout the country and is the "Portuguese" officially taught at school. The spoken formal register (FS) is essentially a phonetic rendering of the written form. (FS) is used in very formal situations, such as speeches or ceremonies or when reading directly out of a text. While (FS) is necessarily uniform in lexicon and grammar, it shows noticeable regional variations in pronunciation.
Characteristics of Informal Brazilian Portuguese
The main and most general (i.e. not considering various regional variations) characteristics of the informal variant of BP are the following. To be noted that these characteristics are also present in other varieties of Portuguese:
- dropping the first syllable of the verb estar ("[statal/incidental] to be") throughout the conjugation (ele tá ("he's") instead of ele está ("he is"), nós táva(mos/mo) ("we were") instead of nós estávamos ("we were"));
- dropping prepositions before subordinate and relative clauses beginning with conjunctions (Ele precisa que vocês ajudem instead of Ele precisa de que vocês ajudem);
- replacing haver when it means "to exist" with ter ("to have"): há muitos problemas na cidade ("there are many problems in the city") can be heard, but is much rarer than tem muitos problema(s) na cidade.
- lack of third-person object pronouns, which may be omitted completely or replaced by their respective personal pronouns (eu vi ele or even just eu vi instead of eu o vi for "I saw him/it")
- lack of second-person verb forms (except for some parts of Brazil) and, in various regions, plural third-person forms as well (tu cantas becomes tu canta or você canta (Brazilian uses the pronoun "você" a lot but rarely uses "tu", except in some states such as Amazonas and Rio Grande do Sul, in the latter "você" is almost never used in informal speech, with "tu" being used instead, using both second and third-person forms depending on the speaker)
- lack of the relative pronoun cujo/cuja ("whose"), which is replaced by que ("that/which"), either alone (the possession being implied) or along with a possessive pronoun or expression, such as dele/dela (A mulher cujo filho morreu ("the woman whose son died") becomes A mulher que o filho [dela] morreu("the woman that [her] son died"))
- frequent use of the pronoun a gente ("people") with 3rd p. sg verb forms instead of the 1st p. pl verb forms and pronoun nós ("we/us"), though both are formally correct and nós is still much used.
- obligatory proclisis in all cases (always me disseram, rarely disseram-me), as well as use of the pronoun between two verbs in a verbal expression (always vem me treinando, never me vem treinando or vem treinando-me)
- contracting certain high-frequency phrases, which is not necessarily unacceptable in standard BP (para > pra; dependo de ele ajudar > dependo 'dele' ajudar; com as > c'as; deixa eu ver > x'o vê; você está > cê tá etc.)
- preference for para over a in the directional meaning (Para onde você vai? instead of Aonde você vai? ("Where are you going?"))
- use of certain idiomatic expressions, such as Cadê o carro? instead of Onde está o carro? ("Where is the car?")
- lack of indirect object pronouns, especially lhe, which are replaced by para plus their respective personal pronoun (Dê um copo de água para ele instead of Dê-lhe um copo de água ("Give him a glass of water"); Quero mandar uma carta para você instead of Quero lhe mandar uma carta ("I want to send you a letter"))
- use of aí as a pronoun for indefinite direct objects (similar to French 'en'). Examples: falaí (fala + aí) ("say it"), esconde aí ("hide it"), pera aí (espera aí = "wait a moment");
- impersonal use of the verb dar ("to give") to express that something is feasible or permissible. Example: dá pra eu comer? ("can/may I eat it?"); deu pra eu entender ("I could understand"); dá pra ver um homem na foto instead of pode-se ver um homem na foto ("it's possible to see a man in the picture")
Syntactic and morphological features
Modern linguistic studies have shown that Brazilian Portuguese is a topic-prominent or topic- and subject-prominent language. Sentences with topic are extensively used in Portuguese, perhaps more in Brazilian Portuguese most often by means of turning an element (object or verb) in the sentence into an introductory phrase, on which the body of the sentence constitutes a comment (topicalization), thus emphasizing it, as in Esses assuntos eu não conheço bem – literally, "These subjects I don't know [them] well". Although this sentence would be perfectly acceptable in Portugal. In fact, in the Portuguese language, the anticipation of the verb or object at the beginning of the sentence, repeating it or using the respective pronoun referring to it, is also quite common, e.g. in Essa menina, eu não sei o que fazer com ela ("This girl, I don't know what to do with her") or Com essa menina eu não sei o que fazer ("With this girl I don't know what to do"). The use of redundant pronouns for means of topicalization is considered grammatically incorrect, because the topicalized noun phrase, according to traditional European analysis, has no syntactic function. This kind of construction, however, is often used in European Portuguese. Brazilian grammars traditionally treat this structure similarly, rarely mentioning such a thing as topic. Nevertheless, the so-called anacoluthon has taken on a new dimension in Brazilian Portuguese. The poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade once wrote a short metapoema (a metapoem, i. e., a poem about poetry, a specialty for which he was renowned) treating the concept of anacoluto:
[...] O homem, chamar-lhe mito não passa de anacoluto (The man, calling him myth is nothing more than an anacoluthon).
In colloquial language, this kind of anacoluto may even be used when the subject itself is the topic, only to add more emphasis to this fact, e.g. the sentence Essa menina, ela costuma tomar conta de cachorros abandonados ("This girl, she usually takes care of abandoned dogs"). This structure highlights the topic, and could be more accurately translated as "As for this girl, she usually takes care of abandoned dogs".
The use of this construction is particularly common with compound subjects, as in, e.g., Eu e ela, nós fomos passear ("She and I, we went for a walk"). This happens because the traditional syntax (Eu e ela fomos passear) places a plural-conjugated verb immediately following an argument in the singular, which may sound unnatural to Brazilian ears. The redundant pronoun thus clarifies the verbal inflection in such cases.
Portuguese makes extensive use of verbs in the progressive aspect, almost as in English.
Brazilian Portuguese seldom has the present continuous construct estar a + infinitive, which, in contrast, has become quite common in European over the last few centuries. BP maintains the Classical Portuguese form of continuous expression, which is made by estar + gerund.
Thus, Brazilians will always write ela está dançando ("she is dancing"), not ela está a dançar. The same restriction applies to several other uses of the gerund: BP uses ficamos conversando ("we kept on talking") and ele trabalha cantando ("he sings while he works"), but rarely ficamos a conversar and ele trabalha a cantar as is the case in most varieties of EP.
BP retains the combination a + infinitive for uses that are not related to continued action, such as voltamos a correr ("we went back to running"). Some dialects of EP [namely from Alentejo, Algarve, Açores (Azores), and Madeira] also tend to feature estar + gerund, as in Brazil.
Main article: Portuguese personal pronouns
In general, the dialects that gave birth to Portuguese had a quite flexible use of the object pronouns in the proclitic or enclitic positions. In Classical Portuguese, the use of proclisis was very extensive, while, on the contrary, in modern European Portuguese the use of enclisis has become indisputably majoritary.
Brazilians normally place the object pronoun before the verb (proclitic position), as in ele me viu ("he saw me"). In many such cases, the proclisis would be considered awkward or even grammatically incorrect in EP, in which the pronoun is generally placed after the verb (enclitic position), namely ele viu-me. However, formal BP still follows EP in avoiding starting a sentence with a proclitic pronoun; so both will write Deram-lhe o livro ("They gave him/her the book") instead of Lhe deram o livro, though it will seldom be spoken in BP (but would be clearly understood).
However, in verb expressions accompanied by an object pronoun, Brazilians normally place it amid the auxiliary verb and the main one (ela vem me pagando but not ela me vem pagando or ela vem pagando-me). In some cases, in order to adapt this use to the standard grammar, some Brazilian scholars recommend that ela vem me pagando should be written like ela vem-me pagando (as in EP), in which case the enclisis could be totally acceptable if there would not be a factor of proclisis. Therefore, this phenomenon may or not be considered improper according to the prescribed grammar, since, according to the case, there could be a factor of proclisis that would not permit the placement of the pronoun between the verbs (e.g. when there is a negative adverb near the pronoun, in which case the standard grammar prescribes proclisis, ela não me vem pagando and not ela não vem-me pagando). Nevertheless, nowadays, it is becoming perfectly acceptable to use a clitic between two verbs, without linking it with a hyphen (as in poderia se dizer, or não vamos lhes dizer) and this usage (known as: pronome solto entre dois verbos) can be found in modern(ist) literature, textbooks, magazines and newspapers like Folha de S.Paulo and O Estadão (see in-house style manuals of these newspapers, available on-line, for more details).
BP rarely uses the contracted combinations of direct and indirect object pronouns which are sometimes used in EP, such as me + o = mo, lhe + as = lhas. Instead, the indirect clitic is replaced by preposition + strong pronoun: thus BP writes ela o deu para mim ("she gave it to me") instead of EP ela deu-mo; the latter most probably will not be understood by Brazilians, being obsolete in BP.
The mesoclitic placement of pronouns (between the verb stem and its inflection suffix) is viewed as archaic in BP, and therefore is restricted to very formal situations or stylistic texts. Hence the phrase Eu dar-lhe-ia, still current in EP, would be normally written Eu lhe daria in BP. Incidentally, a marked fondness for enclitic and mesoclitic pronouns was one of the many memorable eccentricities of former Brazilian President Jânio Quadros, as in his famous quote Bebo-o porque é líquido, se fosse sólido comê-lo-ia ("I drink it [liquor] because it is liquid, if it were solid I would eat it")
There are many differences between formal written BP and EP that are simply a matter of different preferences between two alternative words or constructions that are both officially valid and acceptable.
Simple versus compound tenses
A few synthetic tenses are usually replaced by compound tenses, such as in:
- future indicative: eu cantarei (simple), eu vou cantar (compound, ir + infinitive)
- conditional: eu cantaria (simple), eu iria/ia cantar (compound, ir + infinitive)
- past perfect: eu cantara (simple), eu tinha cantado (compound, ter + past participle)
Also, spoken BP usually uses the verb ter ("own", "have", sense of possession) and rarely haver ("have", sense of existence, or "there to be"), especially as an auxiliary (as it can be seen above) and as a verb of existence.
- written: ele havia/tinha cantado (he had sung)
- spoken: ele tinha cantado
- written: ele podia haver/ter dito (he might have said)
- spoken: ele podia ter dito
This phenomenon is also observed in Portugal.
Differences in formal spoken language
In many ways, Brazilian Portuguese (BP) is conservative in its phonology. That also is true of Angolan Portuguese, São Tomean Portuguese, and other African dialects. Brazilian Portuguese has eight oral vowels, five nasal vowels, and several diphthongs and triphthongs, some oral and some nasal.
The reduction of vowels is one of the main phonetic characteristics of Portuguese generally, but in Brazilian Portuguese the intensity and frequency of that phenomenon varies significantly.
Vowels in Brazilian Portuguese generally are pronounced more openly than in European Portuguese, even when reduced. In syllables that follow the stressed syllable, ⟨o⟩ is generally pronounced as [u], ⟨a⟩ as [ɐ], and ⟨e⟩ as [i]. Some dialects of BP follow this pattern for vowels before the stressed syllable as well.
In contrast, speakers of European Portuguese pronounce unstressed ⟨a⟩ primarily as [ɐ], and they elide some unstressed vowels or reduce them to a short, near-close near-back unrounded vowel [ɨ], a sound that does not exist in BP. Thus, for example, the word setembro is [seˈtẽbɾu]/[sɛˈtẽbɾu] in BP, but [s(ɨ)ˈtẽbɾu] in European Portuguese.
The main difference among the dialects of Brazilian Portuguese is the frequent presence or absence of open vowels in unstressed syllables. In dialects of the South and Southeast, unstressed ⟨e⟩ and ⟨o⟩ (when they are not reduced to [i] and [u]) are pronounced as the close-mid vowels[e] and [o]. Thus, operação (operation) and rebolar (to shake one's body) may be pronounced [opeɾaˈsɐ̃ũ] and [heboˈla(h)]. Open-mid vowels can occur only in the stressed syllable.
Meanwhile, in accents of the Northeast and North, in patterns that have not yet been much studied, the open-mid vowels[ɛ] and [ɔ] can occur in unstressed syllables in a large number of words. Thus, the above examples would be pronounced [ɔpɛɾaˈsɐ̃ũ] and [hɛbɔˈla(h)].
Another difference between Northern/Northeastern dialects and Southern/Southeastern ones is the pattern of nasalization of vowels before ⟨m⟩ and ⟨n⟩. In all dialects and all syllables, orthographic ⟨m⟩ or ⟨n⟩ followed by another consonant represents nasalization of the preceding vowel. But when the ⟨m⟩ or ⟨n⟩ is syllable-initial (i.e. followed by a vowel), it represents nasalization only of a preceding stressed vowel in the South and Southeast, as compared to nasalization of any vowel, regardless of stress, in the Northeast and North. A famous example of this distinction is the word banana, which a Northeasterner would pronounce [bɐ̃ˈnɐ̃nɐ], while a Southerner would pronounce [baˈnɐ̃nɐ].
Vowel nasalization in some dialects of Brazilian Portuguese is very different from that of French, for example. In French, the nasalization extends uniformly through the entire vowel, whereas in the Southern-Southeastern dialects of Brazilian Portuguese, the nasalization begins almost imperceptibly and then becomes stronger toward the end of the vowel. In this respect it is more similar to the nasalization of Hindi-Urdu (see Anusvara). In some cases, the nasal archiphoneme even entails the insertion of a nasal consonant such as [m, n, ŋ, ȷ̃, w̃, ɰ̃] (compare Polish phonology § Open), as in the following examples:
"manta" = /ˈmɐ̃ntɐ/
"tampa" = /ˈtɐ̃mpɐ/
"banco" = /ˈbɐ̃ŋku/
"bem" = /bẽȷ̃/
"bom" = /bõʊ̃/ or /ˈbõɰ̃/ or /ˈbõŋ/
"pan" = /ˈpɐ̃ɰ̃/ or /ˈpɐ̃ŋ/
Palatalization of /di/ and /ti/
One of the most noticeable tendencies of modern BP is the palatalization of /d/ and /t/ by most regions, which are pronounced [dʒ] and [tʃ] (or [dᶾ] and [tᶴ]), respectively, before /i/. The word presidente "president", for example, is pronounced [pɾeziˈdẽtᶴi] in these regions of Brazil but [pɾɨziˈdẽt(ɨ)] in Portugal. The pronunciation probably began in Rio de Janeiro and is often still associated with this city but is now standard in many other states and major cities, such as Belo Horizonte and Salvador, and it has spread more recently to some regions of São Paulo (because of migrants from other regions), where it is common in most speakers under 40 or so. It has always been standard in Brazil's Japanese community since it is also a feature of Japanese. The regions that still preserve the unpalatalized [ti] and [di] are mostly in the Northeast and South of Brazil by the stronger influence from European Portuguese (Northeast), and from Italian and Argentine Spanish (South).
Epenthesis in consonant clusters
BP tends to break up consonant clusters, if the second consonant is not /r/, /l/, or /s/, by inserting an epenthetic vowel, /i/, which can also be characterized, in some situations, as a schwa. The phenomenon happens mostly in the pretonic position and with the consonant clusters ks, ps, bj, dj, dv, kt, bt, ft, mn, tm and dm: clusters that are not very common in the language ("afta": [ˈaftɐ] > [ˈafitɐ]; "opção" : [ɔpˈsɐ̃ũ] > [ɔpiˈsɐ̃ũ]).
However, in some regions of Brazil (such as some Northeastern dialects), there has been an opposite tendency to reduce the unstressed vowel [i] into a very weak vowel so partes or destratar are often realized similarly to [pahts] and [dʃtɾaˈta]. Sometimes, the phenomenon occurs even more intensely in unstressed posttonic vowels (except the final ones) and causes the reduction of the word and the creation of new consonant clusters (prática > prát'ca; máquina > maq'na; abóbora > abobra; cócega > cosca).
L-vocalization and suppression of final r
Syllable-final /l/ is pronounced [u̯], and syllable-final /r/ is uvularized to