11 great Portuguese proverbs, sayings and idioms – and their meanings

Check out other posts in this series exploring proverbs in German, Hungarian, Italian, English, Japanese, Finnish, Romanian, Czech and Estonian.


Portuguese proverbs, sayings and idioms are a fascinating part of Portuguese culture. They can be used to make friends or to get into trouble depending on the situation!

In this article, we take an in-depth look at some great Portuguese proverbs, sayings and idioms – and their meanings.

1. Quem vê cara não vê coração

Translation: Who sees face does not see heart.

Meaning: Do not judge someone based on first impressions; they might be hiding a great personality beneath.

2. O monstro de mil cabeças, muito maior que um só homem tem

Translation: The monster of 1000 heads is much bigger than a single man has

Meaning: A difficult task that can not be completed by one person alone. In Portugal the saying ‘a large fish needs many people’ means that teamwork is very important for achieving goals and success in life.

3. Fazer o bicho papão

Translation: To create an illusion; to pretend; to act out

Meaning: This expression originally comes from Brazil. In Portuguese it means having someone believe something which isn’t true or exaggerating what’s happening.

4. Quem não arrisca não petisca

Translation: Those who do not risk, do not have a snack.

Meaning: Taking risks can result in success. You will not get the benefits of crossing international borders if you do not take a risk. Usually used as advice to individuals in doubt on whether they should make a risky move – it means you should definitely make that move.

5. Quem ri por último ri melhor.

Translation: He who laughs last laughs best.

Meaning: The person who laughs last is usually the most amused and it’s often used to imply that someone should have seen their mistake or embarrassment coming.

6. Não fale com a boca cheia!

Translation: Don’t speak with your mouth full of food; don’t be so rude!

Meaning: This expression means “don’t talk while you’re eating”. It may also mean, “watch what you say!” for example if someone has just found out they’ve been cheated on. Literally translated as ‘Don’t speak when your mouth is full’.

7. Não fale sobre cabeça que não tem”

Translation: Don’t speak about things that don’t concern you.

Meaning: Basically this phrase implies we should care more about our own affairs than meddling in other people’s business. It can be either an insult or advice depending on how it’s being used by the speaker.

8. Quem muito segura o cordel deve pouco arrastar-se

Translation: People who clutch too firmly at a rope must pull less hard!

Meaning: “If you’re not willing to take a risk, don’t complain when you get nothing.”

9. Eu e minha gente

Translation: Me and my people.

Meaning: “I am not the only one who is important; everyone is equally valued” (or) “My family comes first”. This expression can be used in situations where someone feels like they are being neglected or taken for granted by their partner.

10. Não tem que esperar pelo sinal verde sempre para atravessar a rua!

Translation: You shouldn’t wait for green traffic lights to go before crossing the road!

Meaning: You should always make decisions based on what’s best for your situation rather than sticking to strict rules which may no longer be relevant.

11. Fazer um monte de coisa ao mesmo tempo

Translation: To do many things at the same time (literal)

Meaning: “To try to accomplish too much by doing more than one thing simultaneously” or “to multitask”. This expression is often used when someone’s trying to get everything done in order and they’re struggling because of it; for example, if they want to finish their laundry but are also cooking dinner, then this saying may be invoked.

Some people can find this proverb annoying due to its frequent use as an excuse not to take on new tasks or commitments. It can also imply that somebody thinks themselves too important/lazy for only focusing on one task at a time.