Pronunciation of "qu"

Am I right in thinking that “qu” in Portuguese is sometimes pronounced [k] and sometimes [kw]?

If so, could someone explain the rules, please?
Many thanks :grinning:

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That’s correct. Basically, sometimes the vowel U is pronounced and other times it isn’t. This has to do with the vowel that comes after the U: if it’s A or O (qua, quo), you pronounce the U. If it’s E or I (que, qui), you don’t. Of course, you’ll find several exceptions to this general rule, as we’re used to seeing in Portuguese. That has to do with the origins of each word and how they evolved over time.

In the not-so-distant past, any exceptionally pronounced Us were signaled with umlauts (e.g., freqüência - frequency), but those accents are no longer used in Portuguese. So, it takes some guesswork now. Here are some examples:

Pronounced U:

  • Quando (when)

  • Enquanto (while)

Not pronounced U:

  • Quem é? (Who is it?)

An exception to the rule:

  • Cinquenta (Fifty)


Thanks so much for that, @Joseph!

It was actually one of the exceptions that got me thinking about this. In one of the shorties I came across ‘tranquilo’, in which the U is pronounced.

You’re welcome. Yep, tranquilo is another exception to the rule. The umlauts would really help Portuguese learners, hah.