Galician-Portuguese (the common name used in academic circles to refer to the primitive and medieval form of Galician) is one of the most conservative of the Romance languages. For example, it retains Latin vowels (Latin PETRA > Gal. pedra; Latin NOVU > Gal. novo)  without diphthongization,  as well as some diphthongs from Latin or proto-Romance which suffered a reduction (western proto-Romance *teito, *noite, *primario > Gal. teito, noite, primeiro) in other languages.

The principal features that characterize Galician-Portuguese when contrasted with other Hispanic languages were established between the 8th and 12th centuries: reduction of intervocalic -LL- and -NN- to -l- and -n- respectively (Latin CAPILLU, CANNA > Galician cabelo, cana), and the loss of intervocalic -L- and -N- (Latin VOLARE, LUNA > Galician voar, lúa). A genuine, distinctive characteristic of Galician-Portuguese is the nasalization of vowels, caused by the loss of intervocalic -N-: lua, irmão, ter, etc.

In the 12th century, the territory of Gallaecia was divided into two parts: the independent Kingdom of Portugal and the Kingdom of Galicia, which was attached to the Crown of Leon and Castile. This political fragmentation of the linguistic domain of Galician-Portuguese resulted in a gradual divergence of the two varieties, both in form and status. Thus, while Portuguese became the official language of the Kingdom of Portugal, Galician was relegated to a minority language within its own territory, and was always subject to pressure from Castilian.

Phonology and Writing

The Galician alphabet has 23 letters (a, b, c, d, e , f, g, h, i, l, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, x, z) and six digraphs (ch, gu, ll, nh, qu, rr). The letters ç, j, k, w and y are only used in foreign words. The accent mark (´) is used to mark the accented syllable in polysyllabic words and also as a diacritical mark to distinguish between pairs of words that are differentiated in the spoken language because one is stressed where the other is unstressed  (, verb dar / da, preposition de + article a), or because one of them has (a half open vowel) an open-mid vowel while the other has the corresponding close vowel (vés, verb vir / ves, verb ver). In writing, é and ó can represent both the open-mid vowels as well as the close vowel.

Consonant Phonemes

Many Galician speakers substitute the lateral phoneme with a central occlusive phoneme or an affricate phoneme /dj/, a phenomenon known as “yeísmo”.

Depending on the dialect, there exists a fricative phoneme or an approximant in place of the occlusive voiced velar phoneme /g/, that has both unvoiced and voiced pronuciations, and is located between the centre of the palate and the glottis. In most Galician dialects, /g/ is pronounced as a silent velar fricative [h].

At the end of a word, -n (such as in un, can, canción) is pronounced as a nasal velar.

Vocalic Phonemes

Table of phonemes-graphemes correspondence


Apart from the three neutral demonstrative pronouns (isto, iso and aquilo), all articles, adjectives, nouns and pronouns are classified according to their gender as masculine or feminine, and according to their number as either singular or plural. The plural is formed by adding –s or –es to the singular form, and creates new lexical forms in some cases: miolo/miolos which means “brain” in plural. Masculine nouns generally end in –o and feminine nouns in –a, such as neno/nena (boy/girl), lobo/loba (wolf/she-wolf). The change in gender in some noun pairs can indicate a difference in sex, size (the feminine often represents larger objects than the masculine) or shape (poza/pozo – puddle/well, machada/machado – axe/hatchet). Nouns demand morphological agreement with their modifiers and referential pronouns.

The indefinite articles are un, unha (masculine and feminine singular) and uns, unhas (masculine and feminine plural). The definite articles are o, a, os and as. In spoken Galician, when such articles are placed after words ending in –r or –s, they are formally represented as lo, la, los, and las and they are normally joined to the preceding word. For example, when combined with the prepositions por and tras, the results are: polo(s), pola(s), tralo(s), trala(s), respectively.

Galician has one class of reflexive pronouns and five classes of personal pronouns: subject pronouns, direct object pronouns, indirect object pronouns, prepositional pronouns and accompanying pronouns. Although the latter ones are accompanying pronouns, it should nevertheless be noted that consigo is reflexive: we distinguish between estabamos con el and levaba unha pistola consigo. The six classes of pronouns have both singular and plural forms for the first, second and third persons. There are also formal and informal forms: the informal ti (second person singular) and vós (second person plural), and the formal vostede (second person singular) and vostedes (second person plural). The subject, prepositional and accompanying pronouns are stressed and are mainly used for emphasis.

1 sg.eumincomigo
3el/ela el/elaconsigo
1 pl.nósnósconnosco
3 eles/elaseles/elasconsigo

The direct object, indirect object and reflexive pronouns are unstressed. In affirmative declarative sentences, they are enclitic, i.e., joined to the verb. In other cases they are proclitic, i.e., placed before the verb.

Direct objectIndirect objectReflexive
1 sg.mememe
2te chete
3o, a llese
1 pl.nosnosnos
3os, asllesse

Galician verbs (in their full form) are comprised of a stem, a stem-vowel and endings that correspond to mood-tense and number-person. A form such as andaremos can be analyzed in the following way: and- (stem), -a- (first conjugation), -re- (indicative future), -mos (first person plural). There are three verbal conjugations in Galician, that are distinguished according to their respective vowel stems: -a- (andar), -e- (bater) and -i- (partir)[1]. There are also a few irregular verbs : caber, dar, dicir, estar, facer, haber, ir, parir, poder, pór, pracer, querer, saber, ser, ter, traer, valer, ver and vir, some of their compounds and verbs derivated from those.

Verbs are only conjugated according to tense and aspect in the indicative: present (ando), preterite (andei), future (andarei); past perfect (andara), imperfect (andaba), conditional (andaría). In the subjunctive mood, verbs are formed in the present (ande) or in the past tense (andase).

The future subjunctive (andar) is only used in legal texts or in very formal contexts. There are two types of infinitives in Galician, namely the impersonal and the personal or inflected. The conjugated infinitive agrees with the subject in the second person singular and plural, and with the first and third person plural. The Galician verbal paradigm also has two other impersonal verbal forms: the gerund (invariable) and the participle (inflected for gender and number). Compound verbal forms only exist in the future (hei andar) and conditional tenses (había andar).

The verb andar (to walk)


Galician syntax is typical of southern Romance languages. The normal word order in a sentence is SVO (subject, verb, object), with direct objects being placed before indirect objects (although the rules that govern the position of enclitic pronouns are rather complicated). Subject pronouns that are phonically unmarked, or are not the focus, are morphologically represented by the verb. In general, in simple declarative sentences, auxiliaries precede the verb, verbs precede their objects and clausal complements, and prepositions precede their terms. In nominal phrases, the noun precedes the adjectives and clausal modifiers (although in some cases the adjective may precede the noun head). Furthermore, the possessive, demonstrative, numeral and indefinite articles all generally precede the noun. The inversion of verb and object normally occurs in order to emphasize the object.

The passive voice, which is formed using the auxiliary verb ser (to be) and the past participle of the main verb, is not often used in Galician, except in legal, journalistic and scientific documents. Other constructions are used instead to express the idea of passivity: the usual word order is inverted (Ese libro lino eu cando era pequeno, esa película rodárona na Coruña), active verb forms are used with the third person reflexive pronoun (Esa película rodouse na Coruña), and there also exists an impersonal construction in which the active verb is formed in the third person singular without an explicit subject, but preceded by the pronoun se (Véndese viño).

Yes/no questions are normally formed by reversing the order of the subject and verb(Veu Antón? – Has Antón arrived?). If we want to add emphasis, we can add a final interrogative particle (Veu Antón ou non?).  In wh-questions, the interrogative pronoun is placed at the beginning of the sentence (Cando veu Antón?– When did Antón arrive?; Como veu Antón? - How did Antón arrive?; Onde está Antón? – Where is Antón?; Quen é Antón? – Who is Antón?; Que di Antón? - What is Antón saying?; etc.). When one can deduce the answer, be it negative or positive, it can be anticipated with a final interrogative particle (Veu Antón, non si? – Antón has arrived, hasn’t he? – we expect a positive answer; Non veu Antón, a que non? – Antón hasn’t arrived, has he? – we expect a negative answer). Positive answers are generally expressed by repeating the verb, sometimes reinforcing the answer with the adverb si  (Veu Antón? Veu - Has Antón arrived? He has arrived; Fostes á festa? Fomos, si - Did you go to the party? We went, yes). For negative answers the adverb non is used.

Negations are usually expressed by placing the adverb non before the verb: Carme non dixo nada interesante (Carme didn’t say anything interesting). As can be seen, “double negatives” do exist in Galician.

Contact with Castilian Spanish

The interference of Castilian Spanish with Galician can be seen especially at the lexical level, and to a lesser extent at the syntactic, morphological and phonetic levels. Lexical interferences are well documented in medieval ecclesiastical, legal and literary texts. The vocabulary used in these areas was first gradually “castilianized” and then, abundant Castilian vocabulary related to the areas of education, science, law, technology and the media was progressively introduced. This interference has reached such a level, that spontaneous Galician speakers often find it difficult to recognize whether some traditional words are Galician and often consider the Castilian substitutes as  the authentic Galician word. The linguistic proximity of the Galician and Spanish languages has also contributed to this substitution process.  Furthermore, linguistic disintegration and a change in the coherence and autonomy of Galician, as well as the gradual assimilation of Castilian, have reinforced the substitution process (through a loss of scope of use and speakers). Lexical substitution is currently so advanced that castilianization extends beyond basic vocabulary, i.e., from the semantic field of the human body to those of family relations, domestic life, names of days of the week and of the months.

At the morphosyntactic level, some of the phenomena caused by the influence of Castilian on Galician are: castilianization of the gender of words that share the same origin (Gal. o leite  / Cast. la leche > castilianized Gal. a leite, - the milk); the placing of the unstressed pronoun before the verb in contexts where it would be placed after the verb (Gal. lévote / Cast. te llevo > castilianized Gal. te levo, - I’ll take you) according to the rules of Galician; castilianization of the irregular verb forms (Gal. souben / Cast. supe > castilianized Gal. soupen, - I knew). To these phenomena, which are present at different levels of the speech of regular spontaneous speakers, we must also add others that are peculiar to Castilian speakers: for example, the omission of the definite article before the possessive adjective (Gal. a súa roupa / Cast. su ropa > castilianized Gal. súa roupa, - his clothes), and the use of verb forms such as había cantado in place of the Galician form cantara.

Some common Galician words

adianteadiantedelantein front of
díadia díaday
horahora horahour
tixolafrigideirasarténfrying pan

[1] The first conjugation normally has –a– as the vowel stem, except in the first person of the past indicative which presents an –e– (andei - I walked) and the third person of the same tense which presents an –o– (andou – he walked). The second conjugation which normally presents an –e–, has an –i– in the imperfect (collía, collías, collía... - I took, you took, he took), in the first and second person of the past indicative (collín, colliches –I took, you took) and in the participle (collido/s, collida/s - taken). In the third conjugation the vowel stem is –i– but it changes into –e– in the second and third person singular and third person plural (partes, parte, parten – you leave, he leaves, they leave) and in the second person singular of the imperative (parte - leave).


  • Álvarez Blanco, R.; H. Monteagudo Romero (1994): "Galegisch: Interne Sprachgeschichte I. Grammatik", en G. Holtus, M. Metzeltin; C. Schmitt (eds.), Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik (LRL): VI/2. Galegisch, Portugiesisch, Tübingen, Max Niemeyer, p. 1-21. [GL]
  • Álvarez, R.; X. Xove (2002): Gramática da lingua galega, Vigo, Galaxia.[GL]
  • Feixó Cid, X. (2004): Gramática da lingua galega. Síntese práctica, Vigo, Xerais. [GL]
  • Fernández Rei, F. (1990): Dialectoloxía da lingua galega, Vigo, Xerais. [GL]
  • Fernández Salgado, B. (coord.) (2004): Dicionario Galaxia de usos e dificultades da lingua galega, Vigo, Galaxia.[GL]
  • Freixeiro Mato, X. R. (1998): Gramática da lingua galega I, Fonética e fonoloxía, Vigo, A Nosa Terra.[GL]
  • Freixeiro Mato, X. R. (2000): Gramática da lingua galega II, Morfosintaxe, Vigo, A Nosa Terra.[GL]
  • Freixeiro Mato, X. R. (2001): Gramática da lingua galega III, Semántica, Vigo, A Nosa Terra.[GL]
  • Freixeiro Mato, X. R. (2003): Gramática da lingua galega IV, Gramática do texto, Vigo, A Nosa Terra.[GL]
  • Freixeiro Mato, X. R. (2001): Manual de gramática galega, Vigo, A Nosa Terra.[GL]
  • Gambini, D. (1986): Introduzione alla linguistica galega, Perugia, Università.[IT]
  • Gómez Guinovart, X. (2011): Dicionario moderno inglés-galego, Ames, 2.0 Editora. [GL] [EN]
  • González González, M. (dir.): Dicionario da Real Academia Galega, A Coruña, Real Academia Galega.[GL]
  • Herrmann, U. (1990): Das Galicische: Studien zur Geschichte und aktuellen Situation einer der nationalen Sprachen in Spanien, Frankfurt, TFM / Domus Editora Europaea.[DE]
  • Labraña, S. et alii (2009): EuroComRom - As sete peneiras. Saber ler axiña todas as linguas románicas, Aachen, Shaker Verlag. [GL]
  • Mariño Paz, R. (2017): Fonética e fonoloxía históricas da lingua galega, Vigo, Xerais. [GL]
  • Monteagudo, H. (1993): "Aspects of corpus planning in Galicia", Plurilinguisme 6, 124-153.[EN]
  • Real Academia Galega (2012): Normas ortográficas e morfolóxicas do idioma galego, A Coruña, Real Academia Galega.[GL]
  • Regueira Fernández, X. L. (coord.) (1998): Os sons da lingua, Vigo, Xerais.[GL]
  • Regueira Fernández, X. L. (2010): Dicionario da pronuncia da lingua galega, A Coruña, Real Academia Galega.[GL]
  • Varela Aenlle, C. X. (2021): Dicionario do galego de Asturias,Vigo, Universidade. [GL]
  • Xubín, I. (2010): Dicionario galego-éuscaro euskara-galiziera,Vigo, Universidade. [GL] [EUS]
  • Online bibliography