Cute – Fofo or Bonito?

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Published: 22nd of Janauary, 2023 by Patrick Carpen

Last updated: January 22, 2023 at 12:34 pm

It can be challenging to translate some Portuguese words to English and vice versa. After all, there is no exact translation. While we may find an approximate equivalent, the shade of meaning in some cases will be different. The English word “cute” is an example of one such word for which it is difficult to find a direct Portuguese translation.

When I was teaching English in Campo Verde, Mato Grosso in the year 2013, I discussed the translation of the word “cute” with some of my English students. They asserted that the Portuguese word “fofo” is the translation for “cute.”

However, after looking at videos, reading scripts, and seeing other examples of the word “fofo” in context, I’ve come to realize that, while it may be similar, it is not a correct translation of “cute.” The word “cute” refers to physical appearance, usually used to describe a child, young boy or girl, animal etc. Some examples include:

He’s so cute.

She’s so cute

It’s so cute.

Cute then, is a gender-neutral adjective which is similar to handsome, pretty, or beautiful. A girl might refer to a boy as cute instead of handsome. And someone may refer to an animal as cute instead of beautiful. In the English world, we know when to use one or the other.

Fofo in Portuguese means “sweet” and is used to describe a person’s personality or behavorial traits. In the Netflix movie, “Polianna,” I’ve heard a teenage girl say that a boy was “fofo” but “feia,” which means “sweet but ugly.”

If you ask me, I’d say that a good translation for “cute” is “bonita” (feminine) or “bonito” (masculine).

In the same way, I’d say that “bonitinho” and “bonitinha” is a good translation for the English “cutie.”

He’s a cutie. Ele é uma bonitinho.
She’s a cutie. Ela é uma bonitinha.

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