The Meaning of “Saudade”

Saudade is a Portuguese word that we don’t have in English. Simply put, “saudade” (or its plural equivalent, “saudades”) describes a strong feeling of longing for something or someone missing, along with the subconscious knowledge that that thing or person may never come back. It has been defined as “the love that remains” or “the love that stays”  after someone has left.  It is often accompanied with feelings of nostalgia as well.  “Estou com saudade,” which literally translates to “I am with longing,” is an expression that articulates this yearning.  “Saudades de você,” which means “I miss you” (a lot!), is also often spoken among Brazilians.

The only expression that comes a little bit close to “saudade” is “I miss you,” but “saudade” has a much heavier tone and carries a whole lot more meaning than that.  For instance, if you miss eating chocolate, in English you might say, “I miss eating chocolate.” In Portuguese, you would not use the word “saudade” to talk about something so superficial.  Furthermore, “saudade” would only be used if you could no longer eat chocolate, as the word is used solely to describe a person, a thing or a place that one does not have the ability to see anymore. (And if you really wanted to eat chocolate, then you could).  So what might you say instead to express this longing to eat chocolate? There is a Portuguese expression equivalent to the English “to miss someone or something,” which is much less strong than “saudade.”  This is “sentir falta de…”  So in this case, you could say, “Sinto falta de comer chocolate.” (I miss eating chocolate).

Origins of “Saudade” 

In order to understand a culture, one must understand the full meaning of its words, especially those for which there is little or no translation. Furthermore, in order to understand the true meaning of a word, it is also necessary to understand the cultural origins of that word.  “Saudade” is a word that is thought to have originated during Portugal’s Golden Age of Discovery; as many sailors were out at sea, their families left behind at home felt incredible longing and sadness, not knowing when their loved ones would return, if ever. More recently, it gained meaning for the many immigrants that moved to Brazil, who left their homelands behind forever.

A part of Brazilian life 

“Saudade” is a word that is so ingrained in the Brazilian culture and way of life, that there is actually a Day of Saudade in Brazil, which celebrates this word each year on January 30th.  Additionally, many Brazilians songs talk about “saudade,” including this one, which is one of my favorites, called “Uma vida sem saudade” (a life without “saudade”):


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