Translation Commentaries (3)

Legal Translation: How to Say Assault and Battery in Brazilian Portuguese?

— By Oliver Simões

Recently, as I have been researching about court interpretation,  I came across a useful online glossary of legal and court-related terms. It turns out that one of the glossary entries appeared to have been mistranslated. The term in question was assault and battery, which the glossary rendered as agressão e lesão corporal.

The word agressão has a multitude of meanings in Portuguese; it could be “a moral or physical attack”, “a hostile, disrespectful attitude”, “the action or the result of verbally insulting (someone)”, or “something that offends or insults”, as well as “an insult or offense”. Seeão

Given the ambivalent definition of agressão as a “moral or physical attack”, I would refrain from using this word as the translation of assault. According to the Cornell Law School’s website, “assault is usually paired with battery“. It further explains that “in an act of physical violence, assault refers to the act which causes the victim to apprehend imminent physical harm, while battery refers to the actual act causing the physical harm”. corroborates this definition:

“… an assault is an attempt or threat to injure another person, while battery is the act of making contact with another person in a harmful or offensive manner.”

Please notice the use of the word threat in the latter definition. I’ll come back to this in a moment.

Upon consulting a technical glossary on, I was flabbergasted to see assault translated as assalto. Clearly, they are not the same thing. As explained by UOL/Folha de São Paulo in their column Para entender Direito:

“Não existe o crime de assalto. Assalto é um termo usado na linguagem militar (‘tomar de assalto’, ou seja, de surpresa), mas não tem relação alguma com o mundo penal.”

[“There is no crime of assalto. Assalto is a term used in military language (‘take by assault’, in other words, by surprise), but it has no relationship with the criminal world.”]

To say that lesão corporal is the translation of battery doesn’t seem right. Lesão corporal is the result of an action (battery, in this case) or an accident (e.g., a car accident). Therefore, it’s best translated as bodily harm or bodily injury.

Article 147 of Brazil’s Penal Code defines an ameaça (threat) in the following terms (in English translation):

“To threaten someone, by word, in writing, or by gesture, or any other symbolic means, to cause him/her an unfair and grave harm: Punishment – one to six months in prison, or fine” –

There are plenty of references online to ameaças e agressão física, and this is the translation I would suggest for assault and battery. In my opinion, ameaça(s) best translates the concept of assault while agressão física seems to be more appropriate for battery. Below are some example sentences with ameaças e agressão física:

“O acusado VAGNILSON FORTUNATO foi interrogado às fls. 16/17 e negou as acusações de ameaças e agressão física, contudo admitiu o conhecimento e posse do objeto em questão.” Fonte:ÇA+E+AGRESSÃO+FÍSICA

“Meu pai cedeu terreno para mim (sic) morar e constituir um lar, porém apenas me incomodei e sofro diariamente com ameaça e agressões feitas por ele a mim e minha família, sem contar no abuso de tomada de área cedida a mim e deixando-me sem passagem e garagem” (emphasis added) – Source:

“Agressão verbal, discriminação, bullying, furto/roubo, ameaças e agressão física são alguns tipos de violências infelizmente presenciados e sofridos dentro das escolas por alunos, professores e funcionários” (emphasis added) – Fonte:

Finally, it should be made clear that in the United States, the definition of assault varies from one state to another. And it also varies from country to country. See this Wikipedia article for a detailed explanation.

To summarize: assalto is a false cognate with assault (in this particular instance) and therefore not a viable option. The meaning of assault varies by jurisdiction, and the word is best translated as ameaça(s); there seems to be a transfer of meaning between them. In some contexts, assault translates better as agressão; for example sexual assault (agressão sexual). Only the specific context can determine how to translate properly.

PS: Upon detecting the mistranslation, I sent the court’s interpretation team a copy of this article along with a cover letter. A few weeks later, I checked their website and verified that the error had been fixed. However, in a recent visit to their website I noticed that they reverted back to the wrong translation.