Learning how to master Spanish pronunciation can definitely be tricky with specific accents and vowels, but understanding the phonetics behind the pronunciation makes it much easier for students to pronounce words/phrases correctly. These tips go over the sounds of spanish vowels, consonants, stressed syllables and many more!
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Spanish has 5 vowels: A, E, I, O and U:
- A is similar to English a in car, but two times shorter;
- E is similar to English e in pet, but is more open;
- I is pronounced similar to English i in fit;
- O is similar to English aw in law, but two times shorter;
- U is similar to English u in put.
All Spanish vowels are open and they vary only slightly in stressed and unstressed positions, opened and closed syllables, cf.:
|OPEN SYLLABLES||CLOSED SYLLABLES|
|Stressed position||Unstressed position||Stressed position||Unstressed position|
|a||macho male||rosa rose||tomar to take||carnoso fleshy|
|e||fecha date||come [he] eats||comer to eat||comentar to comment|
|i||sino but||cómico comic||servir to serve||pintura picture|
|o||comes [you] eat||chico boy||calor warmth||contar to tell|
|u||uva grape||pudimos [we] could||curso course||pulsar to push|
See also Stress and Accentuation.
- NOTE 1: I and U may designate the semivowels [j] and [w] also. See below, Semivowels.
- NOTE 2: U is not pronounced in que-, qui-, gue-, gui– (read [k], [ki], [g], [gi]), cf:
- querer to love, quitar to withdraw;
- guerra war, guisantes peas.
Spanish has two semivowels, [j] and [w], pronounced as the English y in yet and w in wait.
The sound [j] may be written as:
- I before vowel and not in initial position, cf.:
- hierba grass, mientras while, pie foot;Ll in initial position before vowel, or in middle position
- between vowels, cf.:
- llamar to call, calle street;Y => see below.
The sound [w] is written u in all positions, both before and after vowel
Y denotes the semivowel [j] in the beginning of the words before vowel, in the middle of the words between vowels, and in the end of the words after vowel; it closely corresponds in pronunciation to the English y in yet, mayor, may; cf.:
- yema yolk, mayor greater, doy I give.
In Argentina and Uruguay y tends to be pronounced  (as English s in measure). See *Yeismo.
In few foreign words y is written before consonants and is pronounced [i], cf.:
- ypsilon ypsillon (Greek letter).
The diphthong is a combination of vowel and semivowel, pronounced as single phonetic entity. If the semivowel precedes the vowel, the diphthong is arising; otherwise it is falling, cf.:
- ARISING DIPHTHONGS
- [ja] ia, lla, ya: viaje voyage, llama flame, yacer to lie (down);
- [j] ie, lle, ye: pie foot, llegar to arrive, reyes kings;
- [j] io, llo, yo: cambio change, camello camel, mayor greater;
- [wa] ua: agua water;
- [w] ue: puedo I can;
- [w] uo: antiguo ancient.
- FALLING DIPHTHONGS
- [aj] ay: hay there is;
- [j] ey: ley law;
- [j] oy: soy I am;
- [aw] au: causa cause;
- [w] eu: deuda debt;
[w] ou: does not occur in native words.The accent mark on i or u indicates a separate pronunciation and then the vowel combination is not considered a diphthong, cf.:
- día day, poesía poetry, heroína heroine;
- actúan they act, aún still, yet.
The combination of i and u is not considered a diphthong, as in viuda widow.
The diphthongs ie and ue are always stressed and they alternate with unstressed o / u and e in related words, cf.:
|e||ventana window||ie||viento wind|
|o||porcino little pig||ue||puerco pig|
|u||juguete toy||ue||juego (I) play|
In the verb conjugation there may occur more complicated patterns of alternation, cf.:
- e : ie : i — venir to come : vienes you come : vine I came;
- o : ue : u — dormir to sleep : duermo I sleep : durme I slept;
- e : i : i — servir to serve : sirvo I served : sirve I served.
Spanish has 20 consonants. Most of the letters denote more than one sound.
The native words may end in D, L, N, R, S, Z, rarely in J.
B and V
B and V have coincided in modern pronunciation and are easily confounded in writing by the native speakers; they are distinguished by the names b alto high b and v bajo / corto low / short v in the school language.
In initial position and in the middle of the word after m B and V denotes the sound [b], similar to the English b in bar, cf.:
- banco bank; vaso glass;
- hombre man; invierno winter;
In middle position, if not preceded by m, B and V are pronounced [ß]; this is a fricative voiced sound, intermediate between [b] and [v], without equivalent in English, cf.:
- deber must, cabeza head, descubrir discover.
- clavel carnation, llave key, pavo turkey.
D is pronounced in two manners: as [d] (similar to the English d in do) and as [ð] (similar to the English th in father).
The sound [d] occurs:
- in initial position, cf.:
- deber must;in the middle of the word after l, n, cf.:
falda skirt, donde where.The sound [ð] occurs:
- in the middle of the word, between vowels, cf.:
- coda tail;in the middle of the word, before consonant (except l, n), cf.:
- padre father;in final position, cf.:
- salud health.
- NOTE: In modern Castilian Spanish the sound [ð] may disappear in the ending -ado and in final position, cf.:
soldado soldier, salud health.
Before a, o, u and consonants G denotes a voiced guttural occlusive [g] (similar to the English g in god), cf.:
- gallo cock, gorro hat, gloria glory, guante glove.
In the combination gue-, gui– (the u is mute) G denotes a softened sound (similar to the English g in get / give), cf.:
- guerra [‘ga] war, guijo [‘gix] pebble.
NOTE: The diaeresis on the u makes it pronounceable in these combinations, cf.:
vergüenza [br’gwn0a] shame.
Between vowels and after l, G designates a voiced fricative sound , intermediate between [g] and [x] (it has no equivalent in English; it may be obtained by trying to pronounce [g] continuously), cf.:
- amigo friend, Malagueño from Malaga (city in Spain), seguir to follow;
- delgado delicate.
P and T designate the voiceless occlusive sounds [p] and [t] (similar to the English p and t in pot and tank), cf.:
- pálido pale, piedra stone, poner to put;
- tener to have, tomar to take, tres three.
- NOTE: P and T never occur in the end of the native words.
C, Q and K
C (before a, o, u or consonant), Q (followed always by mute u) and K (in all circumstances) are pronounced [k], as the English c / q / k in car, quest, kill; cf.:
- cara face, coda tail, cuando [‘kwand] when, classe class;
- quedar [kðar] to stay, quince [‘kin0] fifteen;
- kilogramo [kil’gram] kilogram.
- Q is used only in the combinations que and qui, pronounced [ke] and [ki] (the u being mute), cf. the above examples.
K is used in few foreign terms.
F denotes the voiceless aspirated labial [f] (pronounced like the English f in fit), cf.:
- fecha date, fin end, frente forehead.
The letter H is always mute. It is written:
- etymologically, in the words mainly of Latin or Greek origin, usually in the beginning, cf.:
- L. habere => Sp. haber to have, => L. herba => Sp. hierba grass;etymologically, to denote a disappeared initial f-, cf.:
- L. facere => Old Sp. facer => Mod. Sp. hacer to do;orthographically, in initial hue- (in the traditional graphic there was not distinction between U and V and writing without initial h- could suggest the reding ve-), cf.:
- hueso (<= L. ossum) bone, huevo (<= L. ovum) egg;in the digraph Ch.
G and J
G before e, i and J in all positions designates the guttural aspirated sound [x] (similar to the Scottish ch in loch), cf.:
- geranio geranium, giro lap;
- justo just, bajo below, mujer woman.
X is pronounced [s] (like the English s in stop) before consonants and [gs] (like the English gs in pigs) between vowels, cf.:
- [s] : expulsar to expel, extraneo strange;
- [gs] : exemplo example, existir to exist.
NOTE: X is gradually replaced by J in intervocal position: exemplo => ejemplo.
S denotes a voiceless sibilant [s] (similar to the English s in stop, sink etc.), cf.
- este east, mesa table, clase class.
Before b, d, m S denotes a voiced sibilant [z] (similar to the English z in zoo) cf.:
- esbelto slender, desdenar to disdain, mismo the same.
C and Z
C (before e and i) and Z (in all positions) denotes the fricative sound , very similar to the English th in think, cf.:
- cerrar to close, ciruela plum, cielo sky;
- zorro fox, cazar to chase, cruz cross.
C and Z may alternate in orthography of related words and forms to be preserved the sound , cf.:
- vencer to vanquish : venzo I vanquish : vences you vanquish etc.;
- establecer to establish : establezco I establish : estableces you establish etc.
C is always preferred when possible, cf.:
- nuez nut : nueces nuts;
- luz light : luces lights.
- In Old Spanish orthography the pronunciation of c as  in front of a, o, u or a consonant was marked by a special sign, cedilla, written under the letter, cf.:
- venço I vanquish, esperança hope etc.
- In some documents all soft pronunciations of c were marked by cedilla, cf.:
- çibdad (ModSp. ciudad) city etc.
The pronunciation of  as [s] (the so called seseo) is very common in the Spanish provinces, but it is severely reprobated by the Spanish Academy.
Ch is pronounced  (as the English ch in ches) in all positions, cf.:
- charlar to chat, mucho to much.
L denotes the sound [l] (similar to the English l in link) in all positions, cf.:
- labio lip, lograr to gain, luz light, calor warmth.
The digraph Ll is pronounced [j] (as the English y in coyote) in all positions, cf.:
- llegar [j’gar] to arrive, calle [‘kaj] street.
In Middle ages Ll was pronounced as a soft sound,  (similar to the English li in milion) and this pronunciation is still preserved in various areas of Spain and America.
In Argentina and Uruguay Ll developed into  (similar to the English s in vision).
M in all positions and N before labials (B, V, F, M) are pronounced [m] (similar to the English m in much), cf.:
- mano hand, mirar to look, mucho much, many;
- invierno winter, en verano in the summer, enfermo ill, inmenso immense.
Before [k] and [g] N is pronounced  (as the English ng / nk in sing / sink), cf.:
- cinco five, aunque also, en campo in field, angustia anxiety.
In all other cases N is pronounced [n] (similar to the English n in nice), cf.:
- noche night, nuevo new, semana week.
Ñ denotes the soft sound  (similar to the English ni in onion) in all positions, cf.:
- España Spain, niño child, peña rock.
R- and -RR-
R in initial position and -RR- between vowels denote the strong vibrant sound  (it has no English equivalent), cf.:
- regla rule, recto straight, borracho drunken, correcto correct.
The sound  occurs also after l, n, s in middle position, cf.:
- alrededor around, enrolar to enroll, Israel Israel.
In middle position (if not after l, n, s) and in final position -R- denotes the sound [r] (it is stronger than the American -rr- in carrot), cf.:
- caro deart, cartera wallet, estar to be, to stay.
W occurs in foreign terms only and is pronounced [w] or [v] according to the language of origin, cf.:
- [w] : warrant [‘want] warrant;
- [v] : wagon-lit [va’gn’li] a railroad sleeping car.