Letters and sounds in Spanish | Spanish Grammar | Kwiziq Spanish (2024)

Letters and sounds in Spanish | Spanish Grammar | Kwiziq Spanish (1)

Written by qualified Spanish expert Inma Sánchez BA

on 16 July, 2022

Spanish is often described as a phonetic language and that's mostly true as long as you know the rules of pronunciation which are intertwined with spelling rules (orthography). Let's take a look at the Spanish alphabet and how different letters are pronounced when they are used in combination with vowels to form syllables.

The Spanish alphabet consists of 27 letters:

a - be - ce - de - e - efe - ge - hache - i - jota - ka - ele - eme - ene - eñe - o - pe - cu - erre - ese - te - u - uve - uve doble - equis - i griega - zetaa - b - c - d - e - f - g - h - i - j - k - l - m - n - ñ - o - p - q - r - s - t - u - v - w - x - y - z

There are some geographical variations in the names given to the letters, you can see and listen to a full list here: The alphabet in Spanish

Spanish vowels

The Spanish alphabet has 5 vowels:

a e i o u

a e i o ua e i o u

They are always pronounced the same way, regardless of what precedes them or what comes after.

In this lesson we will take a look at some Spanish consonantsthat may present some difficulty both orthographically (= spelling) and in pronunciation for Spanish language learners.

Pronunciation of some consonants in Spanish

Consonants b andv in Spanish

Consonantsb andv are pronounced the same in Spanish: both with a "b"sound. Listen to these examples and notice how there is no distinction in their pronunciation:

BárbaraBarbara

VíctorVictor

blancowhite

valientebrave

Consonantsc andz in Spanish

In Spanish we make the sound z [~th] combined witheach of the vowels by spelling them like this:

za, ce, ci, zo, zu

za

zasound [~tha]

zapatoshoe

ce

cesound [~the]

cenadinner

ci

cisound [~thee]

cinecinema

zo

zosound [~thoh]

azotearooftop terrace

zu

Za, ce, ci, zoandzu are pronounced differently depending on whether you are in Latin America or Andalucía for example or you are in central and northern Spain.

See here some information about some of the different variants of Spanish:

  • Español latinoamericano
  • Español peninsular
  • Español canario

Consonantc with soundk/q in Spanish

For the consonantc to have a hardk/q soundwhen combined with each vowel, it needs to be written as follows:

ca, que, qui, co, cu

With the vowelse and i, ce and ci would make a softc /[th] sound, and not a hard k/qsound. So,qu-is required withe andito indicate thehardcsound.

Notice how theu inqu is silent.

Here are some examples to listen to:

ca

Casa, cama, Macarena, acabar...House, bed, Macarena, to finish...

que

queso, qué, aquella...cheese, what, that...

qui

aquí, maquillaje,quiero, quise...here, make-up, I want, I wanted...

co

cosa, comer, blanco, abanico...thing, to eat, white, fan...

cu

cuchillo, cuchara, astico, acuarela...knife, spoon, acustic, watercolor...

The number of words using the letterk in Spanish is very limited and most of these wordshave aforeign origin, for example:

rate, keroseno, kilogramo, koala, kung-fukarate, kerosene, kilogram, koala, kung fu

Consonantg pronounced as hardg

Hardgrefers to the sound that can be heard in the English words"gate", "golf" or "girl".

Here is how wewrite the hardgsound in Spanish with each vowel:

ga, gue, gui, go, gu

Some examples are:

ga

gato, Galicia, gastar, agarrar...cat, Galicia, to spend, to hold...

gue

guerra, guerrilla, albergue, Águeda...war, guerrilla, youth hostel, Águeda (female name)...

gui

guiso, águila, siguiente, alguien...stew, eagle, next, someone...

go

gorra, mago, goma, amargo, hago...hat, magician, rubber, bitter, I do...

gu

agujero, gustar, gusano...hole, to like, worm...

If a word actually needs the"u"of"gue" or"gui" to be pronounced in the syllablegue or gui(instead of being silent), then we need to employ Diéresis which indicates that the sound of theu needs to be pronounced.

Here are some examples; pay attention at their pronunciation:

cigüeñastork

lingüísticalinguistics

pingüinopenguin

Be careful: if you omit the dieresis then it would be pronouncedincorrectly:

pinguino (incorrect)penguin

Consonantsg and jpronounced similarly to the English"h" sound

We are referring here to the equivalent (or the most approximate equivalent) of the English sound for "history", "Hannah"or "hello".

Depending on where you are in Spain and Latin America, the sounds ofg andj are slightly different, but generally speaking,in Spanish the sound is similar to thesound of an Englishhand to write this sound with each of the vowels, it is written as follows:

ja, ge/je, gi/ji, jo, ju

The sounds of ge and je are identical as are the sounds of gi andji.

Here are some examples:

Javier, jamón, jamás...Javier, ham, never...

Gerardo, genial, jefe, jerarquía...Gerardo, great, boss, hierarchy...

Jimena, jirafa, ágil, agitar, girar...Jimena, giraffe, agile, to shake, to turn

José, joroba, bajo, ajo...José, hump, short/low, garlic...

Julia, jugar, justificar...Julia, to play, to justify...

Take a look at this video by Español con Hanane:

Letters and sounds in Spanish | Spanish Grammar | Kwiziq Spanish (2)

Consonanth in Spanish

The letterh is never pronounced in Spanish. Listen to these examples and notice how it's always silent:

ahora, hola, roe, historia, hueso, zanahoria...now, hello, hero, history, bone, carrot...

Bear in mind though that in a similar way to English, if hfollows the consonant c, they form a new sound together: "ch"

mucho, charco, chico, muchacha...a lot, puddle, guy, girl...

Consonantñ in Spanish

The letterñ is exclusively Spanish. It's written exactly the same way as the regular letter "n" but with a (sometimes wavy, sometimes flat) horizontal lineabove it. It can precede any vowel in Spanish, and it has a specific pronunciation.

ña, ñe, ñi, ño, ñu

Here are some examples; pay attention to their pronunciation:

España, bañera, niño, niña, añorar, ñu...Spain, bath, boy, girl, to miss, gnu...

Consonantr in Spanish

The letterr in Spanish has two pronunciations, as a softr or a hard r. The hardr sound occurs when we make extra vibrations with our tongue, as oppossed to the soft/simpler where we only make a single vibration.

The sound of the soft/simpler

We pronounce the letterr as asoft r when it is:

- between two vowels

Marina, oro,curar...Marina, gold, to cure...

- at the end of a syllable

Martina, porcelana, amor, cantar, beber...Martina, porcelain, love, to sing, to drink...

- placed after a consonant which is part of the same syllable

tren, cangrejo, práctico...train, crab, practical...

The sound of the hard/multipler (rr)

We pronounce the letterr with multiple vibrations, when:

- the word is written with adouble r

perro, carro, arroz, arriba...dog, cart/trolley, rice, up/top...

You can compare here how for examplepero(but) andperro(dog) are pronounced differently, one with asimple r and another with a double r:

pero, perrobut, dog

- ther is at the beginning of the word

radio, riqueza, roncar, ruido, recordar...radio, richness, to snore, noise, to remember...

Note that there aren't any Spanish words starting with a double r (written) , only oner is possible at the beginning of a word.

- ther is placed aftern, l ors

alrededor, Israel, Enrique...around, Israel, Enrique...

Take a look at this video about the pronunciation ofr/rr:

Letters and sounds in Spanish | Spanish Grammar | Kwiziq Spanish (3)

Consonantw in Spanish

There aren't many words in Spanishwiththe letterw. Generally, the sound ofw in Spanish is"gu" (where theu is pronounced). Here are some examples:

página web, wifi, windsurfwebsite, wi-fi, windsurf

If the word is of other foreign origin like German, we then pronounce that type ofw the same way asthe Spanish letter"b", for example:

WagnerWagner

Consonantx in Spanish

The letterx in Spanish has two different sounds. If thex is at theend ormiddle of the word, it's pronounced as"ks":

relax, excavar, sexorelax, excavate, sex

but if it is at the beginning of a word thenthe sound ofx is "s":

xilófono, xenófoboxylophone, xenophobic

Consonanty andll in Spanish

Bothy and thell are pronounced the same, as in the English "yes", so, Spanish words like "ayer" and "paella" have the same sound. Pay attention to these examples:

ayer, paella, playa, ella, pollo, cobaya...yesterday, paella, beach, she, chicken, guinea pig...

Bear in mind that, although this pronunciation ofy andll has same sound is generalised in Spain and in most of Latin America, you will find specific areas in Spain and Latin American where there is a distinction - that isy andll do not sound the same. In Argentina and Uruguay there is apronunciation of these two letters called "yeísmo rehilado".

Have a look at this Kwiziq reading and listening exercise:Yeísmo

You can also viewthis video aboutyeísmo rehilado:

Letters and sounds in Spanish | Spanish Grammar | Kwiziq Spanish (4)

Note that before 1994, the Spanish alphabet containedthree letters that don't exist in the English alphabet:"ch"and"ll"and "ñ". However, in 1994 the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española agreed that both "ch"and"ll" would lose their status as letters in their own right.

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Letters and sounds in Spanish  | Spanish Grammar | Kwiziq Spanish (2024)

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