Spanish Pronunciation Rules  

Spanish Alphabet

Pronunciation of Spanish Vowels

These five sounds _never_ vary, except that they are a little longer
when they are stressed and shorter when they are not, as Yo amo (I
love),[3] Amigo (friend), El cielo (heaven), Celeste (heavenly), Un
recibo (a receipt), Interés (interest), Yo como (I eat), Contar (to
count), Un buque (a ship), Una butaca (an armchair).

_Y_ is considered a vowel in the conjunction _y_ (and), and at the end
of a word, as Rey (king), Hoy (to-day).

[Footnote 1: _E_ and _o_ are sounded a little more open when they form
a diphthong with _i_ and when they precede _r_ followed by a consonant
or _r_ or _l_ final, as Fernando (Ferdinand), Un tercio (a third), El
tercer año (the third year), Porfiar (to insist), Amor (love), Español
[Footnote 2: The _a_ and _o_ of "fate" and "note" are not _pure vowel
sounds_. In English the a is distinctly pronounced a-ee and o is
pronounced o-oo.

In Spanish the first part _only_ of the two sounds is permissible.]

[Footnote 3: The examples given with their English equivalents should be
Diphthongs and Triphthongs
There are no Diphthongs or Triphthongs in the English sense of two or
three vowels meeting in one syllable and blending into a different
sound, as "pause," "plough."

Every vowel is pronounced separately and each with its alphabetical
sound, only the two or three vowels occurring in one syllable are
pronounced rapidly, as Pausa (pause), Reino (kingdom), Cuenta (account),
Buey (ox).

_A, E_ and _O_ never form diphthongs together. They may form diphthongs
and triphthongs only in combination with _I_ and _U_.

The Consonants are pronounced as in English with the following

B is pronounced much more lightly than in English, with no pressure of
the lips, as Libro (book), Brevedad (brevity).

C before _E_ and _I_--_th_ in "theatre," as La Cena (the supper), La
Cerveza (the beer). Otherwise pronounced _K_ as in English, as Caja
(case, box), Color (colour), Cúbico (cubic).

Ch _always_ as _ch_ in "church" (never hard as in "monarch"), as
Chocolate (chocolate), Charla (prattle).

D at the end of a word or after a vowel is pronounced very softly and
lightly, with a tinge of _th_ in "they," as Madrid, Amado (loved),
Encarnado (red).

G before _E_ and _I_ is pronounced guttural, as El general (the
general), El giro (the draft, bill). This sound is equal to _ch_ in the
Scotch word "loch." In all other cases G is pronounced hard, as in the
English word "gay"; as Gato (cat), Gobierno (government), Gusto
(pleasure, taste).

H is a mute letter. (Although in Andalusia it is aspirated in certain

J is always guttural, as Juan (John), Jornalero (day labourer), Junio
(June), Reloj (watch, clock).

Ll--_ly_, stronger than _li_ in "pavilion," as Belleza (beauty), Folleto

Ñ--ny, stronger than _ni_ in "pinion," as Niño (child), Caña (cane), El
otoño (autumn).

Q is only used before _ue_ and _ui_ (and the _u_ is then _mute_), as
Querido (dear, beloved), Yo quiero (I want).

R as in English, but it is always rolled, as Caro (dear, expensive),
Pérdida (loss). At the beginning of a word or when preceded by a
consonant it is rolled more strongly, as La rosa (the rose), Deshonra

Rr always rolled strongly, as Carro (cart), El ferrocarril (the

S always pronounced as _s_ in "soap," and never as in "as" or "sure."

T as in "tea," but never as _t_ in "nation." It must be pronounced
softly, not explosive, as Fortuna (fortune), Cuatro (four).

V is pronounced much more lightly than in English, as Vino (wine), Vivir
(to live). By the common people _V_ is often confounded with _B_, but
educated Spaniards will always make the proper distinction.

Y--Spanish _I_.

Z--_th_ in "theatre," as Zarazas (cotton prints), Zorra (fox).

NOTE.--In modern Spanish Z is not used before _E_ or _I_, its place
being supplied by _C_.
Rules on Pronunciation
RULE I.--Every letter is pronounced. There are no mute letters as _b_ in
"lamb" or _n_ in "autumn."

EXCEPTIONS--_H_ is not sounded as already explained in the alphabet. _U_
is not sounded in the following syllables: _que, qui, gue_ and _gui_, as
Quedar (to remain), Quinta (villa), Guerra (war), Águila (eagle), unless
the _u_ in _gue_ and _gui_ has the diaeresis, as Argüir (to argue),
Vergüenza (shame).

RULE II.--No consonant is doubled except C and N. _C_ is found doubled
in words like Acceder (to accede) when one _C_ is hard--_k_ and the
other soft--_th_.

_N_ is found doubled in words having the prefix _in_, as Innoble
(ignoble), Innavegable (unnavigable). Also in Perenne (perennial) and a
very few more words.

_Ll_ and _Rr_ are treated as single letters.

RULE III.--The _stress of the voice_ falls on the last syllable but one
in all words ending in a vowel or _S_ or _N_; otherwise it falls on the
last syllable, as Una factura (an invoice), Facturas (invoices), Hermano
(brother), Cartas (letters), Ellos tienen (they have), Azul (blue),
Abril (April), Labor (labour), Feliz (happy).

In diphthongs and triphthongs the stress is not on _i_ or _u_, but falls
on _a_, _e_ or _o_, as Reina (queen), Gracia (grace), Igual (equal),
Cielo (heaven).

When the diphthong is formed by _i_ and _u_ the last one bears the
stress, as Un viudo (a widower), La ciudad (the city), Luisa (Louise).

The numerous exceptions to the above rule are all marked by the written
accent (´), as Facturó (he invoiced), Escribirá (he will write), Háblame
(speak to me), Inglés (English), Alemán (German), Útil (useful), Jóvenes
(young men).

The stress of the voice should fall _distinctly_ on the proper syllable
according to the above rule, and the attention of the student must be
earnestly called to this very important point.

A word in the plural maintains the stress on the same syllable as in its
singular, as El océano (the ocean), Océanos (oceans), Cálculo
(calculation), Cálculos (calculations), Inglés (Englishman), Ingleses
(Englishmen); except Carácter (character), Caracteres (characters),
Régimen (regime or rule), Regímenes (regimes or rules)--the latter
hardly ever used in the plural.

The Written Accent.

The only accent in Spanish is (´). It is used--

(1) To mark the exceptions to the _Rule of Stress_.

(2) To distinguish between two meanings of the same word, as El (the),
Él (he); De (of), Que él dé (that he may give); Se (3rd person reflexive
pronoun, "himself," etc.), Yo sé (I know); Más (more), Mas (but).

(3) In the following words established by use, as "ó" or "ú" (or),
"é" (and), "á" (to).[4]

(4) In some words when used interrogatively, as Quién? (who?), Qué?
(what?), Cuál? (which?), Cúyo? (whose?), Dónde? (where?).

(5) On _I_ and _U_ when they occur together with _A, E_ or _O_, the _I_
or _U_ not belonging to the same syllable, viz., not forming diphthong
with _A, E_ or _O_, as Filosofía (philosophy), El continúa (he

(6) On _I_ following _U_ when the _I_ does not form a diphthong, but
stands as a separate syllable, as Concluído (concluded), Imbuído

(7) On Éste (this), Ése and Aquél (that) when these words are stressed.

Crema (Diaeresis)

The diaeresis is placed over _u_ in "güe" and "güi" when the _u_ is to
be sounded.[5]


The tilde (~) is used on the letter _N_ to turn it into _Ñ_, as Mañana
(morning) (in old Spanish spelt Mannana).

Notes of Interrogation and Exclamation

These are used in Spanish both at the beginning and at the end of the
question or exclamation, as ¿Qué quiere V.? (what do you want?),
¡Cuántos sufrimientos! (how much suffering!). Note that at the beginning
they are reversed.

The other signs of punctuation are used as in English.

Capital letters are used as in English with the following exceptions--

(1) Adjectives of nationality are written with small letters, as Un
libro inglés (an English book).

(2) Days of the week generally (and sometimes the months of the year)
are written with small letters.

[Footnote 4: According to the last edition of the Grammar of the
Spanish Academy, these words may now be written without the accent.]
[Footnote 5: In poetry also to divide an ordinary diphthong into two
syllables for the sake of rhythm.]
Division of Words into Syllables
After the first syllable each succeeding one _commences with a
consonant_, as a-for-tu-na-da-men-te (fortunately), except when a
prefix occurs before a primitive word,[6] as Organizar (to organise).

Des-or-ga-ni-zar (to disorganise).

When two consonants occur together one letter belongs to one syllable
and the other to the next, as--

Ac-ci-den-te (accident)
Pe-ren-ne (perennial)
Tem-po-ral-men-te (temporarily)
In-me-dia-to (immediate)

EXCEPTION--_bl, br, pl, pr, cl, cr, dr, fl, fr, gl, gr_ and _tr_ are not
divided, as--

A-blan-dar (to soften)
Li-bro (book)
A-pla-zar (to postpone)
A-pre-ciar (to appreciate)
De-cla-mar (to declaim)
De-cre-tar (to decree)
A-me-dren-tar (to frighten)
Con-fla-gra-ción (conflagration)
Re-fren-dar (to countersign)
A-glo-me-rar (to agglomerate)
A-gran-dar (to enlarge)
En-con-trar (to meet)

If any of these combinations occur together with a third consonant, this
of course will belong to the previous syllable, as

Em-bro-llar (to entangle).

If four consonants come together, two belong to the first syllable and
two to the next, as Obs-tru-ir (to obstruct).

_Ll_ and _Rr_, being treated as single letters, must not be divided,

Ba-lle-na (whale)
Una ca-lle (a street)
A-lla-nar (to level)
Tie-rra (earth)

[Footnote 6: A few minor exceptions will be learnt by practice.]
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