Phonology and Spelling


Spanish orthography reflects rather well the phonetic features of the language.
 

Vowels (Vocales)

Spanish has 5 vowels: A, E, I, O and U: 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.

Semivowels (Semivocales)

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:

The sound [w] is written u in all positions, both before and after vowel.
 

Y

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.: 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.:

Diphthongs (Diptongos)

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.: The accent mark on i or u indicates a separate pronunciation and then the vowel combination is not considered a diphthong, cf.: The combination of i and u is not considered a diphthong, as in viuda widow.
 

Vocal Alternation

The diphthongs ie and ue are always stressed and they alternate with unstressed o / u and e in related words, cf.:
 
Unstressed
 
Stressed
 
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.:

See Partially irregular and Irregular verbs.
 

Consonants (Consonantes)

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.:

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.:

D

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:

The sound [ð] occurs:

G

Before a, o, u and consonants G denotes a voiced guttural occlusive [g] (similar to the English g in god), cf.: In the combination gue-, gui- (the u is mute) G denotes a softened sound (similar to the English g in get / give), cf.:
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.:

P, T

P and T designate the voiceless occlusive sounds [p] and [t] (similar to the English p and t in pot and tank), cf.:

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.:

F

F denotes the voiceless aspirated labial [f] (pronounced like the English f in fit), cf.:

H

The letter H is always mute. It is written:

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.:

X

X is pronounced [s] (like the English s in stop) before consonants and [gs] (like the English gs in pigs) between vowels, cf.:

S

S denotes a voiceless sibilant [s] (similar to the English s in stop, sink etc.), cf. Before b, d, m S denotes a voiced sibilant [z] (similar to the English z in zoo) cf.: See Seseo and Ceceo.
 

C and Z

C (before e and i) and Z (in all positions) denotes the fricative sound [0], very similar to the English th in think, cf.: C and Z may alternate in orthography of related words and forms to be preserved the sound [0], cf.: C is always preferred when possible, cf.: The pronunciation of [0] as [s] (the so called seseo) is very common in the Spanish provinces, but it is severely reprobated by the Spanish Academy.

See Seseo and Ceceo.
 

Ch

Ch is pronounced [] (as the English ch in ches) in all positions, cf.:

L

L denotes the sound [l] (similar to the English l in link) in all positions, cf.:

Ll

The digraph Ll is pronounced [j] (as the English y in coyote) in all positions, cf.: 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).

See Lleismo, Yeismo and *Yeismo.
 

M, N

M in all positions and N before labials (B, V, F, M) are pronounced [m] (similar to the English m in much), cf.: Before [k] and [g] N is pronounced [] (as the English ng / nk in sing / sink), cf.: In all other cases N is pronounced [n] (similar to the English n in nice), cf.:

Ñ

Ñ denotes the soft sound [] (similar to the English ni in onion) in all positions, cf.:

R- and -RR-

R in initial position and -RR- between vowels denote the strong vibrant sound [] (it has no English equivalent), cf.: The sound [] occurs also after l, n, s in middle position, cf.:

-R-

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.:

W

W occurs in foreign terms only and is pronounced [w] or [v] according to the language of origin, cf.:



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