Spanish orthography reflects rather well
the phonetic features of the language.
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,
similar to English a in car, but two times shorter;
similar to English e in pet, but is more open;
pronounced similar to English i in fit;
similar to English aw in law, but two times shorter;
similar to English u in put.
See also Stress
NOTE 1: I and U may designate the semivowels
[j] and [w] also. See below, Semivowels.
NOTE 2: U is not
pronounced in que-,
love, quitar to withdraw;
See also C,
Q, K and G..
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.
I before vowel and not in initial position, cf.:
hierba grass, mientras while,
Ll in initial position before vowel, or in middle position between
llamar to call, calle street;
Y => see below.
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.:
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,
[ja] ia, lla, ya:
ie, lle, ye: pie foot, llegar
arrive, reyes kings;
io, llo, yo: cambio change, camello
[wa] ua: agua water;
ue: puedo I can;
uo: antiguo ancient.
[aj] ay: hay there
ey: ley law;
oy: soy I am;
[aw] au: causa cause;
eu: deuda debt;
ou: does not occur in native words.
The combination of i and u is not considered
a diphthong, as in
act, aún still, yet.
The diphthongs ie and ue are
always stressed and they alternate with unstressed o / u
and e in related words, cf.:
In the verb conjugation there may occur
more complicated patterns of alternation, cf.:
irregular and Irregular
e : ie : i -- venir to
come : vienes you come : vine
o : ue : u -- dormir to
sleep : duermo I sleep : durme
e : i : i -- servir to
serve : sirvo I served : sirve
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 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
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 is pronounced in two manners: as [d] (similar
to the English d in do) and as [ð] (similar to the English th
The sound [d] occurs:
The sound [ð] occurs:
in initial position, cf.:
in the middle of the word after l, n,
in the middle of the word, between vowels,
in the middle of the word, before consonant
(except l, n), cf.:
in final position, cf.:
modern Castilian Spanish the sound [ð] may disappear in the ending
-ado and in final position, cf.:
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
is mute) G denotes a softened sound (similar to the English g in get
/ give), cf.:
diaeresis on the u makes it pronounceable in these combinations, cf.:
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.:
Malaga (city in Spain),
P and T designate the voiceless occlusive sounds [p] and [t] (similar to
the English p and t in pot and tank), cf.:
have, tomar to
take, tres three.
and T never occur in the end of the native words.
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.:
stay, quince ['kin
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.:
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
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,
(<= L. ovum) egg;
in the digraph Ch.
G before e, i and J in all positions designates the guttural aspirated
sound [x] (similar to the Scottish ch in loch), cf.:
X is pronounced [s] (like the English s in
stop) before consonants and [gs] (like the English gs in pigs) between
[s] : expulsar to
expel, extraneo strange;
[gs] : exemplo
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.
Before b, d, m S denotes a voiced
sibilant [z] (similar to the English z in zoo) cf.:
disdain, mismo the same.
C (before e and i) and Z (in all positions)
denotes the fricative sound [
0], very similar to the English
in think, cf.:
C and Z may alternate in orthography of related
words and forms to be preserved the sound [
close, ciruela plum, cielo
C is always preferred when possible, cf.:
vencer to vanquish
venzo I vanquish : vences
establish : establezco I establish
estableces you establish etc.
The pronunciation of [
In Old Spanish orthography the pronunciation
of c as [
0] in front of a, o, u or a consonant was marked
by a special sign, cedilla, written under the letter, cf.:
In some documents all soft pronunciations
of c were marked by cedilla, cf.:
vanquish, esperança hope
çibdad (ModSp. ciudad)
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.:
L denotes the sound [l] (similar to the English
l in link) in all positions, cf.:
gain, luz light,
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
to the English li in milion) and this pronunciation is still preserved
in various areas of Spain and America.
arrive, calle ['kaj]
In Argentina and Uruguay Ll developed
(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.:
Before [k] and [g] N is pronounced 
(as the English ng / nk in sing / sink), cf.:
invierno winter, en verano in
the summer, enfermo ill, inmenso
In all other cases N is pronounced [n] (similar to the English n in nice),
cinco five, aunque also,
campo in field, angustia
noche night, nuevo new,
Ñ denotes the soft sound 
(similar to the English ni in onion) in all positions, cf.:
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.:
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.:
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]
[v] : wagon-lit [va'gn'li]
railroad sleeping car.
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