Language cannot be separated from sound, and that is the sum of the matter. Otto Jesperson (1860 - 1943)

Chapter 1   --   Pronunciation

Perhaps the best part of Spanish grammar is that there are only four rules which govern the pronunciation of all Spanish words.

          1. When there is a written accent, the vowel with the accent is stressed

          examples    María   (mah-rEE-ah)      América (ah-mAY-ree-cah)           papá   (pah-pAH)            número (nOO-may-roh)

          2. When a word ends in a consonant, other than n or s, the last vowel is stressed.

          examples:   comunicar (coh-moo-nee-cAHr)         libertad (lee-bayr-tAHD)        papel (pah-pAYl) reloj (ray-lOH)      insistir (een-sees-tEEr)

          3. When a singular word ends with -ia, -ie, or -io, the third to last vowel is stressed in both singular and plural forms.

          examples:    historia   (ee-stOH-ree-ah)         historias (ee-stOH-ree-ahs)

                            serie (sAY-ree-ay)   series (sAY ree-ays)       patio (pAH-tee-oh)      patios (pAH-tee-ohs)

          4. In all other cases, the second to last vowel is stressed.

          examples:   madre   (mAH-dray)        Arizona (ah-ree-zOH-nah)         rodeo (roh-dAY-oh)        hoteles (oh-tAY-lays)      eliminan (ay-lee-mEE-nahn)

There are no exceptions to these rules.


The Spanish Alphabet

Based on the Latin alphabet, the Spanish alphabet has a total of 26 letters.   The following is the list from the 2003 Velásquez® official dictionary.
The pronunciation guide in the parentheses gives the sound of each letter.

a (ah)           b (bay)         c (say)          ch (chay)      d (day)         e (ay)           f (ayfay)      g (hey)         h (ahchay)   i (ee)         j (hoetah)     l (aylay)

m (aymay)   n (aynay)      ñ (aynyay)     o (oh)          p (pay)         q (coo)         r (ayray)      s (aysay)      t (tay)           u (oo)       v (vay)        x (aykeys)

y (ee)           z (zaytah)

The ll and rr are no longer regarded as separate letters.   The letters k (kah) and w (doble v) are regarded as imported letters.

To distinguish between b and v, the expressions b larga (the long b) and v corta (the short v) are used.   To distinguish between i and y, the y is called y griega (greek i).


There are five vowels in the Spanish language, namely a, e, i, o, and u.   Using English words as guides, the Spanish vowels are pronounced as follows.

               a   (ah)          like the a in father

               e    (ay)         like the e in they       [ at the end of a word before d or l, like the e in bet ]

               i   (ee)            like the i in machine

               o   (oh)          like the o in go

               u   (oo)         like the u in duty  

Single vowels always receive their full and true sound, and are always pronounced as given above.  

In Spanish, the letter y is never used as a vowel.  

The vowels a, e, and o are considered to be "strong" vowels, and the vowels i and u are considered to be "weak" vowels.
When double vowels occur, the strong vowel will receive the accent, and no written accent will be used.
If the weak vowel will receive the accent, a written accent will be used.  Thus, río, día but fue.
When two weak vowels occur, one will have a written accent, thus fuí.

Vowel Combinations

In most vowel combinations, each letter receives its true sound.

          example, griega = gree-AY-gah       reemplazar (ray-aym-plah-zAHr)

A few combinations have different sounds.

          ai   and ay are pronounced like the ai in the word aisle.

          au is pronounced like the ou in the word sound

          oi and oy are pronounced like the oi in oil or the oy in boy.


In the three letter combinations gue and gui, the u is silent.           examples:   guerra = gAY-rrah                   guitarra = gee-tAH-rrah

When these combinations occur, if the pronunciation of the u is intended, the written form is changed to ü, and the letter is pronounced.

          examples:    argüir= ahr-goo-EEr     vergüenza = vayr-goo-AYn-zah

As in English, the letter u is always silent after the letter q.


The following Spanish consonants have the same sound as English consonants.

          f      l      m      n      p      q      r      s      t


The letter b
When it occurs in the middle of words, the letter b is spoken more softly than in English.
When the letters b and v occur in the middle of words, their sounds are equivalent, but are spoken without touching the lips together.

The letter d
When it occurs in the beginning of a word, the letter d has the same sound as it does in English, and is pronounced with the tongue placed behind the upper teeth.
In the middle or end of a word, the letter d is spoken more softly, and it is pronounced with the tongue behind the lower teeth.
Dropping the letter d when it occurs at the end of a word (such as liberta’ for libertad), or the letter s (such as estamo’ for estamos)
is considered substandard pronunciation, just as we regard saying “doin” for “doing”.

The letter c
The pronunciation of the letter c is the same as in English.   It is soft before e, i, or h, and hard before a, o, u, or consonants other than h.

          examples:                        English                  Spanish

                                               citation                  citación (see-tah-see-OHn)

                                               ranch                     rancho (rAHn-choh)


                                               color                      color   (koh-lOHr)

                                               cura                       cura    (kOO-rah)

                                              criminal                  criminal (kree-mee-nAHl)

                                              doctor                     doctor (dohk-tOHr)

In Spain, the letter c, when followed by e or i, is pronounced like th in English.

          examples:    centavo (thayn-tAH-voh)           citación (thee-tah-thee-OHn)          doce (dOH-thay)           decir (day-thEEr)


The letter ch
The letter ch is pronounced like the ch in the English word church.

The letter g
The letter g is hard before a, o, u, or a consonant.

          examples:    hard             galante (gah-lAHn-tay)

                                                golfo (gOHl-foh)

                                                gusto (gOOs-toh)

                                                grande (grAHn-day)

When the letter g is followed by an e or an i, its sound is like the letter h in English hole.     

          examples:    like h            general (hay-nay-rAHl)           gigante (hee-gAHn-tay)

The letter h
The letter h has no sound.   There is nothing to pronounce.

The letter j
The letter j is pronounced like the letter h in the English word hot.   There is a little “throatiness” to the sound, just as it occurs in English.

          examples:    caja (cAH-hah)      lejo (lAY-hoh)

The letter combination ll

Throughout most of Latin America, ll is pronounced like the y in the word you;

                   in Argentina, the ll is pronounced like the letter z;

                   in some areas, the ll is pronounced like the letter j;

                   in Spain, the ll is pronounced like the ll in the word million.

Very few words begin with a double ll, and no words end with this combination.

The letter ñ
The letter ñ is pronounced like the ny in the English word canyon.

Very few words begin with this letter, and no words end with this letter.

The letter q
The letter q is always followed by the letter u.   The combination qu is pronounced like the English letter k.  
In this combination, the letter u is silent.

The letter combination rr
The rr is a strongly trilled r.   When a single r occurs in the middle of a word, it is NEVER trilled, because trilling the letter will change the meaning of the word.
For emphasis, the letter r at the beginning or end of a word may be trilled without causing confusion due to the fact that no Spanish words begin nor end with a double r.

The letter s
In Spanish, the letter s has only one sound, and it is always pronounced like the s in the word santa.

The letter v
The sound of the letter v is similar to the sound of the English letter, but there is no vibration of the lips.  
Its sound is like the letter v in the English word valve.  
In the middle of a word, the sound of the letters b and v is indistinguishable, but the proper spelling is always maintained.

The letter y
When the letter y is pronounced ee. When used alone, it means the word and.

The letter z
In Latin America, the letter z is pronounced like the z in the English word haze.   In Spain, the letter z is always pronounced like th in English.

Double consonants

When double consonants occur, both letters are pronounced, and their pronunciation will follow the regular rules.  

example:     innumerable = een-noo-mayr-AH-blay      Here, the double consonant nn is clearly pronounced, with a slight break between the two letters.

example:      acción = ahk-see-OHn      Here, the first c occurs before a consonant, so its sound will be hard, in accord with the rule.   The second c occurs before the vowel i, so its sound will be soft, again, in accord with the rule.   Thus, the sound of this word will be ahk-see-OHn.

example:      actividad = ahk-tee-vee-dAHd     Here, the letter c occurs before a consonant, so its sound is hard.

example:      guerrero = gay-rrAY-roh     Here, the letter combination rr is a strongly trilled r, but the single letter r is not trilled.

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26


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