Spanish Grammar Guide

Spelling and Pronounciation

An Overview of Spanish Spelling:

In general, Spanish spelling is consistent with pronunciation, meaning that the same letters are pronounced the same way across most contexts. This is good news for learners because it means that learning to spell and pronounce Spanish is relatively simple and transparent.

Main Rules for Spanish Spelling and Pronunciation

In Spanish, letters representing vowels are always pronounced (unlike in English). There are also no silent vowels in Spanish, except for the sequences qu and gui or gue that have a silent u. The following table lists the Spanish vowels, gives an example of a Spanish word, and also gives an example of an English word that has a similar vowel sound. 

vowel Spanish word English word with same vowel sound
a abierto 'open' apple
e veint'twenty' eight
i iglesia 'church' eat
o corto 'short' open
u azul 'blue' glue
y y 'and' eat

Spanish consonants are fairly consistent with English, so only those that differ form English will be presented in the following table:

Spanish Consonant Spanish word English word with same sound Notes
 b and v burro 'donkey' and vacaciones 'vacations'   both b and v are pronounced equally in Spanish; they sound like a b but with more air flow and friction
 c cero 'zero', coche 'car' certify, cat when c occurs before e or i it is pronounced like an s, in other contexts it is pronounced like a k
 cc acción 'action' axe double cc sounds like English x (ks)
 g gato 'cat', gente 'people' go, hat when g occurs before e or i it is pronounced something like an English h, though with more friction, in other contexts it is pronounced like a hard English g
 gua, güe, güi guapo 'handsome', vergüenza 'shame', lingüística 'linguistics' Gwen the sequence gua, güe, and güi are pronounced with a gw sound; other sequences of gu+vowel have a silent u
 h hora 'hour'   h is always silent in Spanish, just say the word as if it began with the following vowel
 j jardín 'garden' hat Spanish j is pronounced something like an English h, though with more friction/mouth closure
 ll llamo 'I call'  yummy sounds like an English y, except in Argentina and Ecuador where it is pronounced like the g of genre
 ñ niño 'boy/child' onion, canyon the sound ñ occurs in English in the sequence ny and sometimes the sequence ni 
 qu queso 'cheese' kite the sequence qu in Spanish is always pronounced like an English k, NOT like a kw sound as in English queen
 r pero 'but' ladder, butter the single r in Spanish is pronounced like the d or t that occurs in the middle of a word in English (a tap of the tongue on the roof of the mouth); when the single r occurs at the start of word, it is pronounced as a trill (see rr)
 rr perro 'dog', rosa 'rose/pink'   the rr and r at the beginning of a word is pronounced as a trill of the tongue (this may take some practice)
 s solo 'alone' solo the letter s has only one sound in Spanish, unlike English that has the unvoiced s as in solo and the voiced s (sounds like z) as in rose
 y y 'and', cayó 'he fell' eat, you y is a vowel in Spanish, or a consonant like English y
 x México, éxito 'success' hat, exit x is pronounced like English x (ks); in certain proper nouns (names), coming from Mexico, it is pronounced something like an English h, though with more friction/mouth closure; in other proper nouns, also from Mexico, it can be pronounced like an s or a sh
 z zebra 'zebra' sorry the letter z is always pronounced like s (i.e.: NO voicing like the English z); in Spain z is pronounced like English th in think

Accents, if present, always indicate the stress of a word in Spanish. Otherwise, the second last syllable of a word carries the stress (unless the word ends in "r", "z", or "l" in which case the last syllable of the word carries the stress), e.g.:

  • energía, práctica, versión
  • platos, problema, radio, hablan
  • hablar, vegetal, actriz

Spanish/English cognates

Be careful with words that mean the same, but have slightly different spellings in English and in Spanish. Even though the spelling is the same, keep in mind the pronunciation is likely different. Some common pairs of cognates are given in the following table:

English Spanish English Spanish
apartment

 apartamento

departamento

invite invitar
accompany acompañar interesting interesante
activities actividades family familia
aggressive agresivo important importante 
broccoli brócoli honor honor 
bicycle bicicleta list lista
alcohol alcohol lesson lección
advantage ventaja ocean océano 
blouse blusa paper papel 
exercise ejercicio music música 
effect efecto natural natural 
camouflage camuflaje
object objeto 
double doble plans  planes 
passport pasaporte television televisión 
different diferente problem problema 
examine examinar traffic tráfico 
elegant elegante restaurant restaurante 
energy energía radio radio 
group grupo uniform uniforme 
guide guía visit visitar 
history historia vote votar 
human humano secret secreto

 

Homophones

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same, but have different spellings. These differences must be respected when writing. Some of the most common homophones in Spanish are presented below:

  • a ("to/at"); ha from haber ("to have + past participle")
  • calló from callar ("he/she silenced"); cayó from caer ("he/she fell down")
  • casa ("house"); caza ("hunt")
  • coser ("to sew"); cocer ("to cook")
  • de ("of/from");  subjunctive of dar ("I/he/she gives")
  • el ("the"); él ("he")
  • hola ("hello"); ola ("wave")
  • mi ("my"); mí ("me (object of preposition)")
  • si ("if"); ("yes")
  • bienes ("goods"); vienes from venir ("you come")
  • te ("you (object pronoun)"); ("tea")
  • tu ("your"); ("you")
  • que ("that"); qué ("what")

 

 
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