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.
||English word with same vowel sound
Spanish consonants are fairly consistent with English, so only those that differ form English will be presented in the following table:
||English word with same sound
| 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
||cero 'zero', coche 'car'
||when c occurs before e or i it is pronounced like an s, in other contexts it is pronounced like a k
||double cc sounds like English x (ks)
||gato 'cat', gente 'people'
||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'
||the sequence gua, güe, and güi are pronounced with a gw sound; other sequences of gu+vowel have a silent u
||h is always silent in Spanish, just say the word as if it began with the following vowel
||Spanish j is pronounced something like an English h, though with more friction/mouth closure
||llamo 'I call'
||sounds like an English y, except in Argentina and Ecuador where it is pronounced like the g of genre
||the sound ñ occurs in English in the sequence ny and sometimes the sequence ni
||the sequence qu in Spanish is always pronounced like an English k, NOT like a kw sound as in English queen
||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)
||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)
||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 'and', cayó 'he fell'
||y is a vowel in Spanish, or a consonant like English y
||México, éxito 'success'
||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
||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
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:
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"); dé subjunctive of dar ("I/he/she gives")
- el ("the"); él ("he")
- hola ("hello"); ola ("wave")
- mi ("my"); mí ("me (object of preposition)")
- si ("if"); sí ("yes")
- bienes ("goods"); vienes from venir ("you come")
- te ("you (object pronoun)"); té ("tea")
- tu ("your"); tú ("you")
- que ("that"); qué ("what")