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A Pronunciation Guide To The Spanish Alphabet

One of the first things to go after when you’re learning Spanish is how to actually pronounce Spanish.
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Reading a language you’re not familiar with can be a real challenge when you’re starting out learning. It may use the same alphabet, but the letters won’t sound the same. Fortunately, Spanish has one of the easiest writing systems to learn how to pronounce, because the spelling matches up very well with the pronunciation. With this guide for how to pronounce the Spanish alphabet, you should be able to say pretty much anything in the Spanish language — even if you don’t understand what it means just yet.

The Spanish Alphabet

In English, a single letter can have a huge range of different pronunciations. “E,” for example, makes a different sound in “need” or “bled” or “weigh” or “hate” or “pallet.” In Spanish, each letter makes pretty much only one sound, and it’s the same every time.

First, let’s start with the whole Spanish alphabet, which has 27 letters. It’s all of the same letters as the English alphabet with one addition: ñ. You can listen to a native speaker pronounce the alphabet below (or listen to a song version here).

Listen to the Spanish Alphabet

While the alphabet is great, it is only one part of seeing how the letters work in various contexts. Below, you can listen to each common letter and letter combination as they sound in Spanish words.

ala sala (the room)

ay — la playa (the beach)

bbeber (to drink)

c — la bicicleta (the bicycle)

cc — el accidente (the accident)

ch — ocho (eight)

del dedo (the finger)

eel pez (the fish)

ey — el rey (the king)

fel jefe (the boss, masc.)

gel gato (the cat)

gu — el agua (the water), el guerrero (the warrior)

gü — la verenza (the shame)

hel hospital (the hospital)

iel cine (the theater)

jel ojo (the eye)

k — el kilogramo (the kilogram)

lel pelo (the fur)

ll — la calle (the street)

mmimar (to spoil)

nla banana (the banana)

ñla araña (the spider)

oel otoño (the autumn)

oy — hoy (today)

pla papa (the potato)

qu — la taquilla (the ticket office)

rpero (but)

rr — el perro (the dog)

slas casas (the houses)

tla tortuga marina (the sea turtle)

uuno (one)

vvivir (to live)

w la world wide web (the world wide web)

x — el extranjero (the foreigner)

yel yate (the yacht)

zel pozo (the well)

An Aside: K And W

The letters “k” and “w” are only used in words that come from other languages. They’re a relatively recent addition to the Spanish alphabet.

Letters With More Than One Pronunciation

As mentioned, most letters in the Spanish alphabet have only one pronunciation. There are a few exceptions to that rule, however.

C

The letter “c” is one of the few Spanish letters with more than one pronunciation. If it comes before an “a,” “o,” “u” or a consonant, it’s pronounced like the English “k.” If it comes before an “e” or an “i,” it’s like an English “s” (though some Spanish speakers may pronounce it more like a “th”).

GU

The letters GU together have two possible pronunciations. If they appear before the vowels I or E, they make a hard “g” sound like the “g” in “tiger.” If GU is before an A or an O, it makes a “gw” sound like the “gu” in “guano.” When the Ü has a diaeresis, then GÜ makes a “gw” sound no matter what letters follows.

QU

The letter U is silent when preceded by the letter Q. Also, you’ll never find the letter Q without a U after it.

X

The “x” almost always makes a sound like “ks,” like the “x” in “maximum.” There are three other pronunciations of the letter you might run into, however. When a word starts with an X, it’ll make an “S” sound. There are some location names like “Mexico” and “Texas” where the X sounds like a guttural “h,” and other place names where it might sound like a “sh,” like with the Guatemalan city Xela. Like K and W, the letter X mostly appears in loanwords.

Accent Marks In Spanish

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We’ve already covered two kinds of marks, the tilde (ñ) and the diaeresis (ü). Both of these affect the pronunciation of a specific letter. The rest of the accent marks (á, é, í, ó and ú) affect the stress.

In English, where the stress is in a word isn’t marked at all. You just have to know intuitively that elementary is pronounced “eh-leh-MEN-tuh-ree” instead of “EL-eh-men-tuh-ree” or “el-eh-men-TAH-ry.”

Spanish is much more predictable. If the word ends in an “n,” an “s” or a vowel, the stress goes on the second-to-last syllable. If it ends in any other letter, the stress is on the last syllable. If the word has an accent mark, the stress is on the syllable that has the accent mark.

There are also cases where accent marks are used to differentiate words. The word como means “like,” “as” or “how” in Spanish, but when used in a question it becomes cómo. The same goes for que (what) and qué (what, but in a question), or el (masculine “the”) and él (he).

Now that you know the Spanish alphabet, you should be ready to read Spanish! It’s not too hard once you get the hang of it. And if you’re still struggling to get around certain vowels and consonants, you can look at our general pronunciation tips.

Learn more about the language!
Thomas Moore Devlin
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.
Thomas grew up in suburban Massachusetts, and moved to New York City for college. He studied English literature and linguistics at New York University, but spent most of his time in college working for the student paper. Because of this, he has really hard opinions about AP Style. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and getting angry about things on Twitter. He's spent a lot of time trying to learn Spanish, and has learned a little German.

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