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A Quick Guide to Pronouncing Spanish

In the interests of fairness, here are a few thoughts about how to pronounce Spanish.

Pronounce almost every vowel and almost every consonant.

If there’s an accent over a vowel, emphasize that syllable.

Spanish words are usually pronounced with the stress on the second to the last syllable unless an accent indicates otherwise. Therefore patrón is pronounced pah-TRON, not PA-tron; and patrones is pah-TROH-nes (which is why it doesn’t need an accent over the “O”).

Unlike English, each vowel has basically only one sound.

A as in “father.”

E as in “ten.”

I as in “he.” (If found before a vowel, it’s almost like the “y” in “you.”)

O as in “hot.” At the end of a syllable, “O” has a soft sound like the “O” in “note” but without the glide; when it’s followed by a consonant in the same syllable, it has a harder sound, like the “O” in “organ.” (See the examples below with patrones (soft “O”) and patrón (hard “O”).)

U as the “oo” in “fool.”

The biggest exceptions to the pronouncing every vowel are: (1) “U” when it follows a “G” or “Q” and precedes an “E” or “I”: the “U” in this case is silent; with “G” it indicates that the “G” has a hard sound (pronounced like “go”), and not the usual soft sound (which is like “home”); and (2) two vowels side by side are pronounced with one sound (“elided”) unless one of the vowels has an accent. This means that Santiaguista is pronounced san-tyah-GIS-tah, not san-tee-yah-guh-IS-tah; and compañía is pronounced com-pah-NYEE-ah, not com-pah-NYAH.

When followed by an “E” or “I”, “C” is pronounced like “th” (as in “think”) in Castilian Spanish but has an “s” sound (like “cent”) in American Spanish. When it’s followed by an “A”, “O”, “U”, or a consonant, it’s pronounced like “c” in “come.”

When followed by an “E” or “I,” “G” is pronounced like the “H” in “home”; when it follows an “A,” “O,” “U” or a consonant, “G” sounds like “go.” Therefore cónyuge is pronounced CON-yuh-heh, but Rodrigo is roh-DREE-goh.

“H” is silent in Spanish; thus hijo is pronounced E-hoh.

“J” is pronounced like a soft “H”, similar to the “ch” in the Scottish “loch.” In Spanish, Mexico and Texas are spelled Méjico and Tejas (hence Tejano for its native culture).

Double “L” is considered a separate letter in the Spanish language. It’s pronounced somewhat like “lli” in “William” in Castilian Spanish, but like “y” in American Spanish. Don Rafael pronounces caballero as cah-bah-LLYEH-roh, not cah-bah-YEH-roh, nor cah-bal-LEH-roh.

“Ñ” sounds like the “ny” in “onion.”

Double “R” is pronounced with a trill or rolled like a Scottish “R” (and is treated as a separate letter in Spanish). Thus, cachorro is pronounced cah-CHO-rroh, not cah-CHOR-roh.

“X” is pronounced like “ks” in “axis,” never like “gz” in “exult.”

“Y” pronounced like “I” in “bit”; but when preceding a vowel, it’s pronounced like “Y” in “yes.”

“Z” is pronounced as “th” (as in “think”) in Castilian Spanish but has an “s” sound (like “cent”) in American Spanish. Therefore Don Rafael pronounces “alferez” as al-FEH-reth, not al-FEH-res.


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