Pronunciation Guide

The following is intended to give you a general idea of Spanish pronunciation. Although not necessary for reading purposes, knowledge of the sounds is helpful if you also plan to speak the language.

The English words given below are not always exact equivalents of the Spanish sounds. When not, they are the closest approximation in English.

I. Vowels

Spanish vowels are pronounced quickly, clearly and sharply. They are never drawn out.

a, as in “father” amigo – friend
casa – house
e, as in “café” mesa – table
leche – milk
i, as in “machine” día – day
yanqui – Yankee, American
o, as in “open” lobo – wolf
todo – all, everything
u, as in “rule” or “moon” uno – a, an, one
mucho – many, much

II. Consonants

b and v (pronounced identically)

As in “boy,” when occurring initially or after an n or m:

banco bank, bench
vaso glass
ambos both
enviar to send

In all other positions, this sound is very weak and the lips do not touch, or do so only barely:

Cuba Cuba
saber to know
uva grape
abrir to open


As in “cat,” before ao, and u:

cama bed
actor</span actor
indicar to indicate
Cuba Cuba

As in “sun,” before e and i:

cinco five
cero zero
cansancio tiredness

In most of Spain, the ce– and ci– combinations are pronounces like the “th” in “thin.”

ch as in “chew”

chico boy, small
ocho eight


As in “dawn,” when occurring initially or after n and l:

diez ten
dónde where
andar to walk
aldea village

As in the “th” in “they” in all other positions:

lado side
pared wall
ciudad city
tarde late

flmnp and t are pronounced approximately as in English.


As in “go,” when occurring before a, o, and u, or after a consonant:

goma rubber, tire
ganar to gain (to win, to earn)
grande great, large

As in “house,” but stronger, when occurring before e and i:

gente people
viaje trip, voyage
gimnasio gym

h, always silent

hacha ax
hora hour, time
coherente coherent

j, as in the “h” in “house,” but stronger (same sound as occurs in ge– and gi– combinations):

jota J (letter of alphabet)
hija daughter
lujo luxury

k, as in English. Used only in foreign words.

ll, as in “million” or as in the “y” in “yes”:

calle street
millón million
llover to rain

ñ, as in “canyon”:

año year
español Spanish
panameño Panamanian

qu, always followed by e or i as in English “k” (the u is silent):

cheque check
quizás perhaps
equis X (letter of alphabet)

r, pronounced by tapping the tip of the tongue against the gums of the upper front teeth:

pero but
caro expensive
querer to want, to love

rr, or the single initial r, or after n and l, pronounced by trilling the tip of the tongue against the gums of the upper front teeth:

perro dog
ron rum
honra honor


Usually as in “see”:

seis six
casa house
bastante enough

As in “rose,” when occurring before md, and g:

mismo same
desde since
desgracia misfortune

w, as in English. Found only in foreign words.


As in “see,” when not between vowels:

extraño strange
explicar to explain
exclusivo exclusive

As in “x” in “exact,” when occurring between vowels:

existir to exist
examinar to examine
éxito success

z, as in “see”:

paz peace
cazar to hunt
zona zone

In most of Spain, the z is pronounced like the “th” in “thin.”


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Spanish for Reading and Translation Copyright © by Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book