Spanish Pronunciation

The traditional set of consonant sounds in Spanish is reported in the IPA table that follows. Alternate pronunciations are shown in parenthesis, and the two marked with an * indicate that they are often merged with their neighboring sound in certain accents or dialects.

Spanish Consonant Sounds

Several shifts in consonant pronunciation have taken place since medieval times. Certain phonemes have been substituted for others or have disappeared altogether. For example, the initial /f/ in accented position disappeared and was replaced by the mute "h." A couple of the consonant sounds have softened over the centuries, such as the /d/, which has become more alveolar in Spanish, but remains dental in other dialects, like Galician.

In most Spanish dialects the bilabial approximant /β/ (the "v" sound) has become indistinguishable from the bilabial stop /b/. The voiced alveolar fricative /z/ has also merged into its unvoiced version /s/, so there is no longer any "zzz-sound" in Spanish. The voiced alveolar affricate /dz/ gave way to an unvoiced /ts/ and then to the interdental "theta" or /θ/. This is the lisping sound of Castilian, which in other dialects and accents has merged with a simple /s/.

The voiced post-alveolar fricative /ʒ/ (like the consonant sound in the French word "je") has also disappeared, except
in Argentina and neighboring countries where it is used as the pronunciation of "y" and "ll." Otherwise, this sound evolved to be the /x/ sound, a velar fricative spelled with a "j" or "g" before "i" and "e."

Note also that initial "sp," "st," and "sc" take on an initial "e" - called a prosthetic or epenthetic "e." "Spanish" become "Español" and "station" becomes "estación" (though beware! These words are false cognates!). Spanish speakers find it difficult to pronounce the equivalent English words (like "scrape it spotless") without adding the "e" in front.

The vowels in Spanish are just five, and they are pronounced the same way in both stressed and unstressed positions. The following table places them phonetically:

Spanish Vowel Sounds

Additionally, Spanish has several diphthongs, some falling (that is, moving from a "high" vowel to a lower one) and some rising (moving the mouth in the opposite direction). The table below illustrates them all.

Spanish Diphthongs

Triphthongs are also possible, though mainly restricted to the second person plural, which is not used in many Spanish speaking countries. For example, "oiréis" (you all will hear) is a diphthong, but when the root of the verb ends in "i," or some other vowel, the form becomes a triphthong, as in "expiáis" (you all atone).

Added to this is the tendency to diphthongize (fusing into one syllable) neighboring vowels that would make two separate syllables in slower speech. English does this, too, as in the word, "poetry," which is often pronounced as a two syllable word. "Poet" in Spanish illustrates the same phenomenon (that is, "po-e-ta" becomes "poe-ta").

Click here for Spanish translation services.