Spanish alphabet with pronunciation

by Riccardo Cava  and  Jakub Marian

Tip: Don’t miss the Vocabulary-building system LingQ. It’s a tool I have been using myself for more than 5 years, based on entertaining texts (includ­ing public domain books) and recordings by native speakers.

Unlike English, Spanish has a very phonetic orthography (most letters have a fixed pronunciation). Spanish alphabet has 27 letters and 5 digraphs (a digraph is a symbol consisting of two letters which together represent just one sound). The following list contains the letters and the digraphs with pronunciation. The word in brackets is the Spanish name of the given letter (the name is pronounced like any other Spanish word):

A [a]: Pronounced like “a” in “father”.

B [be, be larga, be alta]: The letter has two possible pronunciations, depending on the letters that surround it:

  • It is pronounced like “b” in “bucket” (i.e. the same as in English) at the beginning of a word and after “m”, e.g. bueno (BWEH-no), “good”, and hombre (OM-breh), “man”.
  • It is pronounced as “half-B, half-W” in all other cases. The corresponding sound does not exist in English; an English speaker can approximate it by saying “b” but not pressing the lips tightly together. For example, beber “to drink” is pronounced BEH-βer, where “β” represents the “half-W” pronunciation. Non-native speakers often confuse this sound with the English “V” sound, which is very similar but does not exist in Spanish.

C [ce]: The pronunciation of “c” depends on the letter that follows it:

  • When is followed by “e” or “i”, it is pronounced either as “th” in “think” or as “s” in “son”. Which one to choose depends on which Spanish variety you learn. The “th” pronunciation is prevalent (and considered standard) in Spain, while Spanish speakers from Latin American countries generally pronounce it as “s”. For example, cena “dinner”, would be pronounced as THEH-nah (TH as in “think”) in Spain, but SEH-nah in Latin America.
  • In all other cases (except the digraph “CH” below), it is pronounced as “k” in “key”, e.g. carne (KAR-neh), “meat”.

CH [che, ce hache]: one of the Spanish digraphs, pronounced like “ch” in “chair”.

D [de]: Pronounced like “d” in “dog” at the beginning of a word and after “l” and “n”, e.g. don (an honorific title), andar (ahn-DAR), “to walk”, and aldaba (al-DAH-bah), “door knocker”. However, in the middle of a word, it sounds more like “half D, half English TH” as in “the” or “bathe”, e.g. madre (MAH-th⋅reh), “mother”, and it tends to be nearly or completely silent at the end of a word.

E [e]: Like “e” in “bet”, but with a tongue a little bit closer to the upper palate; as “e” in “hey” but without the final “y”.

F [efe]: Like “f” in “fox”.

G [ge]: Again, the pronunciation depends on its position in the word:

  • When “g” is followed by “e” or “i”, it is pronounced like “ch” in the German word “Buch”, a guttural sound that doesn’t exist in English, with the exception of the proper name Loch Ness. An example of this pronunciation would be the word gente, “people”.
  • In all other cases, it has two possible pronunciations, one hard, like English “g” in “get”, and one soft, which sounds like “g” with the back of the throat slightly open. However, this variation is somewhat unpredictable and inconsistent among different Spanish varieties, so it is better to simply get used to it via listening.

GU [ge u]: A digraph, see “U” below.

H [hache]: It is silent, like in “honour” in English.

I [i, i latina]: Like “ee” in “see” or “i” in “marine”.

J [jota]: Approximately like “ch” in the German word “Buch” or the proper name Loch Ness.

K [ka]: Like “k” in “kin”.

L [ele]: Like “l” in “live”.

LL [elle]: This digraph used to be considered a separate letter of the alphabet, but it is no longer so. Most Spanish speakers pronounce “ll” exactly the same as “y” (when it is used as a consonant), which has several different pronunciations depending on the speaker’s dialect (see the entry Y below). To pronounce “ll” correctly, you can mentally replace it with “y”.

M [eme]: Like “m” in “mine”.

N [ene]: Like “n” in “now”.

Ñ [eñe]: Like “gn” in the Italian word “gnocchi”, which is a sound that does not exist in English. To pronounce it, try to say “y” as in “yes”, but lift your tongue in such a way that it touches the upper palate. It is like saying “n”, but with the middle of the tongue instead of the tip.

O [o]: Approximately like “aw” in “saw”.

P [pe]: Like “p” in “park”.

Q [cu] (only in the digraph QU): Like “k” in “key”. It is always followed by a silent “u”, e.g. aquel (ah-KEL).

R [erre]: Linguists call this consonant a “flap”. It is produced by quickly touching your upper palate with the tip of your tongue and is the same as in the American pronunciation of “better”, like a quick “d”. However, when it is the first letter of a word, the pronunciation changes to “rr” (see below), e.g. real (rre-AL), meaning “real” or “royal”.

RR [doble erre]: The typical Spanish long rolled R. Linguists call this sound “alveolar trill”.

S [ese]: Like “s” in “set”.

T [te]: Like “t” in “table”.

U [u]: Like “oo” in “food” or, when it comes before a vowel, like “w” in “well”. It is silent in “gui”, “gue”, where it only indicates the hard pronunciation; for example, “guitarra” is pronounced “gi-TAH-rrah”, “gi” as in “give”. In order to make “u” pronounced after “g”, one would write a diaeresis (two dots) above it, e.g. pingüino (pin-goo-EE-no or pin-GWEE-no), “penguin”.

V [uve]: It is pronounced exactly the same as “b” and follows the same rules! The distinction between “b” and “v” is purely historical and does not exist in modern standard Spanish varieties.

W [uve doble, ve doble, doble ve, doble u, doble uve]: Only present in loanwords, so the pronunciation may be inconsistent.

X [equis]: It has the same pronunciation as in English (“ks”), apart from a few words in which the pronunciation differs for historical reasons. The most notable such word is “México”, which is pronounced as if it were written “Méjico” (i.e. the pronunciation of “Mexico” differs from the English one).

Y [i griega, ye]: When it appears at the end of a syllable, it is pronounced like English “y” in “say”, e.g. estoy (es-TOY), “I am”. When it appears at the beginning of a syllable, it is pronounced like “y” mixed together with various amounts of “d”, e.g. ayudar (ah-DYOO-dar, “DY” pronounced together as one sound, not as two consonants). However, the amount of “d” present in the sound depends on the speaker’s dialect, and in some varieties there is no “d” at all, while in some Argentinian varieties, it is even pronounced like “sh” in “ship” or “g” in “genre”.

Z [zeta]: Like “C”, “Z” is pronounced as “th” (as in “think”) in (standard) European Spanish and as “s” (as in “son”) in most Latin American Spanish varieties.

Note that the symbols á, é, í, ó, and ú, which are used to indicate stress position, are considered variants of the letters mentioned above, not separate letters in their own right.

By the way, I have written several educational ebooks. If you get a copy, you can learn new things and support this website at the same time—why don’t you check them out?