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3.6: Consonants and Vowels

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  • Vowels and Consonants (See webpage for complete content)

    Libro digital Herramientas de español
    Spanish Tools
     Online Grammar Book

    1. Consonants / Las consonantes

    Spanish spelling is pretty consistent: most letters represent a single sound regardless of their position in a word. Note the following peculiarities:

    H – la hache is never pronounced. Thus, words like Hondurasahora and alcohol have no aspiration before the /o/ sound.

    CH – la che is always pronounced as in “cheers”: cocheocho.

    ~ La hache is not combined with any other consonants: there is no th, sh, ph, gh, etc.
    (English “ph” may translate to “f”: filosofía, Filadelfia, fantasma).

    C – la ce is pronounced /k/ (as in “case”) in most positions: caso, cosa, cuota, frecuente, crisis.
    – Before -e, -i, it is pronounced /s/ (as in “sin”) in America or /th/ (as in “thin”) in Spain: cielo, acento.
    – The /k/ sound (as in “kiss”), is spelled “qu” (mute “u”) before -e,-i: queso, quince.

    G – la ge is pronounced /g/ (as in “go”) in most positions: gala, gota, guante, globo.
    – Before -e, -i, it is pronounced almost like /h/ (as in “hen”): general, gitano.
    – The /g/ sound (as in “get”), is spelled “gu” (mute “u”) before -e,-iguerra, guitarra.

    ~ If the letter “u” is to be pronounced in a “gue/gui” combination, it is marked with a diaeresis (la diéresis): pingüino, bilingüe, nicaragüense.

    Q – la ku is used only in the que/qui combinations, and the “u” is always mute in this position. Therefore, the word quinteto has no /u/ sound, and English “quota” and “frequent” translate to cuota and frecuente.

    Z – la zeta is pronounced /s/ in America and /th/ in Spain.
    Spanish avoids the ze/zi combination and prefers ce, cilápiz → lápices ; cebra, cenit.

    Only four consonants can be duplicated to represent specific sounds:
    • cc is used before “e” or “i” only and sounds /ks/ (/kth/ in Spain): acción and acceso but acentoocurrir.
    • ll sounds /y/: calle, llama but ilegal, aludir, inteligente.
    • rr represents the famous “rolling r” between vowels only: perro, carro vs. pero, caro.
    • nn is used only when a prefix ending in “n” is added to a word beginning with “n”:
    innecesario, connotación, but anual, anotación, conexión.

    No other consonants are duplicated in Spanish: efectivo, común, oportunidad, imposible, adición.

    Summary / Resumen
    Never pronounce the letter H (hache)alcohol, ahora, humano, Honduras, holocausto.
    Hard C sound: /k/ as in kiss
    S/Z sound:/s/ or /th/ as in sink/think
    Hard G sound: 
    /g/ as in get
    Soft G sound: /h/ as in hen
    ca que qui co cu
    za ce ci zo zu
    ga gue gui go gu
    ja je ji jo ju ge gi
    buscar, busqué
    realizar, reali
    pagar, pagué
    hija,gitano
    As you see, vowels e and i are exceptional in their combination with g and c.
    The words que, quien, guerra and guitarra may help you remember these spelling changes.
    No double consonants except rr, ll, cc and nn ph → filosofía

    PRÁCTICA 1.   Escriba en español el equivalente de las siguientes palabras, notando la ortografía (spelling).

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    2. Vowels / Las vocales

    Spanish has five vowel sounds  –a, e, i, o, u-, pronounced the same way regardless of their position in a word:
    a. like the a sound in “father”: casa, alma
    e. like the e sound in”let”: lee, cena
    i.  like the ee sound in “leek”: mil, millaje
    o. like the aw sound in “lawn”: son, hoja
    u. like the oo sound in “loom”: tú, Honduras (u is mute in que, qui, gue, gui)

    • i and u are called “weak” (débiles o cerradas) because, in combination with another vowel, are generally pronounced as one syllableRuiz, fue, dio, have only one syllable. These are considered true diphthongs in Spanish —two vowels in one syllable—, as in a·gua or vien·to.

    • ao, and e are called “strong” (fuertes o abiertas). Two strong vowels are pronounced as two syllables: po·e·ma has three syllables, ca·os has two. These are not true diphthongs, since the vowels belong in different syllables.

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