Spanish (español), also known as Castilian (castellano), is the third most-spoken language (around 500 million speakers) in the world. Originating in Spain and spoken by most residents there, it has slightly different pronunciations from the rest of the world's Spanish speakers, as well as a few vocabulary differences.
A Western Romance language, Spanish is closely related to and mutually intelligible with the other romance languages to an extent, such as Portuguese, Catalan, Italian and Romanian. English and Spanish share variants of approximately one third of their words (via Latin), although the pronunciation tends to be very different.
The Spanish verb tense system is fairly similar to English, but all six person/number combinations take different endings in the indicative. The formal "you" (usted(es)) takes a third-person verb. Spanish has genders, so a man says encantado and a woman says encantada. The indirect object and the animate direct object are both marked by a.
Spanish spelling has the pleasant characteristic of being very phonetic, with only a few clearly-defined exceptions. This means that if you know how to pronounce the letters of a word, it's relatively easy to sound out the word itself.
Besides having a very small number of vowel sounds and a high predictability of exactly what sound is represented by each letter, Spanish has a very clear set of rules about where a stress normally falls, and exceptions are noted with an "acute accent mark" ("´ ") over the vowel of the stressed syllable. Normally, words that end in a vowel, or in n or s, have the stress on the next-to-last syllable (muchacho = "mu-CHA-cho"); all other words without an explicit accent mark are stressed on the final syllable (hospital = "os-pee-TAL"). There are no secondary stresses within words.
The vowels in Spanish are short crisp sounds. They are not dragged out like the English vowels.
like 'a' in "father"
like 'ay' in "pay" or 'ai' in "hail" when stressed; may take on more of a 'e' in "pet" sound when unstressed
like 'ee' in "see"
like 'o' in "open
like 'u' in "rule"
like 'ee' in "see". Very rarely used at the middle or ending of words.
like 'b' in "bed" (but no aspiration) at the beginning of a word and after 'm': boca. A soft vibration sound almost like English 'v' elsewhere. See v below.
follows the same pronunciation pattern as in English. In most cases it is pronounced like 'k' in "kid": calle, doctor. When followed by 'e' or 'i', it is like 's' in "supper" (in the Americas, the Canaries and some parts of the Philippines) or 'th' in "thin" (Spain): cine (THEE-nay)
like 'ch' in "touch": muchacho
like 'd' in "dog": de. In some dialects, a 'd' between two vowels is pronounced with a bit of softness, halfway between the normal 'd' and the 'th' in "the": pasado. You're usually fine just using the 'd' sound.
like 'f' in "fine": faro
when followed by 'e' or 'i', like a throaty 'h' (general = heh-neh-RAHL), otherwise like 'g' in "go" (gato). In the clusters "gue" and "gui", the 'u' serves only to change the sound of the consonant and is silent (guitarra), unless it bears a diaeresis, as in "güe" and "güi" (pedigüeño). In between vowels, it tends to be voiced and not guturral.
when followed by another vowel, like 'Gw' in Gwen (agua, cigüeña, Camagüey)
silent: hora= OR-ah. Pronounced like a softer 'j' only in foreign words.
like a throaty 'h' in "ha": jamón;
like 'k' in "kid": kilo The letter K is only used in foreign words (kárate, kilo, Kiev, etc.).
like 'l' in "love": lápiz
like 'y' in "year"; pronounced like a Zh as in 'Zhivago' only in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay: llamar. In at least some parts of Costa Rica and Colombia, pronounced as the English "j" or "g," as in the words "ginger" or "ninja." Also pronounced like 'ly' as in the English word "million" in northern Spain and in the Philippines.
like 'm' in "mother": mano
like 'n' in "nice", and like 'n' in "anchor": noche, ancla
like 'ny' in "canyon": cañón, piñata
like 'p' in "pig": perro
like 'q' in "quiche" (always with a silent "u"): queso, pronounced KAY-so
Spanish has two 'r' sounds both of which are different from their counterpart in English. Some effort should be made to approximate each of them, to help listeners distinguish between perro ("dog") and pero ("but")... or perhaps to understand you at all:
single r: This sound is created by putting the tip of the tongue up against where the front of the roof of the mouth meets the upper teeth, very similar to the action English speakers make to pronounce l or d. To an English-speaking ear, it may sound a bit like a combined "d-r". Take care to pronounce r separately when it follows a consonant; a blended English tr will not be recognized in the Spanish word otro ("other"), which should be pronouced more like "OHT-roh".
rolled r: Written "r" at the beginning of the word, or "rr" between vowels (cerro). It's a multiply vibrating sound. Whereas most English speakers can learn to tap out a single r, many adults learning Spanish find this sound impossible to produce; in this case, pronouncing it like a Spanish r or fumbling out a d-r will be better understood than pronouncing it like a long English r.
like 's' in "son": sopa; in Spain, it is often pronounced like a soft, palatised "sh" at the end of a word or syllable.
like 't' in "top": tapa
like 'b' in "bed" (but no aspiration) at the beginning of a word and after 'm': vaca, pronounced BAH-kah. A soft vibration sound almost like English 'v' elsewhere. To distinguish v from b when spelling, one says "vay chica" or "bay grande" to indicate which; native Spanish speakers may not hear the difference between "vee" and "bee". But some Spanish speaking countries do say the 'v' as in "vine" with the teeth on the lower lip.
like 'w' in "weight" in English words, whisky, pronounced "WEESS-kee"). Like 'b' in "bed" in Germanic words.
like 'x' in "flexible" (flexible). Like 'ss' in "hiss" at beginning of a word (xilófono). Like a throaty 'h' in the words México, mexicano, Oaxaca, and oaxaqueño.
like 'y' in "yes": payaso. Like 'y' in "boy": hoy. Pronounced like a Zh ONLY in Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay as in 'Zhivago', : yo no sé, pronounced "zhoh noh say".
like 's' in "supper" (Latin America), like 'th' in "thin" (Spain): zorro. See c above.
Most diphthongs can be approximated by blending the first vowel into the second in a single syllable.
like 'eye': baile (BAI-lay)
like 'ow' in "cow": causa (KOW-sah)
like 'ay-ah': fea (FAY-ah)
like 'ay' in "say": reina, rey. (RAY-nah)
like 'eh-oo': euro ("eh-OO-roh")
like 'ee-yah': piano (pee-YAH-noh)
like 'ee-yay': pie (PEE-yay)
like 'ee-oh': dio (DEE-oh)
like 'ee-oo': ciudad (see-oo-DAHD)
like 'oy' in "boy": soy (soy)
like 'wa' in "wallet": cuatro (KWAH-troh)
like 'we' in "well": puedo (PWAY-doh)
like 'wee' in "ween": ruido (RWEE-doh)
like "wo" in "won't": averiguo (ah-beh-REE-gwoh)
Accents and stress
Word stress can affect the meaning of the word and generally follows these rules:
If a word is marked with an accent, then that syllable receives the stress.
Additionally, if the accent marks a diphthong a syllable break occurs between the two vowels of the diphthong.
If a word is NOT marked with an accent, then
if the word ends in a consonant other than N or S, the stress occurs on the last syllable.
if the word ends in a vowel, N or S, the stress occurs on the next to last syllable.
In Spain, a English ci/ce or z sound makes a English "TH". In Latin America, it makes the "S" sound.
Examples: (1st pronunciation: Spanish; 2nd pronunciation: Latin America; when there is only one, it's common)
círculo (THEER-koo-loh/SEER-koo-loh) → circle
circulo (theer-KOO-loh/seer-KOO-loh) → I circulate
¿Hay alguien que hable inglés? (ai ahl-GYEHN keh AH-bleh een-GLEHS?)
Buenos días (BWEH-nohs DEE-ahs)
Good afternoon / Good evening
Buenas tardes (BWEH-nahs TAR-dehs)
Good evening / Good night
Buenas noches (BWEH-nahs NOH-chehs)
I don't understand
No entiendo (NOH ehn-TYEHN-doh)
Could you speak more slowly please?
¿Podría usted hablar más despacio por favor? (poh-DREE-ah oos-TEHD ah-BLAHR MAHS dehs-PAH-syoh pohr fah-BOHR?)
Could you repeat it please?
¿Podría usted repetirlo por favor? (poh-DREE-ah oos-TEHD reh-peh-TEER-loh pohr fah-BOHR?)
Where is the toilet?
¿Dónde está el baño? (DOHN-deh ehss-TAH EHL BAH-nyoh?)
In Spain: ¿Dónde están los aseos? (DOHN-deh ehs-TAHN lohs ah-SEH-ohs)
Leave me alone.
Déjame en paz. (DEH-hah-meh ehn PAHS)
Don't touch me!
¡No me toques! (noh meh TOH-kehs!)
I'll call the police.
Llamaré a la policía. (yah-mah-REH ah lah poh-lee-SEE-ah)
¡Alto, ladrón! (AHL-toh, lah-DROHN!)
I need help.
Necesito ayuda. (neh-seh-SEE-toh ah-YOO-dah)
It's an emergency.
Es una emergencia. (ehs OO-nah eh-mehr-HEHN-syah)
Estoy perdido/a (ehs-TOY pehr-DEE-doh/dah)
I lost my purse/handbag.
Perdí mi bolsa/bolso/cartera. (pehr-DEE mee BOHL-sah / BOHL-soh / kahr-TEH-rah)
I lost my wallet.
Perdí la cartera/billetera. (pehr-DEE lah kahr-TEH-rah / bee-yeh-TEH-rah)
Estoy enfermo/a. (ehs-TOY ehn-FEHR-moh/mah)
I've been injured.
Estoy herido/a. (ehs-TOY heh-REE-doh/dah)
I need a doctor.
Necesito un médico. (neh-seh-SEE-toh OON MEH-dee-coh)
Can I use your phone?
¿Puedo usar su teléfono? (PWEH-doh oo-SAHR soo teh-LEH-foh-noh?)
Can I borrow your cell phone/mobile phone?
¿Me presta su celular/móvil? (meh PREHS-tah soo seh-loo-LAHR / MOH-beel?) ("celular" predominates in the Americas; "móvil" in Spain and Africa)
I need to call the embassy.
Necesito llamar a la embajada (neh-seh-SEE-toh yah-MAHR ah lah em-bah-HAH-dah)
dos mil (dohs MEEL)
un millón (oon mee-YOHN)
mil millones (meel mee-YOH-nehs) (Spain/Mexico); un billón (oon bee-YOHN, Americas)
un billón (oon bee-YOHN) (Spain/Mexico); un trillón (oon tree-YOHN, Americas)
one o'clock AM
la una de la madrugada (lah OOH-nah deh lah mah-droo-GAH-dah)
la una de la mañana (lah OOH-nah deh lah mah-NYAH-nah)
two o'clock AM
las dos de la madrugada (lahs DOHS deh lah mah-droo-GAH-dah)
las dos de la mañana (lahss DOHS deh lah mah-NYAH-nah)
ten o'clock AM
las diez de la mañana (lahs dee-EHS deh lah mah-NYAH-nah)
las doce de la mañana (lahs DOH-seh deh lah mah-NYAH-nah)
one o'clock PM
la una de la tarde (lah OOH-nah deh lah TAHR-deh)
two o'clock PM
las dos de la tarde (lahs DOHS deh lah TAHR-deh)
ten o'clock PM
las diez de la noche (lahs dee-EHS deh lah NOH-cheh)
las doce de la noche (lahs DOH-seh deh lah NOH-cheh)
When speaking, times are given in AM/PM form (but saying de la mañana (morning), de la tarde (afternoon), de la noche (evening/night) or de la madrugada (late night) to distinguish between AM and PM. Rarely do Spanish speakers use the 24-hour system in conversation. On the other hand, in most countries, times are rendered in 24-hour format (as in Britain), with a colon separating hours and minutes:
9 o'clock AM
nueve de la mañana (spoken: NWEH-beh deh la mah-NYAH-nah), 9:00 (written)
12 & 30 PM
doce y media de la mañana (spoken: DOH-seh ee MEH-dee-ah deh la mah-NYAH-nah), 12:30 (written)
1 o'clock PM
una de la tarde (spoken: OOH-nah deh lah TAHR-deh), 13:00 (written)
10 o'clock PM
diez de la noche (spoken: dee-EHS deh la NOH-cheh), 22:00 (written)
2 o'clock AM
dos de la madrugada or dos de la mañana (spoken: DOHS deh la mah-droo-GAH-dah or DOHS deh la mah-NYAH-nah), 2:00 (written)
_____ minuto(s) (mee-NOO-toh(s))
_____ hora(s) (OH-rah(s))
_____ día(s) (DEE-ah(s))
_____ semana(s) (seh-MAH-nah(s))
_____ mes(es) (MEHS-(ehs))
_____ año(s) (AH-nyoh(s))
esta semana (EHS-tah seh-MAH-nah)
la semana pasada (lah seh-MAH-nah pah-SAH-dah)
la semana que viene (lah seh-MAH-nah keh BYEH-neh)
All days of the week are in lower case letter.
The week begins on Mondays.
All the months in Spanish are written in lower case letters.
Dates are given in day-month-year form. All spoken and written, long and short forms follow this pattern:
7 May 2003
7 de mayo de 2003
23 October 1997
23 de octubre de 1997
Day-month constructions (4 de julio, for example) are not usually abbreviated. In the rare cases that an abbreviation is used, the number of the month is not used, but its initial letter is. Usual examples are:
23 de febrero, date of a failed coup d'état in Spain (1981)
11 de septiembre, date of the attack to the Twin Towers (2001) (and of the Chilean coup in 1973).
or anaranjado (ah-nah-rahn-HA-doh)
or morado (moh-RAH-doh)
or violeta (vee-oh-LEH-tah)
brown (used to describe color of objects)
brown (used mostly for skin color, clothing and fabric)
brown (used primarily for skin color, eye color and hair color)
Common Road Signs
PARE, ALTO, STOP (PAH-reh, AHL-toh, stohp)
NO APARCAR / ESTACIONAR (noh ah-pahr-KAHR-oh/ ehs-tah-syoh-NAR)