The Spanish Alphabet

       

Ask any second-grader how many letters there are in the alphabet and they'll tell you there are 26 and maybe even sing you a song:

a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z
(Now I know my ABCs, next time won't you sing with me?)

Ask several Spanish-speakers how many letters there are in the alphabet and you'll get several different answers (with or without a song). Not everyone in the Spanish-speaking world agrees on what the official alphabet should look like. However, the Real Academia Española, which is basically in charge of the official Spanish language, says it should look like this:

a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

So in older Spanish dictionaries words beginning with "ch" are listed in a separate section after the rest of the "c" words, and words beginning with "ll" are listed after the rest of the "l" words. However, in 1994 the Royal Academy stated that for alphabetizing purposes "ch" and "ll" should not be considered distinct letters and so modern dictionaries do not have sections for them.

This brings the Spanish letter total to 29 due to the inclusion of the letters "ch," "ll," and "ñ." Other Spanish-language sources will also include "rr" as a separate letter raising the possibility of a 30-letter alphabet. To make matters more confusing, still other sources don't count the "k" or the "w" since they almost always appear in

Fun Fact: The letter "e" is the most common letter in both English and Spanish.


Fun Fact: The letter "w" is the least used letter in Spanish.

So how many letters are there? The best answer is somewhere between 25 ("ñ," but no "k" or "w") and 30 (the 26 you're used to plus "ch," "ll," "ñ," and "rr.") Just to cover all the bases let's work with a 30-letter alphabet.

Below are a list of letters, their names in Spanish, and a pronunciation guide:

Letter   

Spanish

English

Pronunciation

a

a

ah

like the a in "father"

b

be

bay

like the English b but pronounced very softly *

c

ce

say

before a, o, u, like the c in "can"; before e, i, like the c in "cent"

ch

che

chay

like the ch in "church"

d

de

day

like d in "bed" but with tongue forward, almost like th in "the"

e

e

ay

like the ay in "pay" *

f

efe

ay-fay

like the English f

g

ge

hay

before a, o, u, like g in "get"; before e, i, like an English h *

h

hache

ah-chay

always silent *

i

i

ee

like ee in "feet"

j

jota

ho-ta

like the English h

k

ka

kah

like the English k

l

ele

ay-lay

like the English l

ll

elle

ay-yay

like the y in "yes"

m

eme

ay-may

like the English m

n

ene

ay-nay

like the English n

ñ

eñe

ay-nyay

like the ny in "canyon"

o

o

oh

like the o in "no"

p

pe

pay

like the English p

q

cu

koo

like the English k *

r

ere

ay-ray

like the English r but softer, almost sounds like a d *

rr

erre

ay-rray

strongly trilled

s

ese

ay-say

like the English s

t

te

tay

like the English t

u

u

oo

like the oo in "pool"

v

ve

vay

almost no difference between b and v in Spanish *

w

doble ve

do-blay vay

like the English w *

x

equis

ay-kees

like the English x *

y

i griega

  ee gree-ay-ga  

like the English y; like ee in "tree" when used alone

z

zeta

say-ta

like the English s *

Notes on Spanish Letters

  • The letters "b" and "v" are pronounced so similarly in Spanish that sometimes in order to avoid confusion "b" is called be grande and "v" is called ve pequeña or something similar. It's not uncommon in some Latin American countries to see signs with spelling errors involving "b" and "v" such as Se Bende instead of the correct Se Vende.
  • The letter "e" is also pronounced at times more like the "e" in "pet," especially when at the beginning of a word, or when spoken quickly.
  • When a "g" precedes an "e" or an "i" in a word it is pronounced like an "h" but with a slight rasping sound, almost like clearing one's throat.
  • Due to the limited usefullness of the letter "h," some (including noted Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez) have called for it to be removed from the Spanish language entirely.
  • Words beginning with "k," "w," and "x" were adopted into Spanish from other languages and are therefore extremely rare.
  • Words beginning with "r" are usually trilled as if they began with "rr" (e.g. rojo = rrojo).
  • There are at least four ways to say the letter "w" in Spanish: doble ve, doble u, doble uve, or uve doble. The "w" is extremely rare in Spanish.
  • There are many Spanish words borrowed from indigenous languages where the "x" is pronounced like the English "h" (e.g. México).
  • The pronunciation of the letter "z" (as well as "c" when followed by an "e" or an "i") varies widely.
  • In regions of Spain, "c" and "z" are pronounced more like "th" (e.g. Barcelona = Barthelona).

Other Notes

  • Spanish letters are all feminine: la a, la be, la ce, etc.
  • You may be wondering about letters with accents like á, é, í, ó, and ú or the rare dieresis, ü. These are not considered separate letters.
  • "Alphabet" is el alfabeto in Spanish, but you can also say el abecedario which is a word made up of the first three letters of the alphabet (like saying "ABCs").
  • Alfabetizar means "to alphabetize" but it can also mean "to teach reading and writing."
Creative Commons License  This work by Spanish411.net is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.