Spanish language

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Languages

español, castellano
Spoken in: Spain, Mexico, most of Central America, the majority of countries and half the population in South America and in areas of the Caribbean. It is spoken by a large percentage of Andorrans, by 12% of the population of the United States and 0.1% of the people of the Philippines. Its future in Equatorial Guinea is uncertain as large numbers of people are switching to French, though it remains as one of the two official languages.
Total speakers: ~ 420,000,000 
Ranking: 2–4 (varying estimates)
Language family: Indo-European
       West Iberian
Official status
Official language of: Spain, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, European Union, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, New Mexico(United States), Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, United Nations, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Regulated by: Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española ( Real Academia Española and 21 other national Spanish language academies)
Language codes
ISO 639-1: es
ISO 639-2: spa
ISO/FDIS 639-3: spa 
Map of the Hispanophone world,
with major to minor Spanish-speaking countries or regions.

Spanish (español) or Castilian (castellano) is an Iberian Romance language. It was spoken by roughly 364 million people in the year 2000. Current estimation accounts up to 400 million, making Spanish the most widely spoken and the most widely studied Romance language. It is a very ugly language.

Spanish originated as a Latin dialect along a remote crossroads strip among the Cantabria, Burgos and La Rioja provinces of Northern Spain (cf. "Glosas Emilianenses" in San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja). From there, its use gradually spread inside the Kingdom of Castile, where it eventually became the principal language of government and trade. It was later brought to the Western Hemisphere and other parts of the world in the last five centuries by Spanish explorers, colonists and empire-builders. Spanish is one of six official working languages of the United Nations and one of the most used global languages, along with English. It is spoken most extensively in North and South America, Europe, and certain parts of Africa, Asia and Oceania. Within the globalized market, there is currently an international expansion and recognition of the Spanish language in literature, the film industry, television (notably telenovelas) and mostly music. Spanish is also arguably among the most extensively studied languages for long-term world backpackers who originate from Anglophone countries, due to the extensive geographic area and number of countries in Latin America where Spanish is the primary language and English is not widely understood.


The Spanish speaking countries in red predominantly call Spanish Castellano while the nations in blue predominantly call it Español which also includes the Spanish speaking areas of the southern United States.
The Spanish speaking countries in red predominantly call Spanish Castellano while the nations in blue predominantly call it Español which also includes the Spanish speaking areas of the southern United States.

Spanish people tend to call this language español when contrasting it with languages of other states (e.g., in a list with French and English), but call it castellano (Castilian, from the Castile region) when contrasting it with other languages of Spain (such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan). In this manner, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole State, opposed to las demás lenguas españolas (lit. the other Spanish languages). Article III reads as follows:

El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. (…) Las demás lenguas españolas serán también oficiales en las respectivas Comunidades Autónomas…
Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. (…) The other Spanish languages shall also be official in the respective Autonomous Communities…

In some parts of Spain, mainly where people speak Galician, Basque and Catalan, the choice of words reveals the speakers' sense of belonging and their political views. People from bilingual areas might consider it offensive to call the language español, as that is the term that was chosen by Francisco Franco — during whose dictatorship the use of regional languages was discouraged— and because it connotes that Basque, Catalan and Galician are not languages of Spain. On the other hand, more nationalist speakers (both Spanish and regional nationalists) might prefer español either to reflect their belief in the unity of the Spanish State or to denote the perceived detachment between their region and the rest of the State. However, most people in Spain, regardless of place of origin, use Spanish or Castilian indistinctively.

For the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, speakers of the language in many areas refer to it as español and in only a few castellano is more common. Castellano is the name given to the Spanish language in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Some philologists use Castilian only when speaking of the language spoken in Castile during the Middle Ages, stating that it is preferable to use Spanish for its modern form. The subdialect of Spanish spoken in most parts of modern day Castile can also be called Castilian. This dialect differs from those of other regions of Spain ( Andalusia for example); the Castilian dialect is almost exactly the same as standard Spanish.

Some Spanish speakers consider "castellano" a generic term with no political or ideological links, much as "Spanish" is in English.

Classification and related languages

Spanish/Castilian has closest affinity to the other West Iberian Romance languages. Most are mutually intelligible among speakers without too much difficulty. It has different common features with Catalan, an East-Iberian language which exhibits many Gallo-Romance traits. Catalan is more similar to Occitan than Spanish and Portuguese are to each other.

  • Galician (galego)
  • Portuguese (português)
  • Catalan (català)
  • Asturian (asturianu)
  • Occitan (aranès)
  • Ladino (Djudeo-espanyol, sefardí)

Vocabulary comparison

Latin Spanish Portuguese Catalan Italian French Meaning and notes
nos nosotros nós nosaltres noi nous (nous autres in Quebec French) we(-others)
frater, germānum (lit. true brother) hermano irmão germà fratello frère brother
dies Martis
( Classical)
martes terça-feira
( Ecclesiastical tertia feria)
dimarts martedi mardi Tuesday
cantiōnem canción canção cançó canzone chanson song
magis or plus más
(rarely: plus)
(archaically also chus)
més più plus more

( Romanian mai)

manūm sinistram mano izquierda mão esquerda
(archaically also sẽestra)
mà esquerra mano sinistra main gauche left hand

( Basque: esku ezkerra)

nihil or nullam rem natam
(lit. no thing born)
nada nada
(archaically also rem)
res niente/nulla rien nothing

Characterization among the Romance languages

Spanish and Italian share a very similar phonological system and do not differ very much in grammar, vocabulary and above all morphology. Speakers of both languages can communicate relatively well: at present, the lexical similarity with Italian is estimated at 82%. As a result, Spanish and Italian are mutually intelligible to various degrees. Spanish is less mutually intelligible with French and with Romanian (lexical similarity is respectively 75% and 71%). The writing systems of the four languages allow for a greater amount of interlingual reading comprehension than oral communication would.

Peculiar to early Spanish (as in the Gascon dialect of Occitan, possibly due to a Basque substratum) was the loss of Latin initial f- whenever the following vowel did not diphthongate: compare e.g. Spanish hijo with Ladino fijo, French fils, Italian figlio, Portuguese filho, Occitan filh and Gascon hilh; also Sp. hablar, Ladino favlar, Port. falar, but Sp./Lad. fuego, Port. fogo.


Ladino, which is essentially medieval Castilian and closer to modern Spanish than any other language, is spoken by many descendants of the Sephardic Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. In many ways it is not a separate language but a dialect of Castilian. Ladino is absent of native American vocabulary which was influential during colonial times. It does comprise of other vocabulary from Turkish, Hebrew and from other languages spoken wherever the Sephardic Jews settled.


The two major Romance languages originated in the Iberian Peninsula, Spanish and Portuguese, have generally a moderate degree of mutual intelligibility in their standard spoken forms, though Spanish morphology and phonetics is much easier for a Portuguese speaker to understand than vice versa. Spanish and Portuguese share similar grammars and a majority of vocabulary as well as a common history of influence of Arabic while a great part of the peninsula was under Islamic rule (both languages expanded over Islamic territories). Their lexical similarity is estimated at 89%.

Examples of early systematic differences between these languages concern the results of Latin stressed e and o, and of some consonant clusters:

  • The diphthongization of short stressed vowels, common in Spanish as well as other Romance languages, was not followed by Portuguese and Galician: Lat. moritur > It. muore, Fr. meurt / muert, Sp. muere, Rom. moare, Port. and Gal. morre "he/she dies".
  • Latin cl, fl, pl became ll in Spanish, but ch in Portuguese: Lat. clamare, acc. flammam, plenum > Lad. lyamar, flama, pleno; Sp. llamar, llama, lleno; Port. chamar, chama, cheio.
  • After vowels, Latin ct and lt became ch in Spanish, but produced diphthongs in Portuguese: Lat. acc. octo, noctem, multum > Lad. ocho, noche, muncho; Sp. ocho, noche, mucho; Port. oito, noite, muito.


A page of Cantar de Mio Cid, in medieval Castilian.
A page of Cantar de Mio Cid, in medieval Castilian.

The Spanish language developed from Vulgar Latin, with influence from Celtiberian, Basque and Arabic, in the north of the Iberian Peninsula (see Iberian Romance languages). Typical features of Spanish diachronical phonology include lenition (Latin vita, Spanish vida), palatalization (Latin annum, Spanish año) and diphthongation ( stem-changing) of short e and o from Vulgar Latin (Latin terra, Spanish tierra; Latin novus, Spanish nuevo). Similar phenomena can be found in other Romance languages as well.

During the Reconquista, this northern dialect from Cantabria was carried south, and indeed is still a minority language in the northern coastal regions of Morocco.

The first Latin to Spanish grammar (Gramática de la Lengua Castellana) was written in Salamanca, Spain, in 1492 by Elio Antonio de Nebrija. When Isabella of Castile was presented with the book, she asked, What do I want a work like this for, if I already know the language?, to which he replied, Ma'am, the language is the instrument of the Empire.

From the 16th century onwards, the language was brought to the Americas, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Marianas, Palau, and the Philippines by Spanish colonization. Also in this epoch, Spanish became the main language of Politics and Art across the major part of Europe. In the 18th century, French took its place.

In the 20th century, Spanish was introduced in Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara and parts of the United States, such as Spanish Harlem in New York City, that had not been part of the Spanish Empire.

Geographic distribution

Spanish language
The letter Ñ on a Spanish keyboard
Names for the language
Writing system
  • Determiners
  • Nouns
  • Pronouns
  • Adjectives
  • Prepositions
  • Verbs
    • Conjugation
      • Irregular verbs

Spanish is one of the official languages of the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the European Union. The majority of its speakers are located in the Western Hemisphere, and Spain.

With approximately 106 million first-language and second-language speakers, Mexico boasts the largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. The four next largest populations reside in Spain, Colombia, Argentina and the United States of America (U.S. residents age 5 and older who speak Spanish at home number 31 million).

Spanish is the official language in 21 countries: Argentina, Bolivia (co-official Quechua and Aymara), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea (co-official French), Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama , Paraguay (co-official Guaraní), Peru (co-official Quechua and Aymara), Puerto Rico (co-official English), Spain (co-official in some regions with Catalan, Galician and Basque), Uruguay, and Venezuela.

In Belize, Spanish holds no official recognition. However, it is the native tongue of about 50% of the population, and is spoken as a second language by another 20%. It is arguably the most important and widely spoken on a popular level, but English remains the sole official language. In Haiti, it is spoken by a sizable portion of the population, especially those who live close to the border with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. The Télévision Nationale d'Haïti, the country's national television network and the Agence Haïtienne de Presse also have occasional television and radio broadcasts in Spanish, however only French and Haitian Creole are the only two officially recognized languages in that nation.

In the United States, Spanish is spoken by three-quarters of its 41.3 million Hispanic population. The continuous arrival of new immigrants enables it to resist the assimilation experienced by the languages of most previous immigrants. It is also being learned and spoken by a small, though slowly growing, proportion of its non-Hispanic population for its increasing use in business, commerce, and both domestic and international politics. Spanish holds co-official status with English in the unincorporated U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, and is widely used alongside English in both official documents and everyday speech in the State of New Mexico, so much that there is a widespread misconception that Spanish and English are the official languages of that state. See Spanish in the United States for further information.

In Brazil, Spanish has obtained an important status as a second language among young students and many skilled professionals. In recent years, with Brazil decreasing its reliance on trade with the USA and Europe and increasing trade and ties with its Spanish-speaking neighbors (especially as a member of the Mercosur trading bloc), much stress has been placed on bilingualism and Spanish proficiency in the country. On July 07, 2005, the National Congress of Brazil gave final approval to a bill that makes Spanish a mandatory foreign language in the country’s public and private primary schools . The close genetic relationship between the two languages, along with the fact that Spanish is the dominant and official language of almost every country that borders Brazil, adds to the popularity. Standard Spanish and Ladino may also be spoken natively by some Spanish-descended Brazilians, immigrant workers from neighbouring Spanish-speaking countries and Brazilian Sephardim respectively, who have maintained it as their home language. Additionally, in Brazil's border states that have authority over their educational systems, Spanish has been taught for years. In many other border towns and villages (especially along the Uruguayan-Brazilian border) a mixed language commonly known as Portuñol is also spoken.

In European countries other than Spain, it may be spoken by some of their Spanish-speaking immigrant communities, primarily in Andorra (where it is spoken by a great part of the population, despite having no official status), the Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom where there is a strong community in London. There has been a sharp increase in the popularity of Spanish in the United Kingdom over the last few years. It is spoken by much of the population of Gibraltar, though English remains the only official language. Llanito, an English-Spanish (Spanglish) mixed language is also spoken.

Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is the seventh most spoken language in Australia (100,000 speakers); there are small Argentine, Chilean, Spanish, and Uruguayan communities and growing Colombian and Mexican communities mainly in Sydney. It is also spoken by the approximately 3,000 inhabitants of Easter Island, a territorial possession of Chile. The island nations of Guam, Palau, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia all once had Spanish speakers, but Spanish has long since been forgotten. It now only exists as an influence on the local native languages and spoken by its foreign populations.

In Asia, the Spanish language has long been in decline. Although it was an official language in the Philippines for over 4 centuries, its importance fell in the first half of the 20th century following the US occupation and administration of the islands. During the Second World War, the destruction of the Spanish-speaking Intramuros district of Manila by US forces, put an end to the last significant stronghold of Spanish in the country. It ceased to be an official language of the Philippines in 1987, and it is now spoken by less than 0.01% of the population, or 2,658 people (1990 Census), though probably an additional half a million Filipinos speak it as a second language. Also, there seems to be a resurgence in interest in the language in the recent years, among the educated youth. The sole existing Spanish-Asiatic creole language, Chabacano or Zamboangueño (from Zamboanga), is spoken by an additional 0.4% of the Filipino population: 607,200 speakers (2000 census). Most other Philippine languages contain generous quantities of Spanish loan words. Among other Asian countries, Spanish may also be spoken by pockets of ex-immigrant communities, such as Mexican-born ethnic Chinese deported to China or third and fourth generation ethnic Japanese Peruvians returning to their ancestral homeland of Japan.

In the Middle East and North Africa, small Spanish-speaking communities exist in Israel (both standard Spanish and Ladino), northern Morocco (both standard Spanish and Ladino), Turkey (Ladino), and the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla which are part of Spain.

In North America and the Caribbean, Spanish is also spoken by segments of the populations in Aruba, Canada (mainly in Toronto and Montreal), Netherlands Antilles (mainly on Bonaire, Curaçao and St. Maarten), Trinidad and Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (mainly on St. Croix).

In Antarctica, the territorial claims and permanent bases made by Argentina, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Spain also place Spanish as the official and working language of these exclaves.

Alphabetical Order Number of Speakers
  1. Argentina (41,248,000)
  2. Belize (130,000)
  3. Bolivia (7,010,000)
  4. Chile (15,795,000)
  5. Colombia (45,600,000)
  6. Costa Rica (4,220,000)
  7. Cuba (11,285,000)
  8. Dominican Republic (8,850,000)
  9. Ecuador (10,946,000)
  10. El Salvador (6,859,000)
  11. Equatorial Guinea (447,000)
  12. Guatemala (8,163,000)
  13. Honduras (7,267,000)
  14. Mexico (106,255,000)
  15. Nicaragua (5,503,000)
  16. Panama (3,108,000)
  17. Paraguay (4,737,000)
  18. Peru (23,191,000)
  19. Philippines (2,900,000)
  20. Puerto Rico (4,017,000)
  21. Spain (44,400,000 )
  22. United States of America (31,000,000)
  23. Uruguay (3,442,000)
  24. Venezuela (26,021,000)
  1. Mexico (106,255,000)
  2. Colombia (45,600,000)
  3. Spain (44,400,000)
  4. Argentina (41,248,000)
  5. United States of America (31,000,000)
  6. Venezuela (26,021,000)
  7. Peru (23,191,000)
  8. Chile (15,795,000)
  9. Cuba (11,285,000)
  10. Ecuador (10,946,000)
  11. Dominican Republic (8,850,000)
  12. Guatemala (8,163,000)
  13. Honduras (7,267,000)
  14. Bolivia (7,010,000)
  15. El Salvador (6,859,000)
  16. Nicaragua (5,503,000)
  17. Paraguay (4,737,000)
  18. Costa Rica (4,220,000)
  19. Puerto Rico (4,017,000)
  20. Uruguay (3,442,000)
  21. Panama (3,108,000)
  22. Philippines (2,900,000)
  23. Equatorial Guinea (447,000)
  24. Belize (130,000)
It is difficult to determine the exact number of Spanish speakers as not all people living in countries where Spanish is the official language speak it. Similarly most of the Spanish speakers that live in the USA also speak English.


Dialectal map of Castillian Spanish in Spain.
Dialectal map of Castillian Spanish in Spain.

There are important variations among the regions of Spain and throughout Spanish-speaking America. In Spain the Castilian dialect pronunciation is commonly taken as the national standard (although the characteristic weak pronouns usage or laísmo of this dialect is deprecated).

Spanish has three second-person singular pronouns: , usted, and in some parts of Latin America, vos (the use of this form is called voseo). Generally speaking, and vos are informal and used with friends (though in Spain vos is considered an archaic form for address of exalted personages, its use now mainly confined to the liturgy). Usted is universally regarded as the formal form (derived from vuestra merced, "your mercy") , and is used as a mark of respect, as when addressing one's elders or strangers. The pronoun vosotros is the plural form of in most of Spain, although in the Americas (and certain southern Spanish cities such as Cádiz, and in the Canary Islands) it is replaced with ustedes. It is remarkable that the use of ustedes for the informal plural "you" in southern Spain does not follow the usual rule for pronoun-verb agreement; e.g., while the formal form for "you go", ustedes van, uses the third-person plural form of the verb, in Cádiz the informal form is constructed as ustedes vais, using the second-person plural of the verb. In the Canary Islands, though, the usual pronoun-verb agreement is preserved in most cases.

Vos (see voseo) is used extensively as the primary spoken form of the second-person singular pronoun in many countries of Latin America, including Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Antioquia and Valle del Cauca states of Colombia and the State of Zulia in Venezuela. In Argentina, Uruguay, and increasingly in Paraguay, it is also the standard form used in the media, but media in other voseante countries continue to use usted or . Vos may also be used regionally in other countries. Depending on country or region, usage may be considered standard or (by better educated speakers) to be unrefined. Interpersonal situations in which the use of vos is acceptable may also differ considerably between regions.

Spanish forms also differ regarding second-person plural pronouns. The Spanish dialects of Latin America have only one form of the second-person plural, ustedes (formal or familiar, as the case may be). In Spain there are two forms — ustedes (formal) and vosotros (familiar).

The Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), like academies formed for twenty-one other national languages, exercises a standardizing influence through its publication of dictionaries and widely respected grammar and style guides. Due to this influence and for other sociohistorical reasons, a neutral standardized form of the language ( Standard Spanish) is widely acknowledged for use in literature, academic contexts and the media.

Some words are different, even embarrassingly so, in different Hispanophone countries. Most Spanish speakers can recognize other Spanish forms, even in places where they are not commonly used, but Spaniards generally do not recognise specifically American usages. For example, Spanish mantequilla, aguacate and albaricoque (respectively, "butter", "avocado", "apricot") correspond to manteca, palta, and damasco, respectively, in Argentina and Chile. The everyday Spanish words coger (to catch, get, or pick up) and concha (seashell) are considered extremely rude in parts of Latin America. The first meaning "to have sex" and the latter "vagina". The Puerto Rican word for "bobby pin" (pinche) is an obscenity in Mexico. Other examples include taco, which means "obscenity" in Spain but is known to the rest of the world as the Mexican foodstuff. Coche, which means car in Spain, means pig in Guatemala.


Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two- gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but small noun declension and limited pronominal declension. (For a detailed overview of verbs, see Spanish verbs and Spanish irregular verbs.)

Spanish syntax is generally Subject Verb Object, though variations are common. Spanish is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually places adjectives after nouns.

Spanish is also pro-drop (allows the deletion of pronouns when pragmatically unnecessary) and verb-framed.


The phonemic inventory listed below is not an accurate description of the current Standard Spanish because it includes historical phonemes that have been merged with others or dropped in the process of the language evolution, as noted further below.

Consonants of Spanish
Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasals m (ɱ) n ɲ (ŋ)
Plosives p b t d k g
Fricatives f θ* (ð) s (z) ʝ x (h)
Approximants (β̞) (ɰ)
Trills r
Taps ɾ
Laterals l ʎ*

Notes: When sounds appear in pairs, the left is unvoiced, the right is voiced. Also, allophones have been denoted in parentheses (). An asterisk (*) marks sounds that appear in some dialects but not others.

The consonantal system of Castilian Spanish, by the 16th century, underwent the following important changes that differentiated it from some nearby Romance languages, such as Portuguese and Catalan:

  • The initial /f/, that had evolved into a vacillating /h/, was lost in most words (although this etymological h- has been preserved in spelling).
  • The voiced labiodental fricative /v/ (that was written u or v) merged with the bilabial oclusive /b/ (written b). Orthographically, b and v do not correspond to different phonemes in contemporary Spanish, excepting some areas in Spain, particularly the ones influenced by Catalan/Valencian.
  • The voiced alveolar fricative /z/ (that was written s between vowels) merged with the voiceless /s/ (that was written s, or ss between vowels).
  • The voiced alveolar affricate /dz/ (that was written z) merged with the voiceless /ts/ (that was written ç, ce, ci), and then /ts/ evolved into the interdental /θ/, now written z, ce, ci. But in Andalucia, the Canary Islands and the Americas these sounds merged with /s/ as well. Notice that the ç or c with cedilla was in its origin a Spanish letter, although is no longer used.
  • The voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ (that was written j, ge, gi) merged with the voiceless /ʃ/ (that was written x, as in Quixote), and then /ʃ/ evolved by the 17th century into the modern velar sound /x/, now written j, ge, gi. However, in Argentina (in most of the cases) and Uruguay, both y and ll are pronounced /ʒ/ or /ʃ/.

The consonantal system of Medieval Spanish has been better preserved in Ladino and in Portuguese, neither of which underwent the shift.

Lexical stress

Spanish has a phonemic stress system — the place where stress will fall cannot be predicted by other features of the word, and two words can differ by just a change in stress. For example, the word camino (with penultimate stress) means "road" or "I walk" whereas caminó (with final stress) means "you (formal)/he/she/it walked". Also, since Spanish syllables are all pronounced at a more or less constant tempo, the language is said to be syllable-timed.

In a written word, the stressed syllable can always be identified (see Writing system of Spanish for details). An amusing example of the significance of stress (and intonation) is a puzzle which requires the subject to punctuate: como como como como como como so that it makes sense. The answer is ¿Cómo, cómo como? ¡Como como como! (What do you mean / how / do I eat? / I eat / the way / I eat!).

Writing system

The pronunciation of almost any Spanish word can be perfectly predicted from its written form.

Spanish is written using the Latin alphabet, with the addition of ñ (eñe), a n with a tilde (~) placed over the n. Historically ch (che, pronounced []), ll [eʝe], and "rr", were until 1994 defined as single letters, with their own names and places in the alphabet (a, b, c, ch, d, …, l, ll, m, n, ñ,… ,q,r,rr,s,t …,). Since 1994 these letters have been abolished, and replaced with the appropriate letter pair. This effectively means that spelling is visibly unchanged, but words with "ch" are now alphabetically sorted between "ce" and "ci", instead of following "cz", and similarly for "ll" and "rr". However, "che", "elle" and "erre doble" (double r) are still used in coloquial Spanish to mean "ch" "ll" and "rr" respectively.

The letter u sometimes carries diaeresis ( ü) after the letter g, and stressed vowels carry acute accents ( á) in many words. These marks usually indicate deviations from what would be expected if one followed the customary rules of Spanish orthography. For example, gue indicates that the u is not pronounced. However, güe means that the u is also pronounced (in this case, with the w sound.) Accent marks usually indicate that the customary rules of accentuation (stress the last syllable of any word ending in a consonant (including y) other than n or s; stress the next to last syllable otherwise) are to be ignored. In a few cases, an accented letter is used to distinguish meaning: compare el (= the before a masculine singular noun) with él (= he or it). Words that could otherwise be mistaken for function words (often pronounced as enclitics, i.e. without their own stress) are often given accents (such as "té", tea, or "dé" and "sé", forms of "dar" and either "saber" or "ser", respectively). Interrogative pronouns (que, cual, donde, quien, etc.) receive accents when in questions or indirect questions. Demonstrative pronouns (ese, este, aquel, etc.) have accents when they refer to a specific, implied object and are not being used as adjectives. In addition, o (= or) is written with an accent between numerals to indicate that it is not part of the numerals: e.g., 10 ó 20 should be read as diez o veinte rather than diez mil veinte (= 10,020). Accent marks are frequently omitted on capital letters, but should not be.

Interrogative and exclamatory clauses begin with inverted question ( ¿ ) and exclamation marks ( ¡ ).

Examples of Spanish

Note, the third column uses the International Phonetic Alphabet, the standard for linguists, to transcribe the sounds. There are several examples of travellers' vocabulary and one literary reference.

You can listen to these words being read out. Both the transcription and the recording represent standard Castilian pronunciation.

English Spanish IPA transcription
(Standard Spanish)
IPA Transcription
(Common Variants)
Spanish español [ˈɲol]
Castilian castellano [kas.teˈ] [kas.teˈʒ]
English inglés [iŋˈgles]
Yes [ˈsi]
No No [ˈno]
Hello Hola [ˈ]
How are you? (informal) ¿Cómo estás? [ˈ esˈtas]
Good morning! Buenos días [ˈbwe.nos ˈ]
Good afternoon/evening! Buenas tardes [bwe.nas 'tar.des]
Good night! Buenas noches [ˈbwe.nas ˈno.tʃes] [ˈbwe.nas ˈno.ʃes]
Goodbye Adiós [aˈðjos]
Please Por favour [ˈpor faˈβ̞or]
Thank you Gracias [ˈgra.θjas]1 or [ˈgra.sjas]
Excuse me Perdón [pεrˈðon]
I'm Sorry Lo siento [ˈlo ˈ]
Hurry! (fam.) ¡Date prisa! [ˈda.te ˈ]
Because Porque [ˈpor ˌke]
Why? ¿Por qué? [ˌpor ˈke]
Who? ¿Quién? [ˈkjen]
What? ¿Qué? [ˈke]
When? ¿Cuándo? [ˈ]
Where? ¿Dónde? [ˈ]
How? ¿Cómo? [ˈ]
How much? ¿Cuánto? [ˈ]
I do not understand No entiendo [no enˈ]
Help me (please)
Help me!
Where's the bathroom? ¿Dónde está el baño? [ˈ eˈsta el ˈba.ɲo]
Do you speak English? (informal) ¿Hablas inglés? [ˈaβ̞.las iŋˈgles]
Cheers! (toast) ¡Salud! [saˈluð]
1 Standard pronunciation in Spain.

Examples of English with Spanish Transcription and Pronunciation


In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to recall,

there lived not long ago one of those gentlemen that

keep a lance in the lance-rack, an old shield, a lean horse and a greyhound for racing.


En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme,

no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los

de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.

IPA transcription
(Standard Spanish):

[en un luˈɣar | ðe la ˈman.tʃa ‖ de ˈkuʝo | ˈnom.bre | no ˈ | a.korˈð ‖ no a ˈmu.tʃo | ˈtjem.po | ke β̞iˈβ̞i.a | un iˈðal.ɣo ðe los ‖ ðe ˈ | en a.stiˈʝ ‖ aˈðar.ɣa | anˈti.ɣwa ‖ ro.ˈsin | ˈfla.ko | i ˈgal.ɣo | ko.reˈðor ‖]

IPA transcription
(Northern/Central Spain):

[en un luˈɣar | ðe la ˈman.tʃa ‖ de ˈkuʝo | ˈnom.bre | no ˈ | a.korˈð ‖ no a ˈmu.tʃo | ˈtjem.po | ke β̞iˈβ̞i.a | un iˈðal.ɣo ðe los ‖ ðe ˈlan.θa | en a.stiˈʎ ‖ aˈðar.ɣa | anˈti.ɣwa ‖ ro.ˈθin | ˈfla.ko | i ˈgal.ɣo | ko.reˈðor ‖]

IPA transcription
(Rioplatense (porteño) Spanish):

[en un luˈɣar | ðe la ˈman.tʃa ‖ de ˈkuʃo | ˈnom.bre | no ˈ | a.korˈð ‖ no a ˈmu.tʃo | ˈtjem.po | ke β̞iˈβ̞i.a | un iˈðal.ɣo ðe loh ‖ ðe ˈ | en a.htiˈʃ ‖ aˈðar.ɣa | anˈti.ɣwa ‖ ro.ˈsin | ˈfla.ko | i ˈgal.ɣo | ko.reˈðor ‖]

IPA transcription
(Caribbean Spanish):

[ê ûŋ luˈɣal | ðe la ˈmâŋ.tʃa ‖ de ˈkuʝo | ˈnôŋ.bre | no ˈ | a.kolˈð ‖ no a ˈmu.tʃo | ˈtjêm.po | ke ̞iˈβ̞i.a | ûŋ iˈðal.ɣo ðe loh ‖ ðe ˈlâŋ.sa | êŋ a.htiˈʝ ‖ aˈðal.ɣa | âŋˈti.ɣwa ‖ ro.ˈsîŋ | ˈfla.ko | i ˈgal.ɣo | ko.reˈðol ‖]

El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (opening sentence).

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