Easy Learning Spanish

Spelling - Easy Learning Grammar Spanish

1   Sounds that are spelled differently depending on the letter that follows

  • Certain sounds are spelled differently in Spanish depending on what letter follows them. For example, the hard [k] sound heard in the English word car is usually spelled:
  • c before a, o and u
  • qu before e and i
  • This means that the Spanish word for singer is spelled cantante (pronounced [kan-tan-tay]); the word for coast is spelled costa (pronounced [ko-sta]); and the word for cure is spelled cura (pronounced [koo-ra]).
  • However, the Spanish word for cheese is spelled queso (pronounced [kay-so]) and the word for chemistry is spelled química (pronounced [kee-mee-ka]).
  • Note that although the letter k is not much used in Spanish, it is found in words relating to kilos, kilometres and kilograms; for example un kilo (meaning a kilo); un kilogramo (meaning a kilogram); un kilómetro (meaning a kilometre).
  • Similarly, the [g] sound heard in the English word gone is spelled:
  • g before a, o and u
  • gu before e and i
  • This means that the Spanish word for cat is spelled gato (pronounced [ga-toe]); the word for goal is spelled gol (pronounced [gol]); and the word for worm is spelled gusano (pronounced [goo-sa-no]).
  • However, the Spanish word for war is spelled guerra (pronounced [gair-ra]) and the word for guitar is spelled guitarra (pronounced [ghee-tar-ra]).

2   Letters that are pronounced differently depending on what follows

  • Certain letters are pronounced differently depending on what follows them. As we have seen, when c comes before a, o or u, it is pronounced like a [k]. When it comes before e or i, in European Spanish it is pronounced like the [th] in the English word pith and in Latin American Spanish it is pronounced like the [s] in sing.
  • This means that casa (meaning house) is pronounced [ka-sa], but centro (meaning centre) is pronounced [then-tro] in European Spanish and [sen-tro] in Latin American Spanish. Similarly, cita (meaning date) is pronounced [the-ta] in European Spanish and [see-ta] in Latin American Spanish.
  • In the same way, when g comes before a, o or u, it is pronounced like the [g] in gone. When it comes before e or i, however, it is pronounced like the [ch] in loch, as it is pronounced in Scotland.
  • This means that gas (meaning gas) is pronounced [gas] but gente (meaning people) is pronounced [chen-tay]. Similarly, gimnasio (meaning gym) is pronounced [cheem-na-see-o].

3   Spelling changes that are needed in verbs to reflect the pronunciation

  • Because c sounds like [k] before a, o and u, and like [th] or [s] before e and i, you sometimes have to alter the spelling of a verb when adding a particular ending to ensure the word reads as it is pronounced:
  • In verbs ending in -car (which is pronounced [kar]), you have to change the c to qu before endings starting with an e to keep the hard [k] pronunciation. So the yo form of the preterite tense of sacar (meaning to take out) is spelled saqué. This spelling change affects the preterite and the present subjunctive of verbs ending in -car.
  • In verbs ending in -cer and -cir (which are pronounced [ther] and [thir] or [ser] and [sir]), you have to change the c to z before endings starting with
    a or o to keep the soft [th/s] pronunciation. So while the yo form of the preterite tense of hacer is spelled hice, the él/ella/usted form is spelled hizo. This spelling change affects the ordinary present tense as well as the present subjunctive of verbs ending in -cer or -cir.
  • Because g sounds like the [g] of gone before a, o and u, and like the [ch] of loch before e and i, you also sometimes have to alter the spelling of a verb when adding a particular ending to ensure the verb still reads as it is pronounced:
  • In verbs ending in -gar (which is pronounced [gar]), you have to change the g to gu before endings starting with an e or an i to keep the hard [g] pronunciation. So the yo form of the preterite tense of pagar (meaning to pay) is spelled pagué. This spelling change affects the preterite and the present subjunctive of verbs ending in -gar.
  • In verbs ending in -ger and -gir (which are pronounced [cher] and [chir]), you have to change the g to j before endings starting with a or o to keep the soft [ch] pronunciation. So while the él/ella/usted form of the present tense of coger (meaning to take or to catch) is spelled coge, the yo form is spelled cojo. This spelling change affects the ordinary present tense as well as the present subjunctive of verbs ending in -ger or -gir.
  • Because gui sounds like [ghee] in verbs ending in -guir, but gua and guo sound like [gwa] and [gwo], you have to drop the u before a and o in verbs ending in
    -guir. So while the él/ella/usted form of the present tense of seguir (meaning to follow) is spelled sigue, the yo form is spelled sigo. This spelling change affects the ordinary present tense as well as the present subjunctive of verbs ending in -guir.
  • Finally, although z is always pronounced [th] in European Spanish and [s] in Latin American Spanish, in verbs ending in -zar the z spelling is changed to c before e. So, while the él/ella/usted form of the preterite tense of cruzar is spelled cruzó, the yo form is spelled crucé. This spelling change affects the preterite and the present subjunctive of verbs ending in -zar.

4   Spelling changes that are needed when making nouns and adjectives plural

  • In the same way that you have to make some spelling changes when modifying the endings of certain verbs, you sometimes have to change the spelling of nouns and adjectives when making them plural.
  • This affects nouns and adjectives ending in -z. When adding the -es ending of the plural, you have to change the z to c.
una vezonce, one timedos vecestwice, two times
una luza lightunas lucessome lights
capazcapable (singular)capacescapable (plural)
  • The following table shows the usual spelling of the various sounds discussed above:
Usual spelling
before abefore obefore ubefore ebefore i
[k] sound (as in cap)ca:
casa

house
co:
cosa

thing
cu:
cubo

bucket
que:
queso

cheese
qui:
química

chemistry
[g] sound (as in gap)ga:
gato

cat
go:
gordo

fat
gu:
gusto

taste
gue:
guerra

war
gui:
guitarra

guitar
[th] sound (as in pith) (pronounced [s] in Latin America)za:
zapato

shoe
zo:
zorro

fox
zu:
zumo

juice
ce:
cero

zero
ci:
cinta

ribbon
[ch] sound (as in loch)ja:
jardín

garden
jo:
joven

young
ju:
jugar

to play
ge:
gente

people
gi:
gigante

giant
  • Note that because j is still pronounced [ch] even when it comes before e or i, there are quite a number of words that contain je or ji; for example,
el jefe/la jefathe boss
el jerezsherry
el jerseyjersey
el jinetejockey
la jirafagiraffe
el ejemplothe example
dije/dijisteI said/you said
dejéI left
Similarly, because z is also pronounced [th] or [s] even when it comes before i or e, there are one or two exceptions to the spelling rules described above; for example, el zigzag (meaning zigzag) and la zeta (the name of the letter z in Spanish).

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