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As we all know that Spanish is a Phonetic Language, i.e. the way it's written is the way it's pronounced. I am just curious to know if there are any exceptions to this phonetic rule. I mean, when we speak Spanish or certain words in Spanish like the name of any person, place etc, is there any case where that word is spoken a bit differently than the way it's spelled.

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The phonetic rules are "designed" for a subset of all possible words (the "Spanish" words). Words in other languages may not have an applicable Spanish phonetic rule when you try to read them. –  belisarius Jul 6 '13 at 1:34
When you say "the way it's meant to be"... I assume you mean "the way it's spelled"? –  Flimzy Jul 6 '13 at 4:51
@Flimzy: Yes, I mean is it spoken differently than the way it's spelled. –  Rahil Arora Jul 6 '13 at 9:06
And México should be spelled Méjico. And it may be, in Spain. –  Walter Mitty Jul 6 '13 at 21:59
@WalterMitty: Saying that "México" should be "Méjico" is an over-simplification. But read about that here. –  Flimzy Jul 6 '13 at 22:30
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5 Answers

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Are there exceptions to the (quite simple) spanish phonetic rules?

Basically, no.

Unless you count any of the following as exceptions (I wouldn't, but it's debatable) :

  • Foreign names or words of foreign origin, that retain its original spelling but are pronounced differently: "sandwich" (pronounced as "sángüich" or even "sánguche").

  • Regional variations: the "elle" in "caballo" is pronounced differently in Spanish than in Argentina ("yeísmo"), same for the "z" sound ("seseo/ceceo").

  • Bad or casual pronounciations. Same as in English, in casual-fast speaking some words can be slightly contracted or deformed. For example, in many regions is common to almost omit some final "s" or make it like an aspired sound (sort of English "h") : eg, "Las cosas" => "La'cosas" or "Lah' cosas"; in some regions of Argentina, the trilling "rr" is prononunce more like a "y", etc. Some pronunciations, regarded as incorrect, are nevertheless very common: "peleé" (1st person, past tense of "pelear") is often pronounced as "pelié".

  • Though we don't have the English group "sh", we widely recognize it and sometimes use it when we need to reproduce the "sh" sound at the end of some word (there are no such words in Spanish, but there are some onomatopoeias or foreign words). However, in words of Spanish formation like "deshacer" we pronounce in the Spanish way: "des"+"hacer".

  • "X" has two pronunciations: the common one ("cs") and the rare one ("j"): the later is only used in a few words, notably "México"

  • Initial "ps" (eg: "psicología") is usually pronounced simply as "s"

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Spanish has a mostly phonetic reading (as opposed to writing*). Most exceptions are in three categories:

  1. reductions, assimilations and similar phonemic changes
  2. archaic language
  3. foreign and indigenous words

In the first category we include hiatus reduced to diphthongs toalla/tualla/, pelear/peliar/, elimination of geminated vowels: cooperar/coperar/, addition or reduction of weak consonants: huevo/güevo/, güey/uey/, partido/partío/, lambdization (and reverse lambdization) el muerto/er muelto/. Aspiration of syllable final s: tres tristes tigres/treh trihteh tigreh/ or complete elimination: →/tre trite tigre/. Most of these features depend on accent and dialect, however some are common in all (most) variants of Spanish, such as assimilation of syllable final n to the next consonant: un burro/um burro/, enviar/embiar/.

The main example of the second category is the aspirated h, as in halar, holgorio, harto. This aspirated h sounds like English h and, for some people there is a difference between this h (glotal approximant, as English h) and j (velar approximant, as ch in English loch), however this distinction is lost for most speakers. In Colombia and Central America both h and j are glotal (as in English), in Spain, Argentina and Mexico both are velar.

The third category include the Mexican x (from Nahuatl): México/méjico/, Xalapa/jalapa/, Oaxaca/uajaca/, and all words from English, French, German, and many other origins which do not conform: pijama(col)→/piyama/ (in Spain pijamas is pronunced /pijamas/), mouse/maus/, mousse/mus/, pie/pay/. Many common personal names in Latin America (I guess in Spain is less common) do have j that is pronounced as /y/: Jeaneth/yanet/, Jennifer/yénifer/, Jessica/yésica/, Jackson/yacson/; even original names that do not exist in other languages.

Special note on x. While the canonical pronunciation of x is as /cs/, it is usually reduced in syllable final positions: Mompox/mompós//mompó/, and in the latin prefix ex- (meaning out/outside) usually sounds more similar to /gs/, particularly when followed by a vowel voiced consonant: exagerar/egsajerar/ [eɣzaxeɾar] (this does not apply when ex- means ‘former’). In some speeches (usually deemed as vulgar), the x can also be reduced to /ts/: taxi/tatsi/. And, of course, there are all those Mexican words in which x sounds as /j/: xalapeños/jalapeños/. (But Telmex/télmecs/.)

Special note on w. The letter w is not a Spanish letter and no word of Spanish origin uses it, while canonically should be regarded as a v (and pronounced equal to b) the actual pronunciation should mimic the pronunciation in the original language: Watt/bat/, sandwich/sánduich/, wiskey/güisqui/.

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* Spanish is not 100% phonetic in its writing, as there are several ways to express the same sound: /b/ can be written as either b or v, and /j/ before e or i can be written as either g or j. In most Latin America, /s/ is either s or z/c (and /cs/ is either x or cc), and /y/ is either y or ll. –  Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Sep 26 '13 at 16:52
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There are very few examples, but they exist:

cooperativa /kopera'tiba/ (one "o")

zoología /solo'xia/ but zoólogo /so'ologo/

cortésmente /kortes'mente/ (stress is wrongly indicated in the spelling)

In my dialect

transporte /tran'porte/ = [tram'porte] (silent "s")

fósforo /'foforo/ (silent "s")

hámster /'xamster/ or /'xamter/, not /'amster/ ("h" sounds "j")

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There are many foreign words that don't follow Spanish phonetic rules, even though they are heavily used in Spanish.

The only "Spanish" word I can think of off the top of my head that doesn't follow Spanish phonetics is a Mexican slang word:


Although it is spelled with a 'G', the g sound is not pronounced (depending on region). As written, the word should be pronounced as if it were spelled Gway (in English), but in reality it is pronounced as the English word way.

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actually Güey is indeed pronounced as it is written. The umlauts above the "u" is meant to assign this particular sound to the syllabe if it didn't have it it would be written "Guey" and pronounced like the english "gay". The umlauts is missing as a part of the phonetic rules Miko was talking about –  Newbie Jul 8 '13 at 15:16
@Newbie: No, the 'G' is silent--at least as I've ever heard it pronounced, and according to wikipedia. –  Flimzy Jul 8 '13 at 19:40
According to the RAE: 5. f. Ortogr. Signo ortográfico (¨) que se pone sobre la u de las sílabas gue, gui, para representar que esa letra representa un sonido que debe pronunciarse, como en vergüenza. It sounds like it is written, ver-gu-en-za, if the g sound weren't pronounced it would sound: ver-u-enza. I'm native spanish speaker =P –  Newbie Jul 9 '13 at 3:56
@Newbie: What's your point? The ¨ changes the pronunciation of the gu from "g" (English) to "gw" (English). But Güey is not pronounced this way. It is pronounced as wey (English). According to phonetic spelling rules, it should be pronounced as gwey (English). The umlauts change the pronunciation, yes. But they don't make the G silent. –  Flimzy Jul 9 '13 at 4:24
exactly, the g is not silent in güey.The ¨ make the u sound but since the g is before it you get the soft and normal "g"-"u" sound combined: gu. "Gu-ey" –  Newbie Jul 9 '13 at 15:37
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As I always say, I'm not a linguist nor anything like that... Anyway, I can come up with the example of g and j.

The sound of j is always the same:

ja /xa/ (jamón)
je /xe/ (traje)
ji /xi/ (jirafa)
jo /xo/ (conejo)
ju /xu/ (juntar)

The sound of g is different depending on the vowel that follows:

ga /ga/ (gato)
ge /xe/ (gente)
gi /xi/ (rugir)
go /go/ (gorro)
gu /gu/ (agudo)

However, if you add a u, the sounds change:

gua /gua/ (agua)
gue /ge/ (hoguera)
gui /gi/ (guía)
guo /guo/ (antiguo)
guu /guu/ (-)

So, for example, words like hoguera, guía, Miguel, ceguera, guisante, guepardo, ... are "spoken a bit differently than the way they're meant to be"...

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These explain the phonetic rules, not exceptions to them. –  Flimzy Jul 6 '13 at 18:34
@Flimzy, well, I don't know, but he asked: is there any case where that word is spoken a bit differently than the way it's spelled? And I gave just some examples of such words... –  MikO Jul 6 '13 at 18:45
But you didn't. You explained how words spelled with 'j' sound, how words spelled with 'g' spelled, and how words spelled with 'gu' sound. You just explained three phonetic rules and gave examples. Your examples in the last sentence are not examples of violating phonetic rules. Every one of those words follows the rules. hoguera, guía, Miguel, etc... –  Flimzy Jul 6 '13 at 19:49
@Flimzy, actually the asker doesn't ask for "examples of violating phonetic rules", but for "words that are spoken a bit differently than the way they're spelled"... and I think I gave many examples of such words... In fact my name's Miguel and many English people call me /miguel/ with the sound /u/, but it's wrong since Miguel "is spoken a bit differently than the way it's spelled"... –  MikO Jul 6 '13 at 20:48
@Flimzy: Yeah, it's true. These explain the rules, but not the exceptions. English people pronounce the spanish words very differently, that we all know. I just wanted to know if there's any word that even the spanish people themselves pronounce differently. Thanks for your effort by the way. –  Rahil Arora Jul 6 '13 at 22:24
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