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I'm learning how to read and pronounce Spanish words.

In a few references that I've seen, it is said that the letter 'x' is pronounced as [s] when it is before consonant as in word excusar.

However wherever I am listening to the audio of native speakers I always hear sound [ks], even in the audiotape that goes with the book that says that in this case it usually pronounced as [s].

So the question is: is it really pronounced like [s] or is it in some way outdated or wrong way to pronounce it like that? (If it is a matter of dialect then I prefer Castilian.)

  • It's wrong. That would be like saying escusar. – Alejandro Aug 1 '16 at 17:03
  • I've never heard this rule. I've always heard [ks]. I'm guessing this means the [s] pronunciation is regional, obsolete, or just wrong. The only time I'm aware of x sounding like [s] is in words of native american origin, like Xochitl ([soˈt͡ʃitl]. – Flimzy Aug 1 '16 at 17:06
  • @Ustanak I´ve seen it in one popular russian textbook (first published in 1978), but also here, here and one video on youtube by russian linguist. – D. Dmitriy Aug 1 '16 at 17:13
  • It may be a regional thing but to my ears, it sounds terrible. – Alejandro Aug 1 '16 at 17:16
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    It depends on the country, actually – Rafael Aug 1 '16 at 17:16
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There may be big differences in different regions, so just for the record this answer accounts for European Spanish.

Generally, Spanish tends to unfavor two consonants in syllable-final position, so words as transporte or extracto tend to be pronounced as /trasporte/ or /estracto/ in relaxed pronunciation, because of the clusters /ns/ and /ks/ being troublesome in a coda position. Hence why sustrato, from substrato, or traspirar, from transpirar, have already made it into the DRAE.

An x in Spanish is pronounced as a /ks/ with the two consonants falling on different syllables, which doesn't present any problem. However, when another consonant follows the x, and because s + consonant isn't possible in an onset position in Spanish, the k and the s are grouped together, resulting in the first of them being dropped.

I disagree that's not how people speak, or that it sounds vulgar. I've actually heard it quite often when people are just not putting too much thought into their diction because the context doesn't require them to do so. Thus, even though the x pronounced as a /ks/ is predominant in Latin America, in Spain the /s/ pronunciation is the norm when followed by a consonant, as the following excerpt from the DPD points out:

X. 2 c. In syllable-final position and followed by a consonant, it is pronounced as /ks/ or /gs/ in American Spanish: excusa [ekskúsa, egskúsa], extremo [ekstrémo, egstrémo]; but in Spain, even though in educated and emphatic speech the pronunciation is the same as the American one, the most widespread pronunciation is /s/:  exponer [esponér], exfoliante [esfoliánte].

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    Per the DRAE, it's not really even so much "not putting too much thought", it's more just that in Spain that's the pronunciation, except when someone's being particular emphatic (and in my head that's almost always when someone pauses between an initially ex- and the rest of the world. – user0721090601 Aug 1 '16 at 18:38
  • I agree and to add to this answer I'd say that If you don't put too much thought into whatever you are doing you are bound to do it wrong. I understand that people mispronounce it very often but until the vast majority of us change the 'ks' sound for the 's' sound the right answer is "well pronounced 'x' sounds 'ks'". Variations are just that, variations (deviations from the standard). – DGaleano Aug 1 '16 at 19:18
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    @guifa Agree, the x in Spain is almost invariably pronounced as an s when followed by another consonant. I've added the section you quote from the DPD because I think it's illustrative and it should be part of the answer. After all, most visitors don't even read the comments. – Yay Aug 1 '16 at 20:55
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    @DGaleano I agree in regions where the x is realised as /ks/ pronouncing it as /s/ is non-standard and perceived as wrong, but in regions where this is the norm, I don't think it can be labelled as a mistake. I've put the "this is valid for Spain" sentence at the beginning to attract more attention to it and have added a reference from the DPD that I think sums up nicely what has been discussed so far. – Yay Aug 1 '16 at 21:27
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The real sound of 'x' is [ks], excusar is pronounced with [ks]. However there are some people that pronounce it as [s] words like, indeed excusar, excepción ('xc' like [s] at least in latinamerica), texto, etc. etc. But that's non standard spanish. It's even considered vulgar.

It might be that castilian tends to pronounce 'x' as [s].

You can take a look to this web site and search words with 'x' before consonant. Listen their pronunciation and compare(You can see where the speaker is from).

In some other regional cases 'x' can sound like [ʃ] and [x], but that's not your question..

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  • At the risk of being impolite, can I ask you what country are you from? I'm interested because to my ear spanish varies quite a bit from country to country. – D. Dmitriy Aug 1 '16 at 18:09
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    I'm from Mexico. I searched 'extraño' in the web I gave you. Just 2 guys pronounce x like [s], One from Spain and one from Republica Dominicana. – Maurocrispin Aug 1 '16 at 18:13
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    Citation needed for non-standard (also [gs] is a common pronunciation). See DPD sobre x: «2. […] c) En posición final de sílaba seguida de consonante, se pronuncia como /ks/ o /gs/ en el español de América: excusa [ekskúsa, egskúsa], extremo [ekstrémo, egstrémo]; pero en España, aunque la pronunciación culta enfática coincide con la americana, la pronunciación más generalizada es /s/: exponer [esponér], exfoliante [esfoliánte].» – user0721090601 Aug 1 '16 at 18:33
  • Había notado que en los españoles era 'común' pero sabia hasta que punto. No he escuchado [gs] nunca, o al menos no lo he notado. – Maurocrispin Aug 1 '16 at 18:40
  • To contribute to the regional differences let me add that in Colombia is common for people to mispronounced it as 's'. Some people can't just pronounce the k sound before another consonant changing 'exacto\eksacto\' to 'esato' and 'correcto' to 'correto' but even if it is common especially among the low educated class, that is just wrong. If you want to pronounce it correctly use 'ks' – DGaleano Aug 1 '16 at 19:28

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