Does Spanish have words which can be pronounced with a different number of syllables? For example, in English one can pronounce lightning with 2 syllables, meaning the companion of thunder, and 3 syllables, meaning brightening.

I was wondering if Spanish has such words as well.

  • 1
    I think you will find that to make lighter is spelled lightening so you need a different example.
    – mdewey
    Commented Jan 16, 2018 at 22:06
  • @mdewey I was relying on wikitionary
    – dimid
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 4:42
  • I think you misunderstood what wiktionary says in that entry. (Thanks for posting the link.) Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 4:47
  • @aparente001 Could you elaborate? I was referring to meanings 1 and 4 of the word.
    – dimid
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 4:55
  • 1
    Related --> Gentilicio para Austria ¿Qué determina el empleo de una u otra forma?. There you have a suffix whose pronunciation differs from one region to the other.
    – Alicia
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 8:59

1 Answer 1


Yes, but they tend to be barely perceptible to the average speaker because they tend to be based on dialect. For example, the word guion can be pronounced in one (/'gjon/) or two (/gi'on/) syllables. There is no change in meaning however. As the Ortografía points out:

Estas secuencias [de vocal cerrada átona y vocal abierta tónica], que en España y en una parte de América se articulan en muchos vocablos como hiatos, se pronuncian, en cambio, como diptongos o integrando triptongos en otras zonas, especialmente en México, Centroamérica y parte de las áreas caribeña y andina. Así palabras como piano, enviar, guion, jesuita, diurno o fieis son silabeadas por unos hispnohablantes separando las vocales contiguas en sílabas distintas: [pi.á.no], [em.bi.ár], [gi.ón], [je.su.í.ta], [di.úr.no], [fi.éis]; y por otros, agrupando las vocales dentro de la misma sílaba: [piá.no], [em.biár], [gión], [je.suí.ta], [diúr.no], [fiéis].

Sometimes you can have a hiatus in unstressed syllables and some speakers will have the resulting extra syllable. For example, any word with the prefix bio- which can be either /bi.o/ or /bjo/. The reasons for when someone would use one pronunciation or another are quite varied:

La articulación de determinadas secuencias vocálicas dentro de la misma sílaba o en sílabas distintas no solo depende de la procedencia geográfica, sino que se ve influida asimismo por otros factores, como la posición que la secuencia ocupa dentro de la palabra, la velocidad de emisión, el mayor o meno esmero en la pronunciación, la etimología o la analogía con otras palabras de la misma familia léxica, etc.

But these differences are not (by design) indicated in writing except when they affect the stressed syllable (as in vídeo ~ video, but those are spelt differently so they don't count as an answer to your question :-) ). None of these will affect the meaning of the word, however, as can happen in English read /riːd/ ~ read /rɛd/.

  • I've come across a spectacular exception. I asked directions to the "Paseo Bravo." It took me a while to understand the answer (from a random person): she directed me on how to get to the Paseo Brap. Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 4:49
  • Thanks, are there regional differences between /bi.o/ and /bjo/ or is it a just a personal choice?
    – dimid
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 4:54
  • @dimid neither really. It's pretty spontaneous for any possible hiatuses like that. Most speakers aren't even aware that such a thing exists (unlike words like guion where they tend to hear it slightly) Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 4:57
  • That is wrong in many dimensions. The problem with Bio, for example, is that if you assume Bio-tecnológico as two words, people tend to accent it in some way as if they were really two words: Bio and Tecnológico. So where should Bio has the accent? The tilde should be in Bío (/bi.o/) but not in Bio (/bjo/) (monosyllable).
    – Billeeb
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 10:36
  • But the rule says that the particle is not accented: Biotecnológico (which is correct) Is going to sound like /bjo/. But Bio-tecnológico, is felt like two words, therefore getting the two accents wrongly stressed: Bío-Tecnológico. And coming the particle from Bio (greek for live, life) is a compositional particle (Bio does not exist as a word in spanish, just as a prefix) the supposition that a wrong spelled word is a "regional difference" is absurd, specially when spanish is super straight forward in the pronunciation.
    – Billeeb
    Commented Jan 17, 2018 at 10:36

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