I know that in Spanish, all vowels have one pronunciation. But I don't see that being followed by the letter "o".

Some words pronounce the "o" more like the stressed, first "o" in "doctor" (/ˈdɔktɚ/), while other words the "o" gets pronounced like the stressed, first "o" in "coconut" (/ˈkʰokəˌnʌt/).

I don't really understand this. Could someone explain? It is ever possible to pronounce an "o" in more than one way in Spanish?

  • 4
    I personally don't know the difference between the "o" in "doctor" and the "o" in "coconut", as English is not my mother tongue. And it's not clear which Spanish words you have found with that different pronunciation. Would you mind to clarify those two points?
    – Charlie
    Commented May 7, 2020 at 17:42
  • La pregunta surge por algún libro de aprendizaje del español? la verdad solo existe un sonido.
    – alvalongo
    Commented May 8, 2020 at 3:01
  • Can you specify the local variety of Spanish? That would be an important piece of information. Where I'm from we say "ta luego" instead of "hasta luego".
    – user28457
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 11:57
  • 1
    In Spanish, there is only one pronunciation for all vowels: a, e, i, o and u.
    – Lambie
    Commented May 19, 2023 at 20:50

1 Answer 1


What you are hearing are two different allophones of the same phoneme /o/.

In English /o/ and /ɒ/ are contrastive (e.g. rote vs rot), but Spanish only has one back-mid vowel /o/, and hence while open and close variants exist (and may be contextually conditioned to an extent), native speakers consider them the same sound. As such, they can be interchanged freely without change in meaning:

Some scholars, however, state that Spanish has eleven allophones: the close and mid vowels have close [i, u, e, o] and open [i̞, u̞, ɛ, ɔ] allophones

Mid back vowel /o/

  • The close allophone is phonetically close-mid [o], and appears in open syllables, e.g. in the word como [ˈkomo] 'how'
  • The open allophone is phonetically open-mid [ɔ], and appears:
  • In closed syllables, e.g. in the word con [kɔn] 'with'
    • In both open and closed syllables when contact with /r/, e.g. in the words corro [ˈkɔrɔ] 'I run', barro [ˈbarɔ] 'mud', and roble [ˈrɔβle] 'oak'
    • In both open and closed syllables when before /x/, e.g. in the word ojo [ˈɔxo] 'eye'
    • In the diphthong /oi/, e.g. in the word hoy [ɔi] 'today'
    • In stressed position when preceded by /a/ and followed by either /ɾ/ or /l/, e.g. in the word ahora [ɑˈɔɾa̠] 'now'

This is analogous to /b/ having allophones [b] and [β̞] etc.

* As shown in the comments on this question.

  • 1
    Thanks for your allophone discussion. I've added IPA transcriptions to the original question, because this is essentially impossible to discuss without it given how very many sounds orthographic "o" can make in various regional forms of English, ranging over [əʊ], [oʊ], [o], [ɔ], [ɒ], [ɑ], or [ə], plus weird cases like the notorious surprise where "o" is /ʊ/ in singular woman versus how "o" becomes /ɪ/ in plural women. Spanish is so much easier in this regard. :)
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 14, 2021 at 21:31

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