Spanish orthography

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Spanish orthography is the orthography used in the Spanish language. The alphabet uses the Latin script. The spelling is fairly phonemic, especially in comparison to more opaque orthographies like English and Irish, having a relatively consistent mapping of graphemes to phonemes; in other words, the pronunciation of words can largely be predicted from the spelling. The punctuation is similar to that used in other Romance languages and in English.

Alphabet in Spanish[edit]

The Spanish language is written using the Spanish alphabet, which is the Latin script with one additional letter: eñe "ñ", for a total of 27 letters.[1] Although the letters "k" and "w" are part of the alphabet, they appear only in loanwords such as karate, kilo, waterpolo and wolframio (tungsten). Each letter has a single official name according to the Real Academia Española's new 2010 Common Orthography,[2] but in some regions alternative traditional names coexist as explained below. The digraphs "ch" and "ll" were considered letters of the alphabet from 1754 to 2010 (and sorted separately from "c" and "l" from 1803 to 1994). The digraph "rr" is occasionally considered a letter, but officially it was never so.

Spanish alphabet
Letter A B C1 D E F G H I
Name a be, be larga, be alta ce de e efe ge hache i
Phoneme(s) /a/ /b/ /k/, /θ/2 /d/ /e/ /f/ /ɡ/ /x/ silent3 /i/

^1 The sequence ⟨ch⟩ represents the affricate /tʃ/. The digraph was formerly treated as a single letter, called che.

^2 The phonemes /θ/ and /s/ have merged in many dialects; see seseo.

^3 With the exception of some loanwords: hámster, hachís, hawaiano, which have /x/.

Letter J K L M N Ñ O P Q
Name jota ka ele eme ene eñe o pe cu
Phoneme(s) /x/ /k/ /l/4 /m/ /n/ /ɲ/ /o/ /p/ /k/5

^4 When ⟨l⟩ is written double (e.g. calle), it represents the palatal lateral /ʎ/ in a few dialects; but in most dialects—because of the historical merger called yeísmo—it, like the letter ⟨y⟩, represents the phoneme /ʝ/.

^5 Used only in the digraph ⟨qu⟩.

Letter R6 S T U V W X Y Z
Name erre ese te u uve, ve, ve corta, ve baja uve doble, ve doble, doble ve, doble u[3] equis ye, i griega zeta
Phoneme(s) /ɾ/, /r/ /s/ /t/ /u/ /b/ /ɡw/, /b/ /ks/, /x/, /s/ /ʝ/, /i/ /θ/2

^6 The digraph ⟨rr⟩, which only appears between vowels, represents the trill [r].

For details on Spanish pronunciation, see Spanish phonology and Wikipedia:IPA for Spanish.

When acute accent and diaeresis marks are used on vowels (⟨á⟩, ⟨é⟩, ⟨í⟩, ⟨ó⟩, ⟨ú⟩ and ⟨ü⟩) they are considered variants of the plain vowel letters, but ⟨ñ⟩ is considered a separate letter from ⟨n⟩. This makes a difference when sorting alphabetically: ⟨ñ⟩ appears in dictionaries after ⟨n⟩. For example, in a Spanish dictionary piñata comes after pinza.

There are five digraphs: ⟨ch⟩ ("che" or "ce hache"), ⟨ll⟩ ("elle" or "doble ele"), ⟨rr⟩ ("doble erre"), ⟨gu⟩ ("ge u") and ⟨qu⟩ ("cu u").[4] While che and elle were formerly treated each as a single letter,[1] in 1994 the tenth congress of the Association of Spanish Language Academies, by request of UNESCO and other international organizations, agreed to alphabetize ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨ll⟩ as ordinary sequences of letters. Thus, for example, in dictionaries, chico is alphabetized after centro and before ciudad, instead of being alphabetized after all words beginning with cu- as was formerly done.[5] Despite their former status as unitary letters of the alphabet, ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨ll⟩ have always been treated as sequences with regard to the rules of capitalization. Thus the word chillón in a text written in all caps is CHILLÓN, not *ChILlÓN, and if it is the first word of a sentence, it is written Chillón, not *CHillón. Sometimes, one finds lifts with buttons marked LLamar, but this double capitalization has always been incorrect according to RAE rules.

In Spanish text, the letters are ranked from most to least common: ⟨E A O S R N I D L C T U M P B G V Y Q H F Z J Ñ X W K⟩,[6] and the vowels take around 45% of the text.

Alternative names[edit]

B and V[1]
The letters ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ were originally simply known as be and ve, which in modern Spanish are pronounced identically. In Old Spanish, they likely represented different sounds but the sounds merged later. Their usual names are be and uve;[7][8] in some regions, speakers may instead add something to the names to distinguish them. Some Mexicans and most Peruvians generally say be grande / chica ('big B' / 'little V'); Argentines, Uruguayans and Chileans, be larga / corta ('long B' / 'short V'). Some people give examples of words spelt with the letter; e.g., b de burro / v de vaca ('b as in burro' / 'v as in vaca'); Colombians tend to say be grande for B and ve pequeña for V. Regardless of these regional differences, all Spanish-speaking people recognize be as the official name of B.
The digraph ⟨rr⟩ is sometimes called doble erre or erre doble. It is sometimes suggested that the name of the letter ⟨r⟩ be ere when it is single, and erre when it is double, but the dictionary of the Real Academia Española defines the name of ⟨r⟩ as erre. Ere is considered obsolete.[9] The name ere was used when referring specifically to the alveolar tap /ɾ/ and erre referring to the alveolar trill /r/. The two contrast between vowels, with the latter being represented with ⟨rr⟩, but the sounds are otherwise in complementary distribution so that a single ⟨r⟩ may represent either. As a referent to the trill sound rather than the phoneme, erre can refer to a single or double ⟨r⟩.
In Latin American Spanish, ⟨w⟩ is sometimes called doble ve, ve doble, or doble uve. In Colombia and Mexico, because of English acculturation, the letter is usually called doble u (like English "double u"). In Spain it is usually called uve doble.
Because of its origin, ⟨i⟩ is occasionally known as i latina ("Latin i") to distinguish it from ⟨y⟩, which is known as i griega ("Greek i").
The most common name for ⟨y⟩ in Spain is i griega, but in Latin American Spanish it has been commonly superseded by ye, in an effort to standardize on a one-word name, as opposed to a name consisting of two words. Using ye as the only name for the letter is one of the newest proposed changes specified by the 2010 new common orthography.[citation needed] Its aim is to standardize on a one-word name for this letter.[1]
The name for ⟨z⟩ is zeta (formerly ceta, pronounced the same).[10] In older Spanish, it was called zeda or ceda, and the diminutive form of this word, cedilla, is now used in both Spanish and English to refer to the diacritic mark exhibited in the letter ⟨ç⟩.


Spanish orthography is such that the pronunciation of most words is unambiguous given their written form; the main exception is the letter ⟨x⟩, which usually represents /ks/ or /s/, but can also represent /x/ or /ʃ/, especially in proper nouns from times of Old Spanish, as in México or Pedro Ximénez (both /x/). These orthographic rules are similar to, but not the same as, those of other Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula, such as Portuguese, Catalan and Galician.

The converse does not always hold, i.e. for a given pronunciation there may be multiple possible spellings. The main issues are:

  • the use of both ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ for /b/;
  • the use of both ⟨j⟩ and ⟨g⟩ for /x/ before ⟨e⟩ and ⟨i⟩;
  • the silent ⟨h⟩;
  • for the speakers who have merged /ʝ/ and /ʎ/, the various use of ⟨y⟩, ⟨ll⟩ or ⟨hi⟩ in different words;
  • the use of ⟨hu⟩, ⟨gu⟩ or ⟨bu⟩ before a vowel for /w/ (although many speakers distinguish some or all of these combinations);
  • for speakers not in central and northern Spain, the use of ⟨c/z⟩ and ⟨s⟩ for /s/;
  • the occasional use of accents to distinguish two words that sound the same, such as tú and tu, sí and si, más and mas.
Use of different letters for the same sound
sound before ⟨e/i⟩ elsewhere
/θ/ or /s/ ⟨c⟩ (or ⟨z⟩ in some loanwords) or ⟨s⟩ ⟨z⟩ or ⟨s⟩
/k/ ⟨qu⟩ or (⟨k⟩ in some loanwords) ⟨c⟩ (or ⟨k⟩ in some loanwords)
/kw/ ⟨cu⟩
/x/ ⟨g⟩ or ⟨j⟩ (or ⟨x⟩ in Mexico) ⟨j⟩ (or ⟨x⟩ in Mexico)
/ɡ/ ⟨gu⟩ ⟨g⟩
/ɡw/ ⟨gü⟩ ⟨gu⟩


Letter Context IPA Examples English approximation
b or v word-initial after a pause, or after ⟨m⟩ or ⟨n⟩ [b] bestia; embuste; vaca; envidia practically the same as the typical English ⟨b⟩, except that it is fully voiced; e.g. about
elsewhere (i.e. after a vowel, even across a word boundary, or after any consonant other than ⟨m⟩ or ⟨n⟩) [β] bebé; obtuso; vivir; curva; mi bebé; mi vaca[11] between baby and bevy (like the typical English ⟨v⟩, but with the upper lip in place of the upper teeth)
c before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ [θ] (central and northern Spain) or
[s] (most other regions) [12]
cereal; encima same as the English voiceless ⟨th⟩ (as in thing) in central and northern Spain,
or the typical English ⟨s⟩ (as in sass) in all other regions
elsewhere [k] casa; claro; vaca; escudo same as certain instances of English ⟨k⟩ or ⟨c⟩; e.g. skull, scan, or picking (unaspirated, i.e. without the puff of air that accompanies English /k/ at the beginning of a word, e.g. in can)
ch everywhere[13] [] ocho; chícharo same as the typical English ⟨ch⟩; church
d word-initial after a pause, or after ⟨l⟩ or ⟨n⟩ [d] dedo; cuando; aldaba practically the same as the typical English ⟨d⟩, except that it is fully voiced and the tip of the tongue touches the upper teeth; e.g. adore
elsewhere [ð] diva; arder; admirar; mi dedo; verdad[11] same as the typical English voiced ⟨th⟩; e.g. this
f everywhere [f] fase; café same as the typical English ⟨f⟩; e.g. face
g before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ [x] or [h] general similar to a "strong" English ⟨h⟩-sound; e.g. the ⟨ch⟩ in Scottish loch or in German Bach
not before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and either word-initial after a pause, or after ⟨n⟩ [ɡ] gato; grande; vengo practically the same as the typical English ⟨g⟩ sound, except that it is fully voiced; e.g. ago
not before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and not in the above contexts [ɣ] trigo; amargo; signo; mi gato[11] a sound between a light English ⟨g⟩ and the typical English ⟨h⟩ (between gold and ahold)
gu before ⟨a⟩ or ⟨o⟩, and either word-initial after a pause, or after ⟨n⟩; but only in some dialects [ɡw] guante; lengua a sound like the ⟨gu⟩ in English penguin
before ⟨a⟩ or ⟨o⟩, and not in the above contexts [ɣw] agua; averiguar[11] similar to the typical English ⟨w⟩, but preceded by a soft guttural sound
before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and either word-initial after a pause, or after ⟨n⟩ [ɡ] guerra practically the same as the typical English ⟨g⟩ sound, except that it is fully voiced; e.g. ago
before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and not in the above contexts [ɣ] sigue[11] a sound between a light English ⟨g⟩ and the typical English ⟨h⟩ (between gold and ahold)
before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and either word-initial after a pause, or after ⟨n⟩; but only in some dialects [ɡw] ero, pinino a sound like the ⟨gu⟩ in English penguin
before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and not in the above contexts [ɣw] averie[11] similar to the typical English ⟨w⟩, but preceded by a soft guttural sound
h everywhere[14] (silent)[15] hoy; hacer; prohibir; huevo; hielo silent (like the English ⟨h⟩ in English honor or hour)
hi before a vowel [j] or [ʝ] hierba; hielo similar to or the same as the typical English ⟨y⟩; e.g. you (but often more strongly pronounced, sometimes resembling the English ⟨j⟩, as in jam)
hu before a vowel [w] hueso; huevo same as the typical English ⟨w⟩; we (sometimes sounds closer to the English ⟨gw⟩, like in Gwen, or ⟨bw⟩, like in cobweb)
j everywhere [x] or [h] jamón; eje; reloj;[16] similar to a "strong" English ⟨h⟩-sound; e.g. the ⟨ch⟩ in Scottish loch or in German Bach
k rare; only occurs in a few loanwords [k] kilo same as certain instances of English ⟨k⟩ or ⟨c⟩; e.g. skull, scan, or picking (unaspirated, i.e. without the puff of air that accompanies English /k/ at the beginning of a word, e.g. in can)
l everywhere [l] lino; alhaja; principal same as the typical English ⟨l⟩ (especially like the clear ⟨l⟩ of British English, rather than the dark ⟨l⟩ of American English);e.g. lull
ll everywhere [ʎ] or [ʝ] (depending upon the dialect) llave; pollo similar to the ⟨lli⟩ in English million (in some dialects simplified to a sound between the typical English ⟨y⟩ and ⟨j⟩, e.g. between yes and Jess)
m everywhere except word-finally [m] madre; comer; campo[17] same as the typical English ⟨m⟩; madam
word-final [n] or [ŋ] (depending upon the dialect) álbum varying between the typical English ⟨n⟩ and ⟨ng⟩, e.g. the ⟨ng⟩ in English sing
n sin
everywhere but before other consonants [n] nido; anillo; anhelo same as the typical English ⟨n⟩; e.g. nun
before other consonants[17] [ɱ]
same as the English ⟨m⟩ in symphony
same as the typical English ⟨n⟩ (as in nun)
same as the English ⟨ny⟩ in canyon
same as the typical English ⟨ng⟩ (as in sink or sing)
ñ everywhere [ɲ] ñandú; cabaña[17] roughly like canyon
p everywhere [p] pozo; topo; esposa same as certain instances of English ⟨p⟩; e.g. span or typing (unaspirated, i.e. without the puff of air that accompanies English /p/ at the beginning of a word, e.g. in pan)
qu only occurs before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ [k] quise same as certain instances of English ⟨k⟩ or ⟨c⟩; e.g. skull, scan, or picking (unaspirated, i.e. without the puff of air that accompanies English /k/ at the beginning of a word, e.g. in can)
r word-initial, morpheme-initial,[18]
or after ⟨l⟩, ⟨n⟩, or ⟨s⟩
[r] rumbo; honra; Israel trilled or rolled ⟨r⟩
elsewhere [ɾ] caro; cabra; bravo; carta; amor flapped ⟨r⟩; e.g. the same sound as the ⟨dd⟩ of ladder or ⟨tt⟩ of latter in American English
rr only occurs between vowels [r] carro trilled or rolled ⟨r⟩
s before a voiced consonant (e.g. ⟨l⟩, ⟨m⟩, ⟨d⟩) [z] isla; mismo; desde; deshuesar[19] same as the typical English ⟨z⟩; e.g. the ⟨s⟩ in is or busy; in central and northern Spain this sound is made with the tip of the tongue rather than the blade, with a sound quality kind of intermediate between ⟨s⟩ in busy and in pleasure
everywhere else [s] saco; casa; deshora; espita[19] same as the typical English ⟨s⟩; sass; in central and northern Spain this sound is made with the tip of the tongue rather than the blade, with a sound quality kind of intermediate between ⟨s⟩ in sea and ⟨sh⟩ in she
sh rare; mostly in loanwords from English [ʃ] or [] sherpa same as the typical English ⟨sh⟩;e.g. sheesh
t everywhere [t] tamiz; átomo same as certain instances of English ⟨t⟩; e.g. stand (unaspirated, i.e. without the puff of air that accompanies English /t/ at the beginning of a word, e.g. in tan). Also, the tip of the tongue touches the upper teeth, rather than the alveolar ridge
tl rare; mostly in loanwords from Nahuatl [tl] or [] tlapalería; cenzontle; Popocatépetl similar to the combined ⟨tl⟩ sound in English cat-like
tx rare; from loanwords [] pintxo same as "ch".
tz rare; from loanwords [ts] quetzal; tzcuaro same as the "ts" in English cats
from loanwords [] Ertzaintza; abertzale same as "ch" and "tx".
w rare; in loanwords from English [w] waterpolo when (sometimes turn to /gw/ or /bw/)
rare; in loanwords from German and in Visigothic names [b] wolframio; Wamba same as the typical English ⟨b⟩; e.g. bib
x between vowels, in most words [ks] exacto; taxi same as the typical English ⟨x⟩; e.g. taxi
word-initially or before a consonant [ks] or [s] xenofobia; extremo[19] same as the typical English ⟨x⟩ or ⟨s⟩; e.g. max or mass
in some words borrowed from Nahuatl, mostly place names [x] or [h] xico; Oaxaca similar to a "strong" English ⟨h⟩-sound; e.g. the ⟨ch⟩ in Scottish loch or in German Bach
in some words from other indigenous American languages, mostly place names [ʃ] Xela same as the typical English ⟨sh⟩; e.g. sheesh
y as a semivowel (almost always in a diphthong) [i] or [j] hay, soy same as the typical English ⟨y⟩ (but joined in a single syllable with another vowel sound); aye, boy
as a consonant [j] or [ʝ] ya; yelmo; ayuno[11] similar to the typical English ⟨y⟩, or ⟨j⟩ but softer; e.g. similar to yes or Jess
z usually does not occur before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ [θ] (central and northern Spain) or
[s] (most other regions)[12]
zorro; paz same as the English voiceless ⟨th⟩ (as in thing) in central and northern Spain,
or the typical English ⟨s⟩ (as in sass) in all other regions


Letter IPA Examples English approximation
a [a] azahar spa
e [e] vehemente bet
i [i] dimitir; mío see
y y
o [o] boscoso between coat (American more than British) and caught
u [u] cucurucho; dúo food
IPA Spelling Examples English approximation
[j] i before a vowel aliada; cielo; amplio; ciudad you
[w] u before a vowel
(but silent in qu, also gu before an e or i)
cuadro; fuego; Huila;[21] arduo wine

Special and modified letters[edit]

The vowels can be marked with an acute accent—á, é, í, ó, ú, ý—for two purposes: to mark stress if it does not follow the most common pattern, or to differentiate words that are otherwise spelled identically (called the tilde diacrítica in Spanish).

A silent "u" is used between "g" and "e" or "i" to indicate a hard "g" pronunciation, so that "gue" represents /ɡe/ and "gui" represents /ɡi/. The letter "ü" ("u" with diaeresis,) is used in this context to indicate that the "u" is not silent, e.g. pingüino /pinˈgwino/. The diaeresis may occur also in Spanish poetry, occasionally, over either vowel of a diphthong, to indicate an irregular disyllabic pronunciation required by the meter (vïuda, to be pronounced as three syllables). This is analogous to the use of "ï" in naïve in English.

Also a silent "u" always follows a "q" when followed by "e" or "i", as in queso, química, but there is no case for the combination "qü", with "cu" fulfilling this role (as in cuestión). There are no native words in Spanish with the combination "qua" nor "quo"; again, "cu" is used instead (cuando). When they appear, usually from Latin idioms such as statu quo, the "u" is always pronounced, so "ü" is never needed after "q". Prior to the introduction of the 2010 Common Orthography words such as cuórum ('quorum'), cuásar ('quasar') or Catar ('Qatar') were spelled with "q"; this is no longer so.

Keyboard requirements[edit]

To write Spanish on a typewriter or to set type, the special characters required are á, é, í, ó, ú, ý, ñ, Ñ, ï, ü, Ü, ¿, and ¡. Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú, and Ý are not essential but are recommended.

As implemented on the mechanical typewriter, the keyboard contained a single dead key, with the acute accent ( ´ ) in the lower-case position, and the dieresis ( ¨ ) in the upper-case position. With these, one could write á, é, í, ó, ú, and ü. A separate key provided ñ/Ñ. (A dead key ~ was not used on the Spanish keyboard, but was on the Portuguese.) ¿ and ¡ completed the required minimum. When an additional key was added to electro-mechanical typewriters, this was used for ª and º, though these are not required. (They are somewhat archaic ordinal abbreviations: 1º for primero, 2ª for segunda, etc.)

As implemented in the MS-DOS operating system and its successor Microsoft Windows, a ç/Ç pair, not required in Spanish but needed for Catalan, Portuguese, and French, is typically added, and the use of the acute accent and dieresis with capital letters (Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú, Ü) is supported. Although not needed for Spanish, another dead key with ` (the grave accent) in lower-case position and ^ (the circumflex accent) in upper-case position was included. · (the mid-line period, required in Catalan) is also found. To make room for these characters not on the standard English keyboard, characters used primarily in programming, science, and mathematics—[, ], {, }, /, \, |, <, and >—are removed, requiring special keystroke sequences to access.

Stress and accentuation[edit]

Written Spanish unequivocally marks stress through a series of orthographic rules. The default stress is on the penultimate (next-to-last) syllable on words that end in a vowel, ⟨n⟩ or ⟨s⟩ and on the final syllable when the word ends in any consonant other than ⟨n⟩ or ⟨s⟩. Words that do not follow the default stress have an acute accent over the stressed vowel. The written accent will thus appear only in certain forms of a word and not others, for example andén, plural andenes. In many cases the accent is essential to understanding what a word means, for example hablo (I speak) as opposed to habló (he/she/Ud. spoke).

For purposes of counting syllables and assigning stress in Spanish, where an unmarked high vowel is followed by another vowel the sequence is treated as a rising diphthong, counted as a single syllable—unlike Portuguese and Catalan, which tend to treat such a sequence as two syllables.[22] A syllable is of the form XAXX, where X represents a consonant, permissible consonant cluster, or no sound at all, and A represents a vowel, diphthong, or triphthong. A diphthong is any sequence of an unstressed high vowel (⟨i⟩ or ⟨u⟩) with another vowel (as in gracias or náutico). And a triphthong is any combination of three vowels beginning and ending with unstressed high vowels (as in cambiáis or buey). Hence Spanish writes familia (no accent), while Portuguese and Catalan both put an accent mark on família (all three languages stress the first ⟨i⟩). The letter ⟨h⟩ is not considered an interruption between vowels (so that ahumar is considered to have two syllables: ahu-mar; this may vary in some regions, where ⟨h⟩ is used as a hiatus or diphthong-broking mark for unstressed vowels, so the pronunciation would be then a-hu-mar, though that trait is gradually disappearing).

An accent over the high vowel (⟨i⟩ or ⟨u⟩) of a vowel sequence prevents it from being a diphthong (i.e., it signals a hiatus): for example, tía and país have two syllables each.

A word with final stress is called oxytone (or aguda in traditional Spanish grammar texts); a word with penultimate stress is called paroxytone (llana or grave); a word with antepenultimate stress (stress on the third-to-last syllable) is called proparoxytone (esdrújula). A word with preantepenultimate stress (on the fourth last syllable) or earlier does not have a common linguistic term in English, but in Spanish receives the name sobresdrújula. (Spanish words can be stressed only on one of the last three syllables, except in the case of a verb form with enclitic pronouns, such as poniéndoselo.) All proparoxytones and sobresdrújulas have a written accent mark.

Adjectives spelled with a written accent (such as fácil, geográfico, cortés) keep the written accent when they are made into adverbs with the -mente ending (thus fácilmente, geográficamente, cortésmente), and do not gain any if they do not have one (thus libremente from libre). In the pronunciation of these adverbs—as with all adverbs in -mente—primary stress is on the ending, on the penultimate syllable. The original stress of the adjective—whether marked, as in fácilmente, or not marked, as in libremente—may be manifested as a secondary stress in the adverb.

Accentuation of capital letters[edit]

The Real Academia Española indicates that accents should still be written on capitals.[23]

Differential accents[edit]

Blackboard used in a university classroom shows students' efforts at placing "ü" and acute accent diacritic used in Spanish orthography.

In a number of cases, homonyms are distinguished with written accents on the stressed (or only) syllable: for example, te (informal object case of 'you') vs. ('tea'); se (third person reflexive) vs. ('I know' or imperative 'be'); tu (informal 'your') vs. (informal subject case of 'you'). When relative and interrogative pronouns have the same letters (as is often the case), the interrogative pronoun is accented and the relative pronoun is not:

¿Adónde vas? 'Where are you going?'
A donde no puedas encontrarme. 'Where you cannot find me.'

The use of ó is poetic for the vocative: ¡Ó señor! The use of ⟨ó⟩ for the word o (meaning 'or') is a hypercorrection. Up until 2010, ⟨ó⟩ was used when applied to numbers: 7 ó 9 ('7 or 9'), to avoid possible confusion with the digit 0. The tenth congress of the Association of Spanish Language Academies deemed the use of an accent unnecessary, as typewriting eliminates possible confusion due to the different shapes of ⟨0⟩ (zero) and ⟨o⟩ (the letter).[1]

These diacritics are often called acentos diacríticos or tildes diacríticas in traditional Spanish grammar.


Capitalization in Spanish is sparse compared to English. In general, only personal and place names, some abbreviations (e.g. Sr. López, but señor López); the first word (only) in the title of a book, movie, song, etc. (except when said title contains only two words, then the second word is also sometimes capitalized); and the first word in a sentence are capitalized, as are names of companies, government bodies, etc. Names of nationalities or languages are not capitalized, nor (in standard style) are days of the week and months of the year.[24][25]

Older conventions[edit]

The Spanish Royal Academy has reformed the orthographic rules of Spanish many times.

In Old Spanish, ⟨x⟩ was used to represent the voiceless palatal sound /ʃ/ (as in dixo 'he/she said'), while ⟨j⟩ represented the voiced palatal /ʒ/ (as in fijo 'son'). With the changes of sibilants in the 16th century, the two sounds merged as /ʃ/ (later to become velar /x/), and the letter ⟨j⟩ was chosen for the single resulting phoneme in 1815. When Cervantes wrote Don Quixote he spelled the name in the old way (and English preserves the ⟨x⟩), but modern editions in Spanish spell it with ⟨j⟩. For the use of ⟨x⟩ in Mexico—and in the name México itself—see below.

The letter ⟨ç⟩ (c-cedilla)—which was first used in Old Spanish—is now obsolete in Spanish, having merged with ⟨z⟩ in a process similar to that of ⟨x⟩ and ⟨j⟩. Old Spanish coraçon, cabeça, fuerça became modern corazón, cabeza, fuerza.

Words formerly spelled with ⟨ze⟩ or ⟨zi⟩ (such as catorze, dezir, and vezino) are now written with ⟨ce⟩ and ⟨ci⟩ (catorce, decir, vecino, respectively). The sequences ⟨ze⟩ and ⟨zi⟩ do not occur in modern Spanish except some loanwords: zeugma, zigurat, zipizape; some borrowed words have double spellings: zinc/cinc.[26]

The old spellings with ⟨ç⟩, ⟨ze⟩, and ⟨zi⟩ remained in use until the eighteenth century. They were replaced by ⟨z⟩, ⟨ce⟩, and ⟨ci⟩, respectively in 1726.[27] ⟨Ze⟩ and ⟨zi⟩ continued to be used in some words due to their etymology (e.g. zelo, zizaña), but this usage was largely reduced during the 1860—1880s, so these words became celo and cizaña. The letter ⟨x⟩ was replaced by ⟨j⟩ in 1815;[28] ⟨x⟩ remained in the final position until 1832.[29] The combinations ⟨je⟩ and ⟨ji⟩ were originally used only in a few etymological cases (e.g. Jesús, Jeremías) and also in diminutives (pajita); after the reform of 1815, ⟨xe⟩ and ⟨xi⟩ were replaced by ⟨ge⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ in the Ortografía but by ⟨je⟩ and ⟨ji⟩ in the Diccionario; since 1832, the spelling was firmly established to be ⟨je⟩ and ⟨ji⟩. Also, unetymological spellings with ⟨ge⟩, ⟨gi⟩ were changed to ⟨je⟩, ⟨ji⟩ (e.g. muger, from Latin mulier, became mujer).

Old Spanish used to distinguish /s/ and /z/ between vowels, and it distinguished them by using ⟨ss⟩ for the former and ⟨s⟩ for the latter, e.g. osso ('bear') and oso ('I dare to'). In orthography, the distinction was suppressed in 1763.[30]

Words spelled in modern Spanish with ⟨cua⟩, ⟨cuo⟩ (e.g. cuando, cuatro, cuota) were written with ⟨qua⟩, ⟨quo⟩ up until 1815.[28]

In 1726, most double consonants were simplified (e.g. grammaticagramática, addicionadición)[27]—but the ⟨m⟩ of a prefix before the ⟨m⟩ of a root was differentiated to ⟨n⟩ in 1763 (e.g. "commoverconmover").[30] And the Graeco-Latin digraphs ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨(r)rh⟩ and ⟨th⟩ were reduced to ⟨c⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨(r)r⟩ and ⟨t⟩, respectively (e.g. christianocristiano, triumphotriunfo, myrrhamirra, theatroteatro).

From 1741[31] to 1815, the circumflex was used over vowels to indicate that preceding ⟨ch⟩ and ⟨x⟩ should be pronounced /k/ and /ks/ respectively and not /tʃ/ and /x/, e.g. exâctitud, patriarchâ.

The use of accent marks in publishing varies with different historical periods, due mainly to reforms promulgated by the Spanish Royal Academy. For example, many of the words that are today standardly written with an accent mark appeared more often without it up until around 1880. These include words with final stress ending in -n (e.g. capitán, también, jardín, acción, común—but not future-tense verb forms like serán, tendrán);[32][33] verbs in the imperfect tense (e.g. tenía, vivían);[34] the possessives mío and mía;[35] and the word día.[36] Meanwhile, one-letter words other than the conjunction y—namely the preposition a and the conjunctions e (the form of y before an [i] sound), o, and u (form of o before [o])—are generally written with accent marks from the mid-1700s to 1911.[37][38][39] The accent-marked infinitive oír begins to outnumber the unaccented form around 1920.[40] Monosyllabic preterit verb forms such as dio and fue were usually written with accent marks before the 1950s.[41]

The names of numbers in the upper teens and the twenties were originally written as three words (e.g. diez y seis, veinte y nueve), but nowadays they have come to be spelled predominantly as a single word (e.g. dieciséis, veintinueve). For the numbers from 21 to 29, the "fused" forms emerged over the second half of the 19th century.[42] For those from 16 to 19, the one-word forms took the lead in the 1940s.[43] Fusing of number-names above 30 (e.g. treintaicinco, cuarentaiocho)[44] is rare.

Reform proposals[edit]

In spite of the relatively regular orthography of Spanish, there have been several initiatives to simplify it further. Andrés Bello succeeded in making his proposal official in several South American countries, but they later returned to the standard set by the Real Academia Española.[45] Another initiative, the Ortografia Fonetika Rasional Ispanoamerikana, remained a curiosity. Juan Ramón Jiménez proposed changing ⟨ge⟩ and ⟨gi⟩ to ⟨je⟩ and ⟨ji⟩, but this is only applied in editions of his works or those of his wife, Zenobia Camprubí. Gabriel García Márquez raised the issue of reform during a congress at Zacatecas, most notoriously advocating for the suppression of ⟨h⟩, which is mute in Spanish, but, despite his prestige, no serious changes were adopted. The Academies, however, from time to time have made minor changes, such as allowing este instead of éste ('this one'), when there is no possible confusion.

A Mexican Spanish convention is to spell certain indigenous words with ⟨x⟩ rather than the ⟨j⟩ that would be the standard spelling in Spanish. This is generally due to the origin of the word (or the present pronunciation) containing the voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ sound or another sibilant that is not used in modern standard Spanish. The most noticeable word with this feature is México (see Toponymy of Mexico). The Real Academia Española recommends this spelling.[46] The American Spanish colloquial term chicano is shortened from mechicano, which uses /tʃ/ in place of the /ʃ/ of rural Mexican Spanish /meʃiˈkano/.

Arabic alphabet[edit]

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish (as well as Portuguese and Ladino) was sometimes written in the Arabic alphabet by moriscos. This form of Spanish is called aljamiado.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "La "i griega" se llamará "ye"". l. Cuba Debate. 2010-11-05. Retrieved 5 November 2010. [dead link]
  2. ^ "Un solo nombre para cada letra". Retrieved 20 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "Diccionario de la lengua española : W". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  4. ^ "CH", "LL" and "R" in DPD, 2005
  5. ^ "No obstante, en el X Congreso de la Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, celebrado en 1994, se acordó adoptar para los diccionarios académicos, a petición de varios organismos internacionales, el orden alfabético latino universal, en el que la ch y la ll no se consideran letras independientes. En consecuencia, estas dos letras pasan a alfabetizarse en los lugares que les corresponden dentro de la C (entre -cg- y -ci-) y dentro de la L (entre -lk- y -lm-), respectivamente." Real Academia Española. Explanation Archived September 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. at Archived September 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. (in Spanish and English)
  6. ^ Fletcher Pratt, Secret and Urgent: the Story of Codes and Ciphers Blue Ribbon Books, 1939, pp. 254-255. The eñe is added in the fourth to last position according to the Quixote
  7. ^ Penny (2002:38)
  8. ^ "Diccionario de la lengua española : V". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  9. ^ [1] Archived December 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. ^ "Diccionario de la lengua española : Z". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g /b/, /d/, /ʝ/ and /ɡ/ are approximants ([β̞], [ð̞], [ʝ˕] [ɣ˕]; represented here without the undertacks) in all places except after a pause, after an /n/ or /m/, or—in the case of /d/ and /ʝ/—after an /l/, in which contexts they are stops [b, d, ɟʝ, ɡ], not dissimilar from English b, d, j, g.(Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté 2003:257–8)
  12. ^ a b In Andalusia, Canary Islands, and Spanish America /θ/ has merged into /s/; see seseo and Martínez-Celdrán, Fernández-Planas & Carrera-Sabaté (2003:258) for more information.
  13. ^ In a small number of borrowed words, such as Kirchner, this is [ʃ].
  14. ^ In a small number of borrowed words, such as hámster or hawaiano, this is pronounced the same as j or soft g, [x] or [h].
  15. ^ Modern words in which h is derived from Latin f (e.g. hacer, hablar) were spelled with f, pronounced [f], in Old Spanish (e.g. fazer, fablar), and there was a transitional stage pronounced [h] before the sound was entirely lost; hence the modern spelling with h. But in words derived from Latin words with h (e.g. hoy, prohibir), the letter was always silent in Spanish. And words beginning with either of the diphthongs [je] or [we] (e.g. hielo, huevo) were given an initial h in spelling (always silent) to insure that their initial glide was not read as a consonant (in Old Spanish, the letters i and j were often interchanged, as were u and v).
  16. ^ For most speakers, the ⟨j⟩ is silent at the end of a word, in which case reloj is pronounced [reˈlo].
  17. ^ a b c The nasal consonants /n, m, ɲ/ only contrast before vowels. Before consonants, they assimilate to the consonant's place of articulation. This is partially reflected in the orthography. Word-finally, only /n/ occurs.
  18. ^ In the verb subrayar the trilled initial [r] of the root raya is maintained, even with the prefix sub-.
  19. ^ a b c For many speakers, /s/ may debuccalize or be deleted in the syllable coda (at the end of words and before consonants).
  20. ^ In Spanish, the letters i and u can combine with other vowels to form diphthongs (e.g. cielo, cuadro).
  21. ^ Some speakers may pronounce word-initial [w] with an epenthetic /ɡ/, e.g. Huila [ˈɡwila]~[ˈwila].
  22. ^ Butt & Benjamin (2011, §39.2.2)
  23. ^ 7. Acentuación de letras mayúsculas – Las letras mayúsculas, tanto si se trata de iniciales como si se integran en una palabra escrita enteramente en mayúsculas, deben llevar tilde si así les corresponde según las reglas de acentuación: Ángel, PROHIBIDO PISAR EL CÉSPED. No se acentúan, sin embargo, las mayúsculas que forman parte de las siglas (→ sigla, 5b).
  24. ^ "Capitalization in Spanish". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  25. ^ Foster, David William; Altamiranda, Daniel; de Urioste, Carmen (1999). "Capitalization". The Writer's Reference Guide to Spanish. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 75–77. ISBN 978-0-292-72511-9. Retrieved September 18, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Diccionario de la lengua española : C". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  27. ^ a b Diccionario de autoridades
  28. ^ a b Ortografía de la lengua castellana - Real Academia Española - Google йМХЦХ. Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  29. ^ Diccionario de la lengua española, novena edición
  30. ^ a b Ortografía de la lengua castellana - Google йМХЦХ. Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  31. ^ "Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  32. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  33. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  34. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  35. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  36. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  37. ^ Juan Martinez Marin. "La Ortografia Espanola : Perspectiva Historiografica" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  38. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  39. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  40. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  41. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  42. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  43. ^ "Google Ngram Viewer". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  44. ^ "Diccionario de la lengua española : Cardinales". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  45. ^ Urdaneta, I. P. (1982). "The history of Spanish orthography, Andrea Bello's proposal and the Chilean attempt: Implications for a theory on spelling reform". The Simplified Spelling Society. 
  46. ^ "Diccionario de la lengua española". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 


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