The Spanish vowels are the same as the English vowels: a, e, i, o, and u. But that’s about where the similarities end!
If you thought that simply learning what the Spanish vowels are was enough to carry you through, you’re in for a fun ride. Although, yes, the vowels in Spanish are the exact same as the English vowels, that’s about all they have in common. That's because they have special pronunciation and grammar rules that you need to be aware of.
From the pronunciation of individual vowels to diphthongs and triphthongs, there are plenty of things to consider when looking at the vowels in Spanish. Mastering all of them will help you pronounce even the hardest Spanish words and round out your mastery of the Spanish alphabet.
Although there are only five vowels, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started!
What are vowels?
Vowels are letters that are pronounced with an open mouth. There are five Spanish vowels: a, e, i, o, and u. The letter y is also sometimes considered a vowel, but most consider it to not be so. For this article, we won’t consider the letter y as a vowel since it is used differently from the five “standard” vowels.
How to pronounce the Spanish vowels
One of the best features of the Spanish language is its consistent pronunciation rules. Namely, all letters are always pronounced the same — including vowels. In English, the e in “team” and “dead” sound nothing alike. In fact, words like “lead” and “lead” can have totally different meanings depending on the sound of the e!
In Spanish, you won’t have to worry about any of that. All vowels are always pronounced the same, except for the u in words with –gue and –gui, which is silent. In all other cases, vowel pronunciation is always identical. So, you’ll only have to worry about pronouncing five sounds! Here’s how to pronounce the five vowels in Spanish.
|a||ah||Lips and mouth wide open.||Cama, mamá, azúcar|
|e||eh||Lips slightly open and mouth stretched.||Especie, estadio, ese|
|i||e||Lips slightly open and mouth stretched.||Índigo, imagina, iría|
|o||oh||Lips rounded and opened slightly.||Oso, hoyo, asombroso|
|u||oo||Lips rounded and almost fully closed.||Universo, usuario, universidad|
What are diphthongs?
Diphthongs are sounds that are made when combining two vowels in the same syllable. In many languages, including English, French, and German, the sound of the combined vowels changes — often drastically so. That’s why Deutschland sounds like doych-land in German and oui sounds like wee in French. But, luckily for you, this is one thing you do not have to worry about in Spanish!
In Spanish, diphthongs are pronounced almost exactly like two separate vowels. The only difference is that, since they’re in the same syllable, their sounds are compressed. A good trick to figure out how to say a Spanish diphthong is to say the vowels individually and slowly start saying them faster. Eventually, they will morph into one and — voilà! You’ve got yourself a diphthong!
The Spanish word for diphthongs is diptongo (deep-tong-oh). If you’re more of a visual learner, here’s a quick Spanish diphthongs video showing a demonstration of how to pronounce each of them.
Pronouncing Spanish diphthongs
Now that you’re a pro at pronouncing the Spanish diphthongs, here’s a table with all the vowel diphthongs along with some handy examples.
|uo||oo-oh||Antiguo, cuota, ambiguo|
|ui||oo-e||Ruina, cuidar, fuimos|
|ue||oo-eh||Sueño, cuerpo, suero|
|ua||oo-ah||Acuario, paraguas, mensual|
|iu||e-oo||Ciudades, triunfo, oriundo|
|io||e-oh||Violencia, edificio, comercio|
|ie||e-eh||Tiembla, siembra, caliente|
|ai||ah-e||Caiga, vaina, traición|
|oi||oh-e||Oigo, heroico, boicot|
|eu||eh-oo||Eucalipto, reunir, deudor|
|ei||eh-e||Reinar, aceite, peinarse|
|au||ah-oo||Autopista, causal, ausencia|
|ia||e-ah||Mundial, magia, rabia|
What are triphthongs?
If a diphthong is when two vowels are next to each other in the same syllable, then a triphthong is when three vowels are in the same syllable. If you thought two vowels in one syllable were tough enough, don’t worry! Triphthongs are not very common, and they work very similarly to diphthongs. So, once you’ve mastered the two, you’ll master the three in no time!
The Spanish word for triphthongs is triptongo (trip-tong-oh). Here’s a list of all the Spanish triphthongs along with their pronunciation and some examples.
What is a Spanish vowel hiatus?
Also known as an adiptongo, a vowel hiatus happens when two vowels are next to each other but in different syllables. So, instead of having their individual sounds compressed into one syllable, their sounds are emphasized separately, almost as the opposite of a diphthong.
The term in Spanish for this phenomenon is hiato (ee-ah-toe). A hiatus can occur under four circumstances:
- Two same vowels
- Two open vowels (a, e, o)
- A tonic closed vowel plus an atonic open vowel
- An atonic open vowel plus a closed tonic vowel
If you’re familiar with accent rules in Spanish, you may notice that some words with hiatuses override regular accentuation rules. If you’re unfamiliar with accentuation rules, feel free to jump down to the section below for a refresher and then come back.
As you may have noticed, Spanish breaks down the five vowels into two groups: open (or strong) vowels, and weak (or closed) vowels. This differentiation is helpful when figuring out when a hiatus is happening, and, consequently, whether a word needs an accent mark or not. The two groups of vowels are:
- Open vowels: a, e, and o
- Closed vowels: i and u
For example, the common name María breaks down into the following syllables: Ma-rí-a. Since it has an accent mark on the second-to-last syllable, we know it’s a palabra grave. But wait, didn’t palabras graves go with an accent mark only if they end in a consonant other than n or s? That’s true! But, because a closed vowel (i) comes before an open vowel (a), and we want to emphasize the sound of the closed vowel, then we need to put an accent mark over it to make the emphasis clear.
|aí||ah-e||Caída, maíz, país, distraído|
|aú||ah-oo||Raúl, baúl, ataúd|
|oí||oh-e||Oído, Eloísa, oír|
|eí||eh-e||Cafeína, leído, creído|
|eú||eh-oo||Reúno, anteúltima, Bernabéu|
|ía||e-ah||Batería, biografía, dormía|
|íe||e-eh||Sonríe, fríe, deslíe|
|ío||e-oh||Río, hastío, baldío|
|úa||oo-ah||Púa, reditúan, actúan|
|úe||oo-eh||Licúe, adecúe, evalúe|
|úo||oo-oh||Evalúo, búho, licúo|
|ae||ah-eh||Acaecida, hexaedro, aéreos|
|ao||ah-o||Caos, Laos, Palaos|
|aa||ah-ah||Isaac, Bahamas, Abraham|
|ea||eh-ah||Marea, abofetear, aldea, teatro|
|eo||eh-oh||Apogeo, peón, deseo, peor|
|ee||eh-eh||Creer, poseer, proveer, leer|
|oa||oh-ah||Toalla, boa, loable, coartada|
|oe||oh-eh||Corroe, poeta, peón, coexistir|
|oo||oh-oh||Cooperar, coordinar, zoológico|
|ii||e-e||Chiita, priismo, tiito|
Vowels in Spanish song
Some topics are much more easily understood with a video, and this is one of them. In fact, a simple Spanish vowel song could be the best way to help you learn the correct pronunciation of each of the five vowels. The science is pretty clear, and using music to learn a language is a great move!
Spanish Vowel Sounds with Jack | Jack Hartmann | Los Sonidos de las Vocales
The above video from Jack Hartmann is a fun and catchy Spanish vowel song with fun visuals. If you’re looking for something engaging and entertaining, this one’s for you!
If you want a Spanish vowel song that is a bit more straightforward and full of great examples, then the video above is exactly what you’re looking for. With plenty of sample words and sentences for each of the vowels, you’ll have no problem remembering how to pronounce each of the five vowels after singing along a couple of times!
5 quick tips for learning to pronounce Spanish diphthongs and vowels
As a Spanish learner, one of the most important things to tackle will be vowel pronunciation. Whether you’ve been learning Spanish for a while now or are just getting started, making sure you can nail the pronunciation of each vowel and diphthong (and triphthong!) will be a crucial part of your journey forward.
If you’re still struggling with getting the pronunciation just right, the following five tips for nailing the pronunciation of the vowels in Spanish will help you get better.
1. Always pronounce them exactly the same
Languages like English and French change the pronunciation of vowels depending on their placement within a word and the surrounding letters. That’s not the case with Spanish. Save for a few very specific situations, all vowels in Spanish are pronounced exactly the same every time. This is great news for learners, as you only have to worry about learning one pronunciation for each vowel!
2. Don’t extend them
English is a repeat offender of extending the sounds of vowels and other letters. For example, take the word “no” in English. Its phonetic pronunciation (ˈnoʊ) shows that there is a “ʊ” sound after the “o,” making it sound almost like you’re saying “no-uh” instead of a dry “noh.” Compare that to the Spanish pronunciation of “no” (ˈno) and you’ll see that Spanish vowels are completely dry and don’t carry any additional sounds beyond the vowel itself.
3. Pay attention to the accent mark
While accent marks don’t change the sound of a vowel per se, they do change the emphasized syllable of the word. This can be crucial and making sure you pronounce the stressed syllable correctly can save you from plenty of confusion. A good example of this is the case of “papá” (dad) and “papa” (potato). Although people will probably be able to figure out whether you’re talking about your dad or your potato from the context, this is a potentially embarrassing mistake that you can easily avoid!
4. Don’t mix up your Es and Is
Mixing up the E and I sounds in Spanish is one of the most common mistakes native English speakers make. That’s because the Spanish I sounds like the English E, making it easy to get the two sounds mixed up.
A good tip to keep the two of them separate is to remember that Spanish vowels always make the same sound in Spanish no matter what, so pick one word with E and one word with I in Spanish and use them as references. For example, you can pick “España” and use the “E” in there any time you forget how to pronounce any word with an E in Spanish.
5. Start with individual vowels and then move on to diphthongs
As you now know, diphthongs aren’t much more difficult to pronounce than individual vowels. However, you do have to say two vowels one after another very quickly, which might make it difficult if you’re still getting comfortable with individual vowels. Try not to stress too much about getting the diphthongs just right at the beginning. Take your time working through them, and you’ll naturally start saying them faster!
The only days to not study the vowels are those without a vowel
The only way to prepare for those times when you can’t buy a vowel is to do the work ahead of time. After all, you never know when you’re going to run into a Spanish tongue twister! And while learning the Spanish vowels isn’t hard, it can have a huge payoff. So, why not spend the time now and get ahead of the curve?
Whether you’re an absolute beginner or an intermediate Spanish speaker, perfecting your vowels is sure to pay off. And if you’ve already got all five vowels (plus diphthongs and triphthongs!) under your belt, then you might want to head on over to our Spanish blog for something more challenging. Perhaps test your grammar knowledge with our guides to possessive adjectives or our guide with over 150 Spanish adjectives? Choose any topic you’d like and improve your Spanish today!