Let’s talk about accentuation and pronunciation. Today, we’ll discuss the so-called palabras esdrújulas (proparoxytone words). That’s a weird name, isn’t? Before we talk about palabras esdrújulas, we need to remember something important.
As we previously mentioned, all words in Spanish are stressed on one syllable. Depending on where that stress falls, words are divided into the following groups:
Palabras agudas (oxytone words) | accent on the last syllable
Palabras graves (paroxytone words) | accent on the second-to-last syllable
Palabras esdrújulas (proparoxytone words) | accent on the third-to-last syllable
Palabras sobresdrújulas (over-proparoxytone words) | accent on any syllable before the third-to-last syllable
Let’s get into palabras esdrújulas with the following example:
Palabras como micrófono, pirámide
Words like "micrófono," [microphone], "pirámide" [pyramid]Play Caption
The word micrófono has four syllables (mi | cró | fo | no) and the stress goes on the third-to-last syllable “cró.” Similarly, the word pirámide has four syllables (pi | rá | mi |de) and the stress also goes on the third-to-last syllable “rá.”
If you noticed it, the two proparoxytone words that we just mentioned bear a graphic accent (tilde) on their stressed syllables. And that’s exactly the beauty of the palabras esdrújulas. Unlike palabras agudas and palabras graves, which follow complex rules regarding the use of the graphic accent, the esdrújulas ALWAYS need to have a graphic accent. Let’s see more examples:
También nos dedicamos a música clásica.
Also, we do classical music.
Caption 13, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana PatyPlay Caption
ya construimos la cámara para grabar la película.
we already built the camera to film the movie.Play Caption
Yo realmente prefiero no dar mi número de mi tarjeta de crédito por teléfono.
I really prefer not to give my credit card number on the phone.
Caption 50, Cleer y Lida Reservando una habitaciónPlay Caption
As you can see from the examples above, there are lots of palabras esdrújulas in the Spanish language and some of them are quite common. Before we go, one last curious thing to remember:
The word esdrújula is also a esdrújula word!
That's it for now. If you feel like practicing a little bit more, take one of our videos and try to find all the proparoxytone words in it. And of course, don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you ready to learn some hard Spanish words? Don’t worry! We don’t want to scare you but rather we would like to highlight some of the issues that transform even simple words into difficult ones. Let’s review the following list featuring 100 of the most difficult Spanish words for English speakers.
Pronunciation is definitely the issue to keep in mind when we talk about hard Spanish words. In fact, if you are a native English speaker, there are several sounds that are quite challenging. Let’s start with some of the most difficult words to pronounce in Spanish for English speakers. We have divided these words in groups according to the pronunciation challenge they represent.
For many foreigners, words with the letter “j” are some of the most difficult Spanish words to say. If you are an English speaker, you can try to say the “j” in Spanish as a very strong “h” in English. Think of how you pronounce the letter “h” in the word ham. Let’s take a look:
1. Ají (chili or bell pepper)
"Ají" [chili pepper]?
Caption 37, Ricardo - La compañera de casa - Part 3Play Caption
2. Bajo (short)
Es bajo, es gordo,
He's short, he's fat,
Caption 33, El Aula Azul Mis PrimosPlay Caption
3. Caja (box)
y ellos también mandaron una caja grandísima
and they also sent a huge boxPlay Caption
4. Anaranjado (orange)
Adentro, son de color anaranjado.
Inside, they are orange-colored.Play Caption
5. Empujar (to push)
6. Equipaje (luggage)
¿Puedo dejar aquí mi equipaje?
Can I leave my luggage here?
Caption 59, Cleer y Lida - Recepción de hotelPlay Caption
7. Espantapájaros (scarecrow)
8. Cojear (to limp)
9. Injusticia (injustice)
10. Jamón (ham)
Fíjate: jamón, Javier.
Check it out: ham, Javier.
Caption 27, Fundamentos del Español - 10 - La PronunciaciónPlay Caption
11. Jirafa (giraffe)
12. Jornada (day)
13. Jota (J - the sound of the letter J in Spanish)
14. Jugar (to play)
También podemos jugar a las cartas,
We can also play cards,
Caption 12, Clara y Cristina - Hablan de actividadesPlay Caption
15. Junio (June)
16. Lujoso (luxurious)
17. Lejano (far, far away)
Érase una vez en un lejano reino, ahí vivía una joven niña.
Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, there lived a young girl.
Caption 2, Cuentos de hadas - La Cenicienta - Part 1Play Caption
18. Majo (nice)
19. Mojado (wet)
20. Pájaro (bird)
21. Sonrojar (to blush)
22. Tajada (slice)
Just as it happens with the letter “j,”, there are several tricky words in Spanish with the letter “g”. What’s hard about this consonant is that there is a soft and a hard way to pronounce it. For example, you have a soft “g” in the word gato (cat). Think about the pronunciation of the syllable “ga” in the word gather. On the other hand, you have a hard “g” in the word gente (people), which is kind of similar to how you pronounce the “h” in the word helmet. Let’s see some tough Spanish words with the letter “g”:
23. Acogedor (cozy, welcoming)
Perfecto, porque es un barco muy marinero, muy acogedor para la gente,
Perfect, because it's a very seaworthy boat, very welcoming for the people,
Caption 16, La Gala - El bote de DalíPlay Caption
24. Agente (agent)
25. Agitar (shake)
26. Aguja (needle)
27. Agujero (hole)
Tiene un cuerpo con un agujero en el centro
It has a body with a hole in the center
Caption 45, Karla e Isabel - Instrumentos musicalesPlay Caption
28. Apagar (to turn off)
29. Coger (to take, to get)
El segundo paso es coger la cebolla,
The second step is to get the onion,
Caption 25, Clara cocina - Una tortilla españolaPlay Caption
30. Garganta (throat)
Me duele la garganta,
My throat hurts,
Caption 11, Ariana - Cita médicaPlay Caption
31. General (general)
En general, los nombres acabados en "a" son femeninos
In general, nouns ending in "a" are feminine
Caption 10, Fundamentos del Español - 2 - Nombres y GéneroPlay Caption
32. Geneaología (genealogy)
33. Geología (geology)
34. Gigante (giant, gigantic)
Una de las piezas más llamativas es este ajedrez gigante.
One of the most appealing pieces is this gigantic chess board.Play Caption
35. Ginecólogo (gynecologist)
36. Girasol (sunflower)
37. Guapo (handsome)
38. Juguetón (playful)
39. Tangible (tangible)
40. Tigre (tiger)
41. Zoológico (zoo)
There are plenty of tricky words in Spanish with the strong sound of the double “rr”. The following are some of them:
42. Aburrido (bored)
Ah, esto está muy aburrido, ni siquiera se entiende.
Oh, this is very boring, you can't even understand it.
Caption 24, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 2 - Part 4Play Caption
43. Carrera (career)
El presidente empezó su carrera política...
The president began his political career...
Caption 29, Lecciones con Carolina - El gerundio - Part 2Play Caption
44. Carretera (road)
45. Carro (car)
¿Ha venido en carro?
Have you come in a car?
Caption 64, Cleer y Lida - Recepción de hotelPlay Caption
46. Correr (to run)
47. Desarrollar (Develop)
Pero el reto era desarrollar proyectos de biomedicina,
But the challenge was to develop biomedical projects,
Caption 10, Club de las ideas - Lego Fest en SevillaPlay Caption
48. Error (mistake)
Esto es un error
This is a mistakePlay Caption
49. Ferrocarril (railroad, train)
en un carrito tipo ferrocarril tirado por un caballo
in a little train-like car pulled by a horsePlay Caption
50. Garrote (club)
51. Guerra (war)
La palabra más fea es guerra.
The ugliest word is war.
Caption 61, Karla e Isabel - PalabrasPlay Caption
52. Guitarra (guitar)
53. Herradura (horseshoe)
54. Irresponsable (irresponsible)
55. Morral (backpack)
56. Ornitorrinco (platypus)
57. Perro (dog)
Se escucha un perro.
You can hear a dog.Play Caption
58. Puertorriqueño (Puerto Rican)
Without any doubt, words that have a syllable where the consonant “t” is followed by the consonant “r,” are some of the most difficult words for English speakers to pronounce in Spanish. If you want to improve this sound, please listen carefully to some of the audio clips we have included for the next set of words.
59. Abstracto (abstract)
60. Astronomía (astronomy)
61. Astrología (astrology)
y voy a entender lo que es la astrología.
and I am going to understand what astrology is.
Caption 60, Conversaciones con Luis - AstrologíaPlay Caption
62. Atracción (atraction)
Porque es en el centro... el sitio donde hay mayor atracción
Because it's at the center... the place where there are more attractions
Caption 21, Yabla en Lima - MirafloresPlay Caption
63. Cuatro (four)
Número cuatro: microscopio.
Number four: microscope.Play Caption
64. Entretener (to entertain)
65. Entretenido (entertaining)
66. Patrón (patron)
67. Patrulla (patrol)
68. Petróleo (oil)
69. Poltrona (easy chair)
70. Potro (colt)
71. Tradicion (tradition)
uno de los mitos más conocidos de la tradición indígena colombiana,
one of the best known myths of the indigenous Colombian tradition,Play Caption
72. Traicionar (to betray)
73. Trampa (trap)
No, no, me tendió una trampa y yo caí.
No, no, she set a trap for me and I fell into it.
Caption 29, Muñeca Brava - 44 El encuentro - Part 7Play Caption
74. Treinta y tres (thirty-three)
treinta y tres,
75. Tres (three)
76. Trilogía (trilogy)
I am sad.
Caption 10, El Aula Azul - Estados de ánimoPlay Caption
78. Tronco (trunk)
Unlike English, Spanish vowels are very clearly defined. Five vowels equals five sounds, period. While that may sound simple, the problem is that English speakers are used to pronouncing vowels in many more different ways. Here are some hard Spanish words that highlight this challenge.
79. Aguacate (avocado)
Este es guacamole hecho con aguacate...
This is guacamole made with avocado...
Caption 33, Tacos Emmanuel - Cómo hacer tacos de pescadoPlay Caption
80. Estadounidense (American)
Paul es estadounidense, de los Estados Unidos.
Paul is American, from the United States.
Caption 16, Carlos explica - Geografía y gentiliciosPlay Caption
81. Eucalipto (eucalyptus)
82. Euforia (euphoria)
83. Idiosincrasia (idiosyncrasy)
84. Licuadora (blender)
85. Paraguas (umbrella)
Voy a coger un paraguas, por si acaso.
I am going to grab an umbrella, just in case.
Caption 42, Clara explica - El tiempo - Part 1Play Caption
86. Triángulo (triangle)
Después pones este triángulo con la base hacia abajo.
Afterwards you put this triangle with the base toward the bottom.Play Caption
87. Vergüenza (shame)
There is a ‘cute’ joke in Spanish that goes like this:
- Do you know what the longest word in Spanish is?
- No. What is it?
- Arroz (rice)!
- Arroz? That’s a very short word.
- No, arroz is the longest word in Spanish because it starts with ‘a’ and ends with ‘z’!
Of course, that’s only a joke! Arroz is one of the easiest words in Spanish. However, the following are some of the most challenging and longest Spanish words:
88. Electroencefalograma (electroencephalogram)
89. Esternocleidomastoideo (sternocleidomastoid)
90. Contrarrevolucionario (counter-revolutionary)
91. Constitucionalidad (constitutionality)
92. Internacionalización (internalization)
93. Otorrinolaringólogo (otolaryngologist)
Apart from these very complicated words, all those adverbs that end in -mente are also some of the longest Spanish words. Let’s look at a few:
94. Constitucionalmente (constitutionally)
95. Desafortunadamente (unfortunately)
Cuando tú creces, desafortunadamente te das cuenta que
When you grow up, unfortunately, you realize that
Caption 23, La Sub30 - Familias - Part 9Play Caption
96. Desconsoladamente (inconsolably)
97. Fuertemente (heavily)
98. Tradicionalmente (traditionally)
Y nos dedicamos al cultivo del champiñón tradicionalmente.
And we are dedicated to the cultivation of the mushroom traditionally.Play Caption
99. Tristemente (sadly)
And finally, can you think of any Spanish word that has all the vowels on it? We have a long word for you, which is actually quite short in English:
100. Murciélago (bat)
La palabra más larga es murciélago.
The longest word is bat.
Caption 43, Karla e Isabel - PalabrasPlay Caption
That's it for now. We know that there are many more hard Spanish words that we should include in this list. If you feel like it, please share some additional difficult Spanish words with us, and we’ll be happy to add them to this lesson. And don’t forget to send us your feedback and suggestions. ¡Hasta la próxima!
In this lesson we’ll talk about Spanish words that have the accent on the second-to last syllable. We call these words palabras graves. In a previous lesson, we talked about palabras agudas, which are words with the accent on the last syllable.
Before we talk about palabras graves, let’s briefly discuss the meaning of the word “accent” in Spanish.
When we pronounce words in Spanish, the accent is the emphasis we give to a particular syllable of a word. We create that emphasis by giving the syllable a greater intensity, a longer duration, or a higher pitch. With that in mind, let’s review the way we categorize words in Spanish, according to their accent:
Now we can focus on palabras graves, which are also known as palabras llanas. Let’s look at a couple of words:
Palabras como "lápiz" o "cereza" son palabras graves.
Words like "lápiz" [pencil] or "cereza" [cherry] are paroxytone words.Play Caption
The word lápiz has two syllables (lá | piz) and the accent goes on the second-to-last syllable “lá.” Similarly, the word cereza has three syllables (ce | re | za) and the accent also goes on the second-to-last syllable “re.”
We note that the word lápiz has a graphic accent (tilde) on the “á,” while the “e” in the second-to-last syllable of cereza doesn’t have that accent.
Why not? It’s because paroxytone words need that graphic accent ONLY if they DO NOT end with “n,” “s,” or a vowel: Cereza ends in a vowel, so we don’t need the tilde.
y luego pasa en botella, donde se añade azúcar y eh... levadura.
and then goes into the bottle, where sugar is added and um... yeast.Play Caption
The word azúcar has three syllables (a | zú | car) and the accent goes on the second-to-last syllable “zú”. Since this word doesn’t end in “n,” “s” or a vowel, we need to put a tilde on the vowel of the second-to-last syllable.
La vida de músico es muy difícil, Kevin, es muy sacrificada.
The musician's life is very difficult, Kevin, it's very demanding.
Caption 16, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 3 - Part 8Play Caption
Likewise, the word difícil (di | fí | cil) has the accent on the second-to-last syllable “fí” and we need to put the graphic accent on the “í” since this word ends in a consonant (“l”), which is neither an “n,” an “s” nor a vowel.
There are, however, many palabras graves in Spanish that don’t need a graphic accent. Let’s take a look:
El lunes, por ejemplo, fui a trabajar.
On Monday for example, I went to work.
Caption 6, El Aula Azul La Doctora Consejos - El pasadoPlay Caption
Both lunes ( lu | nes) and ejemplo (e | jem | plo) have the accent on the second-to-last syllable. However, since lunes ends in “s” and ejemplo ends in a vowel, neither word needs the tilde.
One last thing: There are many words that are agudas in the singular and graves in the plural. Take a look at the following list (stressed syllable are in boldface):
That's it for now. If you feel like practicing a little bit more, take one of our videos and try to find all the paroxytone words with and without a tilde. And of course, don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions.
Let's talk about stress. In Spanish, all words are stressed on one syllable. Depending on the syllable where that stress falls, words in Spanish are divided into the following four groups:
Palabras agudas (Oxytone words) | Last syllable
Palabras graves (Paroxytone words) | Second-to-last syllable
Palabras esdrújulas (Proparoxytone words) | Third-to-last syllable
Palabras sobresdrújulas (Over-proparoxytone words) | Any syllable before the third-to-last syllable
Today, we will talk about palabras agudas. Let’s look at a couple of words:
Palabras como "corazón" o "tambor" son palabras agudas.
Words like "corazón" [heart] or "tambor" [drum] are oxytone words.Play Caption
The word corazón has three syllables (co | ra | zón) and the stress falls on the last syllable “zón.” Similarly, the word tambor has two syllables (tam | bor) and the stress falls on the last syllable “bor.”
However, the word corazón has an accent mark (tilde) on top of the “ó,” while the “o” in the last syllable of tambor doesn’t have that accent. Why? Because oxytone words need that accent ONLY when they end in “n”, in “s” or in a vowel:
La manera más simple de llegar a Barcelona es con el autobús
The simplest way to get to Barcelona is by bus
Caption 27, Blanca - Cómo moverse en BarcelonaPlay Caption
El coquí es un sapito que tenemos aquí en Puerto Rico.
The coquí is a little frog that we have here in Puerto Rico.
Caption 31, Carli Muñoz - Niñez - Part 1Play Caption
The word autobús has three syllables (au | to | bús) and the stress falls on the last syllable. Since this word ends in “s,” we need to put a tilde on the vowel of the last syllable. Likewise, the word coquí (co | quí) is stressed on the last syllable and we need to put the tilde on the “í” since this word ends in a vowel.
Important! In Spanish the accent mark ( ´ ) can only be placed on top of a vowel.
There are many oxytone words in Spanish. In fact, all verbs in the infinitive are palabras agudas:
¿Quieres tomar algo de beber, Raquel?
Do you want to have something to drink, Raquel?
Caption 22, Raquel - PresentacionesPlay Caption
Both tomar ( to | mar) and beber (be | ber) have two syllables and the stress falls on the last one. However, since they both end in “r,” the accent mark is not needed.
That's it for now. If you feel like practicing a little bit more, take one of our videos and try to find all the oxytone words without a tilde. And of course, don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions to email@example.com.
In our two previous lessons we have studied the interesting role sinalefas play in the way Spanish is spoken. In this third and last part of the series we will analyze cases where it's not possible to form sinalefas. Click if you'd like a refresher on Part 1 or Part 2 of this series.
In Part 2, we talked about certain conditions that must occur for speakers to form sinalefas and thus pronounce two contiguous words as a single one. It follows that when those conditions aren't met, the sinalefas aren't possible and the two words in question must be pronounced clearly apart from each other.
So, for example, sinalefas aren't supposed to be formed by combining one less open vowel surrounded by two open ones—combinations such as aoa, aia, aie, eie, eio, oio, etc. Since the Spanish conjunctions y (and), o (or), and u (or) are less open vowels, it follows that these combinations where sinalefas are not formed usually occur with phrases such as espero y obedezco (I wait and I obey), blanca y amarilla (white and yellow), sedienta y hambrienta (thirsty and hungry), esta o aquella (this one or that one), cinco u ocho (five or eight), etc. These combinations may also happen with words that start with a silent h, for example: ya he hablado (I've already spoken), hecho de hielo (made out of ice), no usa hiato (doesn't use a hiatus), está hueco (it's hollowed), etc. In each of these cases they words are supposed to be pronounced separately.
At this point, it's important to note that when we say a sinalefa can or can't occur, we are talking from a normative point of view, because we know that in real life speakers may and do break the rules. Let's see some examples. We said that a sinalefa should not be formed with the vocalic sounds oia because the i is less open than a and o, thus Yago is not pronouncing frío y hambre as a single word here:
Y yo nada más tengo frío y hambre y no sé qué hacer.
And I'm just cold and I'm hungry and I don't know what to do.
Caption 23, Yago - 6 Mentiras - Part 1
Or is he? Actually, he is not. Even though he's speaking quite fast, he's pronouncing each word separately. It's still difficult to tell, isn't it? But you can train your ear, and immersion is perfect for that purpose.
Here's another example:
Ahí tienen un pequeño huerto ecológico.
There you have a small ecological orchard.
Caption 33, 75 minutos - Gangas para ricos - Part 3
Is the speaker pronouncing pequeño huerto as a single word? In theory, he shouldn't be because sinalefas aren't supposed to be formed by combining one less open vowel (u) surrounded by two open ones (o,e). If he does, as it seems, he is engaging in what some experts call a sinalefa violenta (violent synalepha), which is phonetically possible but not "proper."
In fact, the proper use also prohibits the use of sinalefas that are phonetically possible since they involve the gradual combination of vowels that go from open to less open vowels such as aei, oei, and eei (we learned about this in Part 2 of this lesson) when the middle e corresponds to the conjunction e (used when the following word starts with the sound i). For example, it's not "correct" to pronounce phrases such as España e Inglaterra (Spain and England), ansioso e inquieto (anxious and unquiet), or anda e investiga (go and investigate) altogether as single words. You can make the sinalefa and pronounce the words together only if the middle e is not a conjunction, for example, aei in ella trae higos (she brings figs), oei in héroe insigne (illustrious hero), eei in cree Ifigenia (Ifigenia believes), etc.
The rule is observed by the speaker in the following example, who pronounces febrero e incluso separately:
Sobre todo en los meses de diciembre, enero, febrero e incluso en mayo.
Especially in the months of December, January, February and even in May.
Caption 27, Mercado de San Miguel - Misael - Part 1
But the reporter in this example? Not so much. He pronounces tangibleeintangible as a single word:
...y con elementos de un patrimonio tangible e intangible.
...and with elements of a tangible and intangible legacy.
Caption 20, Ciudades - Coro Colonial
If speakers break the rules all the time, is there any point to learning about when a sinalefa can and can't be formed? The answer is yes, because these rules were actually modeled to reflect the phonetic composition of speech. Most of the time, the way people speak does conform to rules (it's just easier to notice when it doesn't). For example, the reason there's a rule against sinalefas that join two open vowels surrounding a less open one (like oia) is because articulating such sounds together is actually not easy for a Spanish speaker given the articulatory settings of the Spanish language. In other words, phonetic realities reflect how speech is actually performed by speakers most of the time and not vice versa. If you see the big picture, historically speech has modeled textbook rules and not the other way around.
We leave you with an interesting example of a speaker making what seems a weird ayhie (basically aiie or even aie) sinalefa by pronouncing naranjayhielo as a single word.
Naranja y hielo solamente.
Orange and ice alone.
Caption 23, Fruteria "Los Mangos" - Vendiendo Frutas - Part 2
Let's continue studying examples of sinalefas. If you missed part 1 of this lesson you can read it here.
Sinalefas are an important aspect to consider when learning Spanish because they play a fundamental role in the fast-paced speech we hear so frequently in many native speakers and which makes listening comprehension so challenging. We've seen that sinalefas can merge up to five vowels from different contiguous words, like in the infamous example Envidio a Eusebio (I envy Eusebio), but sinalefas that merge two and three vowels are much more common and thus the more frequent culprits of word merges. Since we already covered sinalefas that merge two vowels, let's now focus on the ones that merge three or more.
For a sinalefa of more than three vowels to occur, at least one of the following conditions must be met:
Condition 1. The vowels are combined in a gradual scale from more open to less open, for example aeu, as in La europea (the European), or from less open to more open, for example uea, as in abue Antonia (Granny Antonia).
Here's an example with an oi and an aae sinalefa that allows the speaker to pronounce no iba a entrar as a single word:
Decidimos que en nuestras tiendas no iba a entrar un chocolate...
We decided that in our stores no chocolate was going to enter...
Caption 46, Horno San Onofre - El Chocolate
Here's an iea sinalefa that allows the speaker to pronounce nadie apoyaba as a single word:
Nadie apoyaba el movimiento.
No one was supporting the movement.
Caption 57, Arturo Vega - Entrevista - Part 1
Condition 2. The combination consists in one open vowel surrounded by two less open ones. For example iae, as in limpia estancia (clean place), eau as in muerte auspicia (auspicious death), uoi as in mutuo interés (mutual interest), etc.
Here's an oae sinalefa that allows the speaker to pronounce salto a Europa as a single word:
Ahora preparan su salto a Europa, a Francia y a Alemania.
Now they're preparing their jump into Europe, France and Germany.
Caption 49, Europa abierta - Carne ecológica y segura
Here's an example with an iao and an ee sinalefa that allows the speaker to pronounce de aire en as a single word:
...y además, controlan el flujo de aire en el interior.
...and additionally, it controls the flow of air inside.
Caption 53, Tecnópolis - El Coronil - Part 1
When none of these two conditions are met, merging contiguous vowels from different words to form a sinalefa is theoretically impossible. We will study some interesting cases in the third and last part of our lesson on this topic. In the meantime, we invite you to find more examples of sinalefas that merge two or more vowels by browsing our catalog of videos. We recommend you use the search tool located in the upper right corner of the site to find them.
We commonly receive feedback from our readers about the challenges of learning Spanish. Spanish can indeed be challenging for English speakers; after all, we are talking about a Romance language with a very different grammatical structure. However, grammar doesn’t seem to be the area that people find most challenging about Spanish. Instead, most learners at Yabla Spanish complain about how fast Spanish is spoken! And they seem to be justified: according to recent research, Spanish is the second-fastest spoken language at a syllable-per-second velocity of 7.82, trailing just slightly behind Japanese, at 7.84, but way ahead of English, which, according to the same study, is spoken at an average rate of 6.19 syllables per second. There you have it. You should be proud that you are learning one of the fastest spoken languages in the world.
Learners seem to find Spanish particularly fast paced due to the fact that in Spanish contiguous vowels are pronounced as if they were part of a single syllable. We are not talking about diphthongs or mere contractions such as de+el = del or a+el = al. We are talking about sinalefas: the merging of vowels that are part of different contiguous words.
Sinalefas makes Spanish challenging because they result in the merging of several words that are pronounced as one, without interruptions. Since sinalefas can merge up to five vowels, even a simple sentence such as Envidio a Eusebio (I envy Eusebio) becomes hard to understand when it is actually pronounced as envidioaeusebio. If you can’t tell where a word ends and another begins, how can you know for sure what a speaker is saying? The answer is listening practice.
There are many different types of sinalefas or “monosyllabic groups of vowels” in Spanish, as modern grammar specialists also call them. Let’s try to find examples of the most frequent ones in our catalog of authentic Spanish videos. In this lesson we will cover examples of sinalefas that merge two vowels only.
Sinalefas with two identical vocales átonas (unstressed or atonic vowels) are very common: casa alegre (happy home), le escucho (I listen to you), Lucy intenta (Lucy tries), etc. These sinalefas are pronounced with a long sound, just as if the two vowels were inside a single word, like acreedor (creditor), zoológico (zoo), contraataque (counterattack).
No olvides que los envoltorios de cartón, papel y envases de vidrio...
Don't forget that cardboard and paper covers and glass bottles...
Caption 46, 3R – Campaña de reciclaje - Part 2
Sinalefas with two identical vowels, one of which is a vocal tónica (stressed vowel), are pronounced as a single stressed vowel (remember that a stressed vowel may or may not have a written accent). The following example contains two contiguous sinalefas of this kind, and you may hear some speakers merging both of them:
¿Qué está haciendo?
What are you doing?
Caption 40, 75 minutos - Del campo a la mesa - Part 14
Sinalefas with different vocales átonas (unstressed vowels) are very common and perhaps some of the most used. They are pronounced as a single unstressed syllable. The first sinalefa in the following example is of one of this kind. But the second sinalefa (dejóalgo) merges two vocales tónicas (stressed vowels) and in this case, if the sinalefa is actually produced, both vowels get merged but lean on the more open vowel (the a in algo).
...porque todo aquel que vino dejó algo.
...because everybody who came left something.
Caption 73, Horno San Onofre - La Historia de la Pastelería
Can you identify the sinalefas in the following example?
Ya nada sería igual en la vida de ambos.
Nothing would be the same in their lives.
Caption 65, Biografía - Natalia Oreiro - Part 6
Be aware that Spanish speakers don't pronounce sinalefas every single time. Weather sinalefas are used or not depends on many factors: personal preference, regional variants (for example some learners find that Mexican Spanish is way faster than, let’s say, Ecuadorian or Venezuelan Spanish), or even context (for example when a speaker is trying to speak clearly or very emphatically, he or she may not merge many words). Here’s an example in which the speaker is clearly not pronouncing two possible sinalefas (súnico and equipajera), but he does pronounce a third one: únicoe. Can you guess why?
Y su único equipaje era la soledad
And her only baggage was solitude
Caption 20, Gardi - Leña apagada - Part 1
If you said "because these are the lyrics of a song," you are right! Sinalefas and their opposites, hiatos, are some of the most common poetic tools used to ensure proper meter. As a listening exercise for the week, we invite you to find two-vowel sinalefas in our videos and listen carefully to decide whether the speaker is actually merging the vowels or not. We will continue exploring the world of Spanish sinalefas in future lessons.
Do you ever feel frustrated when you can't make out what a Spanish speaker is saying because he or she speaks so fast that an entire sentence seems to sound like a single long word? Well, we won't lie to you: there's no easy solution to that problem, only listening practice and more listening practice. However, we can at least give you something to blame next time you find yourself lost in a conversation due to this problem: blame the synalepha.
A fancy word indeed, synalepha (or sinalefa in Spanish) is the merging of two syllables into one, especially when it causes two words to be pronounced as one. La sinalefa is a phonological phenomenon that is typical of Spanish (and Italian) and it's widely used in all Latin America and Spain. Native speakers use sinalefas unconsciously to add fluidity, speed and concision to what they are saying.
There are basically two types of sinalefas. Let's learn about them using examples from our catalog of videos. Maybe that'll help you catch them next time. And if you have a subscription with us, make sure you click on the link to actually hear how the sinalefas are pronounced!
The first type of sinalefa merges two vowels, the last one and the first one of two contiguous words. A single sentence can contain several of them, for example:
¿Cómo es el departamento comercial de una empresa que trabaja en setenta y dos países?
How is the commercial department of a company that operates in seventy-two countries?
Captions 1-2, 75 minutos Del campo a la mesa - Part 21Play Caption
So, thanks to the sinalefas, this is how the speaker actually pronounces the sentence: ¿Cómoes el departamento comercial deunaempresa que trabajaen setentay dos países? Yes, the letter "y" counts as a vowel whenever it sounds like the vowel "i."
Here's another example, this time from Colombia:
¿Qué pensaría mi hermano si supiera de este vídeo que estamos filmando?
What would my brother think if he knew about this video that we are filming?
Caption 31, Conjugación El verbo 'pensar'Play Caption
Again, thanks to the sinalefas, what the girl speaking actually pronounces is: ¿Qué pensaría mihermano si supiera deeste video queestamos filmando? Yes, the consonant "h" doesn't interfere with the sinalefa, because, as you probably already know, this letter is always silent unless it is next to the letter "c."
Now, the second type of sinalefa merges three vowels of two contiguous words. Here's an example:
¿O a usted le gustaría que lo mantuvieran encerrado?
Or would you like for them to keep you locked up?
Caption 21, Kikirikí Animales - Part 2Play Caption
Oausted is what the character pronounces. Can you try to pronounce it the same way?
Here's another example, from Mexico this time:
cosa que no le corresponde a él.
something that is not his job.
Caption 6, ¡Tierra, Sí! Atenco - Part 4Play Caption
Finally, one more example that is somewhat extreme. Hear the host of the Colombian show Sub30 posing a question that contains four sinalefas (loop button recommended):
¿Será que eso sólo pasa en nuestra época o ha pasado desde siempre?
Could it be that that only happens nowadays or has it always been like this?
Caption 3, La Sub30 Familias - Part 7Play Caption
That girl surely speaks fast! Notice that she even merged two words that end and begin with the same consonant “n” into a single one, which, together with the sinalefas, results in what sounds like a super long word: pasaennuestraépocaoha.