Diphthongs + Hiatus

Diptongos e hiato

When a Spanish word has two vowels side by side, various pronunciation issues come into play: syllable division, diphthongs, and hiatus.

In terms of syllable division, Spanish vowels are divided into two categories:

  1. Strong vowels:  A, E, O
  2. Weak vowels:  I, U

To pronounce Spanish correctly, you need to understand strong and weak vowels and how they affect pronunciation.

1.  Two strong vowels

Pronounced as a hiatus* with normal rules of word stress (see lesson)

empleado
estéreo
europeo
impermeable
 
2.  Strong vowel + weak vowel (most common)

Pronounced as a diphthong* with emphasis on the strong vowel

abierto
australiano
baile
estudioso
fuerte
guasón
ingenuo
 
3.  Two weak vowels

Pronounced as a diphthong with emphasis on the second vowel

suizo
cuidado
 
4.  Exceptions

When the pronunciation of a word does not follow these rules, an acute accent is placed on the stressed vowel.

asiático
frío
jardinería
miércoles
natación
patriótico
policía
televisión

* Notes

Hiatus: Two vowels pronounced as two distinct syllables.

Diphthong: Two vowels pronounced as a single syllable. When this happens, the unstressed weak vowel has a special sound: the letter I sounds like Y (as in yet) and U sounds like W (as in will).

When the letter U’s purpose in a word is to make a consonant hard rather than soft (see lesson) as in portugués and guisantes, it does not count as a vowel and thus the above rules do not apply.

  
Please note that this lesson is only a guideline for the Spanish that I know, which is Castilian Spanish. There are many regional variations in Spanish pronunciation.
 

 
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