Spanish Vowel

The Spanish letter U has some unique characteristics.

1. U is normally pronounced "oo."

Por ejemplo…

cuchara spoon
usted you (formal)
uno one
champú shampoo

2. In terms of syllable division, U is a weak vowel:

guasón boring
aula classroom

 Note that when U diphthongs with other vowels, it sounds like an English W, which means that the letters cu followed by a vowel sound like qu in English.

cuidado careful
cuando when

3. In terms of consonant pronunciation, U is a hard vowel:

cuchara spoon
mucho gusto my pleasure

(a) Between G and a soft vowel, U is normally silent.

guisantes peas
guía telefónica phone book

  When U does need to be pronounced, it needs a dieresis.

vergüenza shame
lingüística linguistics

(b) When a C or G needs to be pronounced "hard" in front of a soft vowel, the letter U plays a role – see hard and soft vowels

Please note that this explanation 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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Spanish pronunciation