What are the most important spelling rules in Spanish?

Young woman standing on a terrace at sunset

If you want to continue improving your writing in Spanish and avoid spelling errors, it’s your lucky day! Today we are going to go over the most important spelling rules in Spanish that will help you improve your reading and writing skills. Don’t let the title intimidate you! Spanish spelling is really easy, because usually a sound corresponds to a letter: mi casa /mi kasa/ (my house). And when several sounds correspond to a letter, there are rules to help you understand these irregularities.

Are you ready to learn about it? Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

The Spanish alphabet

The Spanish alphabet is very similar to the English one. This is because it contains the basic Latin alphabet that other European languages use, but it adds the letter “eñe.” Check out the Spanish alphabet to find out the name of each one of the 27 letters.

Although the alphabets are similar and many sounds are exactly the same (for example: f, l, m, n), there are some tricky ones. Did you ever hear someone say a word like “vivir” (to live) and you were confused whether you would need to write it with a “b” or a “v”? You are not alone! This is actually very common, and it will happen less as you get used to the Spanish sounds. Believe me, it can be confusing, even to native speakers!

Next, we will go deep into these irregularities that happen between the sounds and letters of Spanish and show you the spelling rules that will help you read and pronounce words correctly!

Letters ‘b’ and ‘v’

B and v have the same sound in Spanish:

  • Pronounce them like the “b” in “berry” but without fully closing your lips: cabeza (head).
  • After m, n, or at the beginning of a word, both are pronounced like the “b” in “bit”:
    • enviar (to send)
    • bebé (baby)

There aren’t specific rules to tell you when to write b or v in Spanish. However, there are some useful patterns to help you along the way:

  • before l and r, use b and not v, as in: blanco (white), brazo (arm)
  • after m, use b: cambio (change); and after an n use v: enviar (to send)
  • after the prefix ad- or sub-, use v: adversario (adversary), subvalorar (undervalue)

There are a few homonyms with these two letters to keep in mind, for instance:

tubo (tube) and tuvo (he/she had)
botar (to bounce) and votar (to vote)

They are pronounced the same but mean different things, so when writing it’s important to spell them correctly.

Letter ‘s,’ ‘c,’ and ‘z’

S is always pronounced like the “s” in “set”: casa (house). And, in Latin American Spanish, c and z also have an s sound in the following cases:

  • c – before e or i: césped (grass), cielo (sky)
  • z – before a, o, or u: zorro (fox), and it occurs before e or i only in a few cases such as: zinc (zinc), zeta (letter z), etc.

In Spain, the rules above also apply; however, the sounds are different for c and z. They are pronounced like the “th” in “thought”: encima (above), zona (zone).

⤷TIP When pluralizing or adding a Spanish diminutive, like “ito” or “illo,” words that end in a z or have a z in the last syllable will always change to a c before adding the suffix:
luz (light) → luces (lights)
taza (cup) → tacita (little cup)

Letters ‘c,’ ‘q,’ and ‘k’

Letters c, q+u, and k are pronounced like the “c” in “cat” in the following cases:

  • C is used before a, o, or u, or a consonant:
    • caro (expensive)
    • clavo (nail)
    • cruz (cross)
  • “Qu” is used before e or i:
    • quiero (I want)
    • queso (cheese)
  • K always: kiosco (kiosk)

⤷TIP Sound like a native!
Notice that when you say “cat” in English, there is a puff of air 💨 after the “c”… Try it! Put your hand a few inches from your mouth and say “cat.” Did you feel the air? In Spanish, however, we don’t do this aspiration, so practice saying “caro” without the puff of air and you’ll soon impress the native speakers!

Letter ‘g’

There are a couple of sounds associated with the letter g, most of the time it sounds like the “g” in “goat,” but sometimes it sounds like a strong “h.” Because of these two distinct sounds, Spanish uses the following spelling rules.

  • G sounds like a “hard g” as in “goat” in the following cases:
    • Before a, o, or u, or after n:
gato (cat)
mango (mango)
  • Before e or i, insert a silent u between the g and the vowel to keep the “hard g” sound:
guerra (war)
guitarra (guitar)
  • If a word has “gue” or “gui” but the u is not silent, then add two dots (aka umlaut) on the ü and pronounce the u:
pingüino (penguin)
nicaragüense (Nicaraguan)

⤷TIP Sound like a native!
When a g (in any of the previous scenarios) is between vowels, its pronunciation is a bit softer: saga (saga), agua (water), juegue (he plays- subjunctive), nicaragüense (Nicaraguan).

  • G sounds like a “strong h,” like the “h” in “him”before e or i:
gerente (manager)
gigante (giant)
This particular sound can range between a “strong h” and the “ch” is the Scottish English word “loch.” This depends on the individual speaker or the region where they are from. The same is true for letter j; let’s see it below!

Letter ‘j’

The pronunciation of j ranges from a “strong h,” to the “ch” in “loch”: jarrón (vase), jinete (horseman/horsewoman). It is always found before a vowel.

Keep in mind that g before e or i has the same sound as j: genio (genius), ejercicio (exercise). Because of this, j is mostly found before a, o, or u. However, there are many words with “je” and “ji,” and knowing which words use g or j will come as you gain experience.


The sound of the j in Spanish differs from the one in English – it is a “strong h,” not to be confused with the “j” in “jump” or the “soft g” sound in “gentle.”
So, now you know why in Spanish we laugh like this: jajaja 🤣

Letter ‘h’

The letter h is silent: hola (hello). There two things to consider with this letter:

  • hu” at the beginning of a syllable and before a vowel is pronounced like the “w” in “wear”: cacahuate (peanut), chihuahua (chihuahua)
  • If you see an h after the letter c, then it’s the sound “ch,” as in “chocolate.”

Letter ‘ñ’​

The letter ñ is pronounced like the “ny” in “canyon”: cabaña (cabin), and it’s always found before a vowel.


Ñ and n are not the same letter, nor do they have the same sound. Not adding the ~ over the ñ can result in a completely different word, for example: cana (gray hair) vs. caña (fishing rod); see how different? So, don’t forget the mustache on the ñ!

Letter ‘r’

Letter r can be single or double. Single r can be pronounced as a flap (like the “tt” in “bottle”) or as the famous Spanish roll; whereas the double “rr” is always rolled! Here are the specific rules:

  • A single r is pronounced as a roll:
    • at the beginning of a word:
      reina (queen)
    • or after an s, l, or n:
disrupción (disruption)
alrededor (around)
sonreír (to smile)
    • or after prefix “sub-”:
      subrayar (underline)
  • Everywhere else a single r is pronounced like the “tt” in “better” — it is not rolled:
    cara (face)
    enfermero (nurse)
    brazo (arm)
    terminar (finish)
  • The double “rr” only appears in between vowels and it’s rolled:
    error (error)

The difference between single r and double rr is important! Some words have a different meaning depending on which letter you use, for instance: pero (but) vs. perro (dog); caro (expensive) vs. carro (car), para (for) vs. parra (vine).

Letter ‘x’

X can be pronounced as “ks” the same way you would say “taxi.” Furthermore, in some cases it sounds like an s, a “strong h,” or a “sh” sound.

  • Pronounced s at the beginning of words: xilófono (xylophone).
  • Pronounced “ks” between vowels and at the end of the word, like the “x” in “max”: examen (exam), tórax (thorax).
⤷TIP Some speakers reduce the “ks” to a simple s before a consonant: exprimir (to squeeze), can be pronounced as “esprimir,” even though they write it with an “x.”
  • In words that come from Nahuatl (an Indigenous language from Mexico and Central America), the x can have three sounds:
    • An s: Xochitl (proper name, means “flower”)
    • A “strong h”: Oaxaca (a Mexican state), xico
    • A “sh” sound as in “sheep”: xoconostle (a type of cactus fruit).

Letters ‘y’ and digraph ‘ll’

Y and ll are pronounced like the “y” in “yes”: calle (street), vaya (to go – present subjunctive). In some cases y can be pronounced like the Spanish vowel i. Let’s see when!

  • Both ll and y can be found at the beginning of a word or between vowels.
    yegua (mare)
    llano (flat)
    Only between vowels can the use of either letter change the meaning of the word:
cayo (cay) vs. callo (callus)
  • Only y can be found at the end of words, and in this case it will be pronounced like a Spanish i:
    rey (king)
    hoy (today)
    ⤷ TIP The conjunction y (and) is also pronounced like a Spanish i.
  • Only y can be found after a consonant:
    • inyectar (to inject)
    • adyacente (adjacent)

In Argentina, ll and consonantal y are pronounced either like the “s” in “vision” or more of a “sh” sound like in “share.”


Notice that in English ll is pronounced as a single l, “personally.” However, in Spanish, a double ll is never pronounced as a single l.

Additional tips

  • Vowels e and i
    Vowels in Spanish are pretty straight forward. However, remember that Spanish i sounds like English “ee,” as in “free,” and the Spanish e sounds more like a short English “e,” as in “bet.”
  • Letters p, t, c

Remember how we told you not to use the puff of air after the c in Spanish? Well, the same applies to p and t. In English, these sounds are aspirated before vowels — in Spanish, they are not! Practice: parque (p💨ark) tanque (t💨ank) without the aspiration.

  • Letter b, d, g 

Remember how we told you that b and g sound softer between vowels? The same applies to d! Notice the difference between the highlighted sounds “day” and “there.” In Spanish, a d between vowels sounds more like the “th” in “there.”

These are the main differences between the sounds of Spanish and English and the main spellings rules to help you read and write better! There are also some differences when it comes to capital letters in Spanish; to learn more check out this printable we made for you! And to learn about numbers in Spanish and how to write them, click the link!


Even though the spelling of Spanish is fairly regular, there are inconsistencies when it comes to the relation between its sounds and letters. I hope you enjoyed reading the most important spelling rules in Spanish and that they help your future writing skills!

If this post caught your attention and you would like to know more about Spanish orthography, we have written a post on when to write accent marks in Spanish that will help you achieve your Spanish writing goals!

If you are ready to practice, don’t hesitate! We have the perfect activity for you to practice (with answer key).

Want to learn more about how speech sounds work and about the alphabet language experts use to describe sounds? Check out this video: “The Building Blocks of Speech.

Are you interested in learning more about Spanish Grammar? Check out our Spanish Grammar Homepage.
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Spelling rules activity

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