Spanish alphabet

Spanish alphabet . It is composed of twenty-seven letters: a, e, i, o, u, are called vowels, while the rest are consonants, some have certain distinctive characteristics that can be of formation or function. In its original intention, the alphabet or ordered series of the letters of a language constitutes the graphic representation of its usual phonemes, that is; of the sounds that speakers consciously and differently use.


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  • 1 History
    • 1 Graphemes
    • 2 Phonemes
  • 2 Relationship between graphemes and phonemes
    • 1 Phonemes represented with a digraph
    • 2 Phonemes that can be represented by different graphemes
    • 3 Graphemes that can represent different phonemes
  • 3 Bibliography


The Spanish alphabet is based on the Roman alphabet, which in turn descends from the Greek alphabet . The Greeks adopted the letters of the Phoenician alphabet, which had Hebrew and Egyptian influences.


The Latins discarded four graphemes of the Greek alphabet, they took the Etruscan F, which was pronounced as / w /, giving it the sound / f /; they also adopted the S Etruscan. To represent the sound / g / in Greek and the sound / k / in Etruscan, the letter Γ was initially used, which would eventually become P. These changes gave rise to the archaic Latin alphabet , which initially had 21 letters, but before from the 3rd century BC it lost the Z.

The Romans used the C, K and Q to write the sound / k /, the C also adopted the sound / g /. Later they invented the G, adding a stick to the C, and inserted it between the F and the H for unknown reasons. Once the Roman Empire took Greece , the Z was reintroduced and the Y was adopted to transcribe the Greek words that were borrowed, placing it at the end of the alphabet. In this way, and after the ephemeral letters that Claudio introduced disappeared, the Latin alphabet was left with 23 letters during the rest of antiquity and the Middle Ages .

The Germanic peoples once Christianized adopt the Latin alphabet. The Anglo-Saxons temporarily introduced in their alphabet two runes, thorn “Þ” and wyn “ƿ”, to transcribe two sounds of their language not represented by the Latin letters, / θ / and / w /, respectively, but they ended up discarding them because they could be confused with the letter P. Wyn was replaced by two consecutive uves, which ended up linking and creating a new letter: W. At the end of the Middle Ages, the V began to be rounded to differentiate when it corresponded to its vowel sound, originating the U. J began to develop from the first in the fifteenth century .

The Ñ originated in Spain due to the custom of medieval copyists to place a small line above an ene to indicate that it was double, thus saving space, when the «nn» changed its palatalizing sound, / ɲ /, the eñe was adopted as a new letter in the Spanish alphabet.

For the Greeks, Z was a double letter, since it expressed the sound of the union of delta and sigma. The Romans only used it to transcribe some Greek words, but stopped using it at the end of the 4th century BC Three centuries later it was again introduced into the Roman alphabet, along with the Y, to transcribe Greek words such as Zeus or Zodiac and it was located in the last place in the alphabet.

The Spanish alphabet was fixed, in 1803 , in twenty-nine graphemes (27 letters and two digraphs), each of which can adopt the figure and size of upper or lower case, such as:

A a B b C c Ch ch D d E e F f G g H h I i J j K k L l Ll ll M m N n Ñ ñ O o P p Q q R r S s T t U u V v W w X x Y y Z z.

Since the fourth edition of the Academic Dictionary (1803), digraphs ch and ll were conventionally considered letters: fourth and fourteenth, respectively, of the Spanish alphabet, due to the fact that each of them represents a single phoneme.

At the request of various international organizations, the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language agreed in its X Congress ( Madrid , 1994) to reorder these digraphs in the place assigned to them by the universal Latin alphabet. Thus, in the Dictionary, the words that begin with ch will be recorded in the letter C and those that begin with ll, in the letter L, so that the Spanish alphabet consists of 27 letters to represent 24 phonemes.


In the process of historical evolution some phonemes of old Spanish have disappeared. This happened in the case of the opposition between the voiceless alveolar fricative phoneme and the corresponding voiced one, represented in intervocalic position with the spellings -ss- (passar) and -s- (house), respectively. During the Modern Age this phonetic difference was lost in favor of the voiceless pronunciation, and the spelling reflected the change using the unique s in all cases.

Formerly the h represented an aspiration, in modern Spanish it lacks phonological value and does not represent any sound.

In ancient texts the letters i, u, v were written without distinguishing whether they were vowels or consonants. For example: iazía (lay), io (I), iunque (anvil), cuéuano (cuévano), uestir (dress), vno (one), vsar (use).

The letters g (before e, i), j and x represented in medieval orthography two different palatal phonemes, the first voiced, as in muger and straw, and the second deaf, as in dixo. Both sounds were first identified in the deaf sound and, from the 16th century on, they evolved towards the corresponding modern phoneme aj, velar fricative and deaf; This is how it is pronounced and written: woman, straw and said.

With respect to u in chaufa, pause, Lautaro, Piura consonant function is noted; with respect to i in Ceilán, paiche, Paita, Paiján, paisano a consonant effect is also perceived.

Relationship between graphemes and phonemes

In the graphic system of Spanish there are cases of phonemes represented by a digraph or group of two letters, letters that can represent more than one phoneme, phonemes that can be represented by several letters, a letter that represents a group of phonemes and another that it does not represent any phoneme.

Phonemes represented with a digraph

  • The deaf palatal affricate phoneme, for example, vest, is represented by the digraph ch.
  • The lateral palatal key phoneme, with the digraph ll. Currently, in most of the Spanish-speaking territories it is frequent to identify this phoneme with the voiced palatal fricative represented in writing by y (identification known as Yeísmo).
  • The multiple vibrating phoneme of ring is represented by the digraph rr.
  • The voiced velar phoneme of cheese and the voiced velar phoneme of guitar are written with the groups qu and gu (before the vowels e, i), respectively.

Phonemes that can be represented by different graphemes

  • The voiced lip phoneme can be represented by the letters b, v, and w, as in ship, sail, and tungsten.
  • The deaf velar stop phoneme can be transcribed with the letters cyky with the group qu, as at home, kilometer and who.
  • The voiceless velar fricative phoneme can be represented with the letter j, or with the letter g before e, i, as in garden, sherry, giraffe, jota, jewish, people and turn.

Graphemes that can represent different phonemes

  • The c before a, o, u represents the deaf velar stop phoneme of home, comfortable and brother-in-law. Ante e, i, as in cepa or cinema, can represent, according to the geographical origin of the speakers, two other phonemes:
    • The deaf interdental fricative, dominant in the Spanish varieties spoken in the North , Center and East of the Iberian Peninsula ; also represented by the letter z.
    • The deaf fricative, with mostly predorsal articulation, also represented in writing by the letter s. This identification phenomenon, known by the name of seseo, is general in the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula; in the Canary Islands and throughout Hispanic America.
  • The z represents the voiceless fricative interdental phoneme of shoe or blue. In zones, de seseo also represents the predorsal phoneme equivalent to that of the letter s.
  • The ll represents the palatal lateral phoneme full or roll. In Yeístas areas; it also corresponds to the voiced palatal fricative phoneme represented elsewhere by the letter y.
  • The g, both before a, o, u and grouped with another consonant and in the group gu before e, i, represents the voiced velar phoneme, as in gato, gorra, grande, glosa, Gutiérrez, stew; while before e, i represents the deaf velar fricative phoneme of twins and gypsy.
  • The simple r, both initial word and preceded by a consonant that does not belong to the same syllable , represents a multiple vibrating (as in mouse and around), while in intervocalic position and syllable end, as well as in consonant groups br , cr, dr, fr, gr, kr, pr and tr, represents the simple vibrant phoneme of caro and breeze.
  • The y can have a consonant value when representing the voiced palatal phoneme, as in yolk, and a vowel value equivalent to that represented by the letter i in words like y, rey, hoy
  • The w represents the voiced lip phoneme in words of Visigothic or German origin , such as Wamba, Witiza and Wagnerian, and the vowel phoneme equivalent to that represented by the letter u in words of English origin , such as whiskey and Washington.
  • In social use , shis already accepted , with the same sound in English and Quechua, equivalent to French “ch” and German “sch” for various cases: show, show-bussines, show-woman, etc, shoper from English; Áncash, Shanti, shajhui, from Quechua. Employment is oral and written.


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