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Friday, March 24, 2023

Spanish Homophones: 5 Frequent Combine-ups and How you can Sort out Them

Most world languages have some pesky homophones—phrases that sound the identical however imply various things.

Some languages do that greater than others, after all.

Spanish is a reasonably large offender, even mixing up its native audio system with trickier sounds!

As if we would have liked extra obstacles thrown in our path when making an attempt to be taught Spanish.

However, c’mon, you’re an English speaker.

English is notorious for its homophone utilization—their, there they usually’re, anybody?—so depend your self fortunate that you just don’t need to be taught these from scratch.


5 Varieties of Spanish Homophone Pitfalls

1. The Accents Pitfall

Some phrases not solely sound the identical, however are written precisely the identical. Properly, virtually. The Spanish language helps us out by throwing on accent marks the place it deems vital.

Take, for instance, el and él. Similar precise letters. The one distinction is within the symbols.

Usually, Spanish accent marks (referred to as tildes, not acentos—right here’s the full information) are used to point out the place the stress ought to fall.

Within the case of él and el, nonetheless, the accent is just used to distinguish which means—with the accent, él means “he,” and with out the accent, el is the particular article “the.”

One other occasion of that is de and . Once more, the accent right here doesn’t imply “pronounce the e with a little bit extra power.”

It’s merely used to tell apart the 2 phrases, since they’re spelled and pronounced precisely the identical. With out the accent, de is the preposition “of.” With the accent, it’s the command or subjunctive type of the verb dar, which means “to offer.”

2. The B/V Pitfall

If Spanish is totally phonetic, why can’t they dispose of both the B or the V? It’s a query that retains me up at evening however, alas, each B and V make a light-weight b sound.

Not fairly as forceful because the English b, however with the lips a bit extra relaxed (a voiced bilabial fricative, if you wish to get technical).

Therein lies the explanation Spanish audio system have problem listening to the distinction between “berry” and “very” or “vest” and “greatest,” however I digress.

An instance of the B/V pitfall can be hierba (weed) and hierva (boil [water]). Additionally: iba (I/he/she was going) and IVA, an acronym that stands for “gross sales tax.”

See? Not the identical meanings in any respect, however these sounds make it simple to get tripped up if you happen to can’t perceive the context.

hierba, hierva

iba, IVA

3. The Silent H Pitfall

I imply no disrespect to Spanish right here, however its H is ineffective. The letter is a remnant of Latin, Spanish’s predecessor, but it surely serves no function in pronunciation at this time (besides to journey learners up).

Therein lies the issue with homophones reminiscent of Asia and hacia, the primary one being the continent, the second being the preposition “in the direction of.”

So you possibly can transfer “hacia Asia,” however you must know the distinction between the 2.

The silent H pitfall doesn’t simply happen with the vowel a.

With o we are able to use the straightforward instance of hola (howdy) and ola (wave). These are pronounced precisely the identical.

An instance with e is echo, the first-person conjugation of echar, a verb which has about 20 meanings however we’ll go together with “to throw away” right here. Then you may have hecho, with a silent h, which means each “reality” and in addition the participle type of hacer (to do or make).


hola, ola

echo, hecho

4. The Y/LL Pitfall

These sounds are pronounced barely in another way. To the untrained, non-native ear, the distinction is hardly discernible.

Arroyo, Arrollo

Arroyo: a small stream or river

Arrollo: the first-person conjugation of arrollar, which implies “to run over, to knock down”

Rayar, Rallar

Rayar: to attract traces, to scribble
Rallar: to grate (cheese, for instance)

5. The C/Z/S pitfall

Right here we’ve got not simply two however three sounds to look out for. With the C/Z/S pitfall, it’s essential that we separate Castillian Spanish (from Spain) from the remainder of the pack.

In Spain, the S makes an English “S” sound, however the C and the Z make an English “th” sounds.

That’s what individuals are speaking about after they affectionately (or mockingly) discuss with the Spanish “lisp” (the actual time period is ceceo, mentioned, after all, with two lisped C’s).

And on account of Spanish phonology, C and Z can by no means seem in the identical letter “slot” of a phrase, so there’s actually no C/Z/S pitfall in (most elements of) Spain.

In Central and South America, and the Canary Islands of Spain, nonetheless, we do see the C/Z/S homophones. The C, Z and S all sound alike—just like the English “s” sound.

So you possibly can by no means fairly inform in case your dialog companion is speaking about his home—casa—or looking, caza. One other instance is ciento (100) versus siento (I really feel).

casa, caza

ciento, siento

How you can Sort out Spanish Homophones

Now we’ve recognized the forms of Spanish homophones. They could appear tough, however don’t despair. There are methods to sort out them that don’t have you ever bowing down in defeat.

Step #1. Examine vocabulary.

It looks as if a no brainer, but when you understand that each the phrases casa and caza exist, you possibly can start to see which one suits higher in context (and I’m keen to wager it’s casa 90% of the time).

Step #2. Context is your greatest pal.

As you start to get fluent within the language, you’ll use contextual clues to fill in vocabulary you’re not accustomed to.

This will even provide help to to decide on which vocabulary makes probably the most sense.

On the newbie stage, you understand that individuals greet you with hola, not ola.

But when the homophone in query is extra sophisticated, or the 2 phrases share the identical a part of speech—two high-level verbs like rayar and rallar, for example—context turns into vastly essential to ascertaining which means.

The extra you hearken to Spanish, the better this turns into.

And it’s even higher when you have subtitles, like those included in all of the movies on FluentU.

Step #3. Deal with the nuances of the Spanish sound system.

Sure Spanish audio system with particular accents pronounce a number of the letters barely in another way.

Deal with whether or not you possibly can hear a tiny, minuscule distinction between the B and the V.

Is one softer than the opposite? Is one sound produced by utilizing the tooth a bit, and never simply each lips?

The nuances of the Spanish sound system additionally prolong to the accents and the geographic areas through which you’re studying or talking Spanish.

The “lisp” ought to offer you an enormous clue if you happen to’re in Spain.

It’s good to familiarize your self with the fundamental guidelines of Spanish in all places, however if you happen to plan on transferring to Ecuador, for instance, learn up on Ecuador’s particular accents and sound system.

Why Study Spanish Homophones?

As massive a ache as it’s to be taught and acknowledge the homophones, it’s a deed that have to be carried out.

Very similar to mastering gender or the plural in Spanish, it’s a step it’s essential to take to achieve fluency. If you happen to can’t be taught to acknowledge homophones in oral communication, you’ll be tripped up in dialog time and time once more.

(Bear in mind to brush up on these listening abilities, and keep on high of your false associates!)

With time, you’ll be taught to deal with contextual clues. However when first beginning, it’s essential to have a psychological checklist of the homophones of a language.


Spanish has far fewer homophones than English. On this respect, it’s a very easy language to review.

The sound system is comparatively uncomplicated, and every letter is assigned one sound, with solely only a few exceptions.

So now that you just’re conscious of probably the most troublesome a part of Spanish pronunciation, all that’s left to do is follow, follow, follow!

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