In the previous post on the Spanish alphabet, we saw that most of the letters of the Spanish alphabet have only one pronunciation (one letter equals one sound). However, there are some letters which change the sound depending on the vowels they go with. Today we will focus on a group of them, related to the pronunciation of C in Spanish.
To study the pronunciation of C in Spanish, the easiest thing is to start with the consonants that are similar to it. “K” is always pronounced the same way, regardless of the vowel it goes with. The sound is /k/. It is seldom used, and mostly for words which do not come from romance languages (such as “koala” or “karate”). “Z”, is also always pronounced the same way, with a /θ/ (except in some regions of Latin America, the Canary Islands and the south of Spain, where it is pronounced /s/).
The real problem with the pronunciation of C in Spanish is that the letter C is sometimes pronounced as a k (/k/), and sometimes it is pronounced as a Z (/θ/). It may seem confusing, but it is in fact very easy. It is pronounced /k/ when it goes with “a”, “o”, and “u” (as in “casa”, “cosa”, and “cuchillo”), and it is pronounced /θ/ when it goes with “e” and “i” (as in “cerca” and “bici”).
Then, how can we make the /k/ sound without using the letter K? Very easy: with the Q. The Q is a funny letter in the Spanish alphabet because it can be combined only with two vowels (“e”, and “i”), and it must always have a silent “u” next to it. Then, the only two possible combinations with Q in Spanish are “que” and “qui” (as in “queso” and “quiero”), which are pronounced /ke/ and /ki/ (the “u” is silent).
As you have seen, you only have to pay attention to a couple of details in order to master the pronunciation of C in Spanish. Now it’s time to download this grammar exercise to practice. If you need more grammar explanations, have a look at our Spanish grammar book, which helps you understand the Spanish grammar with few explanations and many schemes. And, of course, we invite you to visit our Spanish school in Madrid to go deeper into the study of the Spanish language!