g in spanish

How to Pronounce G in Spanish: Pronunciation Guide + Examples

Compared to other languages, the Spanish alphabet (and pronunciation) isn’t particularly hard. However, some consonants can still be tricky for Spanish students, like rolling your rs, the ll in Spanish… and the topic of this article: pronouncing the G in Spanish.

Take a look at the Spanish alphabet in this Spring Spanish video and pay special attention to the pronunciation of G in Spanish.

As you have probably already noticed, certain consonants, like G, can be tricky because their pronunciation varies depending on the part of the word where they are used, the vowel that follows them, and the Spanish variety that is being spoken. Sometimes the G phoneme can be confused with Spanish J, which presents the exact same pronunciation in certain cases. Today we will answer some key questions about how to pronounce G in Spanish.

Important: this blog post is a bit theoretical. Obviously, the easiest way to know how to pronounce the letter G in Spanish words and sentences is by actually hearing it. I recommend you use a pronunciation dictionary like Forvo.

To practice, I recommend a service like Speechling where coaches rate your pronunciation and give you feedback so you can improve. They have a free version; for unlimited feedback, make sure to use the code LUKASV to get 10% off your subscription for life 🙂

The four ways to pronounce G in Spanish

When it comes to G words in Spanish, the character G offers two main different pronunciations depending on the character’s location in a word and on the character that follows. All Spanish speaking countries have a soft Spanish G and a hard Spanish G. Yet, within these two groups, in different Spanish speaking areas, soft and hard G may be pronounced differently.

Two ways to pronounce the soft Spanish G

Soft G words in Spanish are the ones in which G is followed by either a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or by certain consonants (r, l, n, m). We can find this soft sound in words that start with Spanish G, and also when the combination of letters occurs in the middle or at the end of a word. Two different soft sounds are possible here.

Voiced velar stop: represented by the phonetic symbol /g/. It generally occurs when G appears at the beginning of a word.

Voiced velar fricative: represented by the symbol /ɣ/. The sound is softer than /g/. In all Spanish varieties this is the usual sound when G is found between two vowels, in words containing /güe/ and /güi, and in fast speaking. In the Caribbean in particular, it is the preferred pronunciation wherever G has a soft sound.

G + vowels

CombinationExampleSound representationSimilar to EnglishNotes
GA
Gallina (hen)
Agallas (guts)
Apaga (turns off)

/g/
voiced velar stop
gun, gather


GUE

Gueto (ghetto)
Aguerrido (brave)
Pague (Present Subjunctive of “pay”)
/g/
voiced velar stop
ghetto, get
The vowel /u/ is silent in this case. It sounds like ghetto or gear.

GUI

Guiar (to guide)
Aguijón (sting)
Conseguí (I obtained)
/g/
voiced velar stop
gift, guitarThe vowel /u/ is silent in this case. It sounds like ghetto or gear.

GO
Golpe (blow)

Angosto (narrow)

Hago (I make)
/g/
voiced velar stop

/ɣ/ voiced velar fricative (after the consonant /n/)
got, God

GU

Gustar (to like)

Angustia (anguish)
/g/
voiced velar stop
/ɣ/ voiced velar fricative (after the consonant /n/)

good, guru



GÜE

Güey (Mexico, twerp)

Ungüento (ointment)

Desagüe (drain)
/ɣ/ voiced velar fricative (a bit softer than /g/)When the /u/ carries a dieresis, it must be pronounced. It’s similar to the English pronunciation of penguin (-wee)



GÜI


Pingüino (penguin)
Lingüística (Linguistics)
/ɣ/ voiced velar fricative (a bit softer than /g/)When the /u/ carries a dieresis, it must be pronounced. It’s similar to the English pronunciation of penguin (-wee)

G + Consonants

These clusters can never occur in the final position; /gn/ and /gm/ only appear in the middle of a word.

CombinationExampleSound representationSimilar to EnglishNotes
G + consonants
These clusters can never occur in the final position; /gn/ and /gm/ only appear in the middle of a word.
G + consonants
These clusters can never occur in the final position; /gn/ and /gm/ only appear in the middle of a word.
G + consonants
These clusters can never occur in the final position; /gn/ and /gm/ only appear in the middle of a word.
G + consonants
These clusters can never occur in the final position; /gn/ and /gm/ only appear in the middle of a word.
G + consonants
These clusters can never occur in the final position; /gn/ and /gm/ only appear in the middle of a word.
GR
Gratis (free)
Agraciado (graceful)
/g/
voiced velar stop
GL
Globo (balloon)
Aglutinar (bind together)
/g/
voiced velar stop
Gloom, glam
GN
Agnóstico (agnostic)
Magnético (magnetic)
/g/
voiced velar stop
Both, /g/ and /n/ are pronounced in Spanish.
GMMagma (magma)
Diafragma (diaphragm)
/g/
voiced velar stop
Both, /g/ and /m/ are pronounced in Spanish.

Notice the difference between GUE, GUI and GÜE, GÜI:

In GUEGUI, G is pronounced /g/ and the vowel /u/ is silent. Guerra sounds just like get in English, and /u/ is not pronounced.

In GÜEGÜI, the dieresis (those two little dots on top of /u/) indicates that you must pronounce the vowel /u/. Pingüino sounds just like penguin in English, and /u/ is pronounced. Here, the sound of G is /ɣ/.

Two ways to pronounce the hard Spanish G

The consonant G has a hard pronunciation, similar to jarra (jar) in Spanish or to harkelyd in Norwegian. Two phonetic symbols can represent this sound: /x/ and /h/ The use of one or the other depends on the Spanish variety that is being spoken.

Spanish G and J have the exact same pronunciation when G is followed by E or I without an intermediate /u/, like in gente /xente/ (people) or gitano /xitano/ (gipsy). This pronunciation is used when GE – GI occurs at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word.

Hard G in Spanish

CombinationExampleSpain, most of Latin AmericaCentral America, the Caribbean
GEGeranio (geranium)
Agente (agent)
Protege (protects)

/x/ Voiceless velar fricative

Similar to Norwegian harkelyd. English doesn’t have this sound.
/h/ Voiceless glottal fricative

Similar to English /h/ in hen or hat.
GIGigante (giant)
Ágil (agile)
Protegí (I protected)
/x/ Voiceless velar fricative

Similar to Norwegian harkelyd. English doesn’t have this sound.
/h/ Voiceless glottal fricative

Similar to English /h/ in hen or hat.

As you can see, the sounds /x/ and /h/ are used in different Spanish-speaking areas. The Spanish G is pronounced as /h/ in the Caribbean area and in some countries in Central America. In certain regions of Spain, the /x/ sound can be very guttural and thus sound even harder.

Conclusion

The G in Spanish can be pronounced in many different ways. While this article gives you a strong theoretical foundation, the best way to get better at pronouncing Spanish sounds is listening a lot to Spanish native speakers, for example in Spanish podcasts (so your brain absorbs the correct pronunciation) and speaking a lot yourself (so your muscles get used to pronouncing the g in Spanish and other sounds correctly).

In other words: first listen, then speak.

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