If you’re starting to learn Spanish, you might have noticed that some Spanish sounds are completely different from English sounds.
That’s the case of the consonant J in Spanish.
J’s is exactly the same when combined with all vowels (ja, je, ji, jo, ju) but the pronunciation of the letter J in different countries (and even within one country) may differ a lot.
If you want to learn more about the letter Jota, check out the complete Spanish Alphabet video by Spring Spanish! Spring Spanish is a course project by the Spring Languages websites (of which I’m a co-founder of) that specializes in teaching foreign languages through Conversation Based Chunking and radionovelas.
In this article we will learn how J is pronounced throughout the Spanish-speaking world, as well as the differences between J and G, and J and H in Spanish.
1. How to Pronounce the Letter J in Spanish
The Spanish consonant J or “jota”, is the tenth letter in the Spanish alphabet.
Its sound differs a lot from English.
Actually, the English J is more like ll in Spanish:
- lluvia – rain
- llave – key
- llegar – to arrive
- llamada – phone call
- llorar – to cry
or the Y in Spanish
- yacaré – caiman
- yate – yacht
- yoga – yoga
- yeso – plaster
- yema – yolk
Yet, when Spanish “borrows” foreign words, they maintain the English sound.
Some examples are:
J always occurs in front of vowels, and its accent is the same at the beginning, the middle or the end of a word.
Only a few Spanish words end in j:
- reloj – clock
- boj – boxwood
- cambuj – hood
- troj – granar
J in Spanish at the Beginning, in the Middle and at the End of the Word
|JArra (jar)||PiJAma (pyjamas)||NavaJA (razor clam)|
|JErga (jargon)||AJEno (else’s)||BrebaJE (concoction)|
|JIrafa (giraffe)||PróJImo (neighbour)||AJÍ (bell pepper)|
|JOta (j)||OJOta (flip-flop)||TrabaJO (work)|
|JUgar (play)||AJUstar (adjust)||AlaJÚ (pastry sweet)|
Broadly speaking, the letter J presents two different types of delivery within the Spanish-speaking world: a softer aspirated, similar to English /h/ in “ham”, and a hard, harsher sound, similar to that of the Scottish word “loch”.
Let’s look at some words that start with J and then analyze separately based on soft or hard vocalization!
2. Spanish Words That Start With J
Learning how to say this letter is just one step closer to speaking the language like a native speaker.
Words That Start With J + Examples
|jabón||soap||Necesito comprar jabón para lavar la ropa.|
(I need to buy soap to wash the clothes.)
|jardín||garden||Me gusta leer en el jardín cuando hace sol.|
(I like to read in the garden when it’s sunny.)
|joven||young||Mi hermano es más joven que yo.|
(My brother is younger than me.)
|joya||jewel||Esta joya es muy valiosa y antigua.|
(This jewel is very valuable and old.)
|jugar||to play||Los niños juegan al fútbol en el parque.|
(The children play soccer in the park.)
|juez||judge||El juez dictó la sentencia ayer.|
(The judge issued the sentence yesterday.)
|julio||July||Mi cumpleaños es en julio.|
(My birthday is in July.)
|junta||board, meeting||La junta directiva se reúne cada mes.|
(The board of directors meets every month.)
|jirafa||giraffe||La jirafa es el animal más alto del mundo.|
(The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world.)
|jengibre||ginger||Me gusta tomar té de jengibre cuando estoy resfriado.|
(I like to drink ginger tea when I have a cold.)
3. Where is the Sound of the Letter J Soft?
Spanish soft J is represented by the phoneme /x/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
This accent for J is common in the Southern Spanish Peninsula, Canary Islands and Central America.
The Spanish soft J is similar to that of /h/ in “hello” or “hammock”.
Try to say these words reproducing the /h/ sound for “j”:
Jabón /xab’on/ – /habón/. (soap)
Dibujo /di’buxo/ – /dibúho/ (drawing)
Jefe (x’efe/ – /héfe/ (boss)
4. When is it Pronounced Like a Hard J?
The second J is harder and more vibrant, similar to that of the Scottish word loch.
It tends to be difficult for English speakers to articulate this, because no English sound resembles it. The hard J is represented by /χ/ in IPA, and it is used in Northern, Eastern, and Central Spain as well as in Mexico and South America.
Repeat these words trying to use the “-ch” sound in “loch”.
Jabón / χab’on/ – (soap)
Dibujo /di’buχo/ – (drawing)
Jefe (χ’efe/ – (boss)
5. Differences Between J and G in Spanish: Spelling + Examples
The consonant J is vocalized the same in front of all vowels, and in all positions in the words. It shares the exact same action with the consonant G, when G occurs in front of -e and -i.
Differences Between J in Spanish and G in Spanish
|Placement in the word||JE||GE|
|First syllable||Jeringa (syringe)||Germinar (germinate)|
|Middle syllable||Cajero (cashier)||Detergente (detergent)|
|Final syllable||Paraje (spot)||Imagen (image)|
|Placement in the word||JI||GI|
|First syllable||Jilguero (goldfinch)||Gitano (Gypsy)|
|Middle syllable||Ajito (little garlic)||Agito (I shake)|
|Final syllable||Cojín (cushion)||Elogiad (You, praise, imperative)|
In all of these words, both /j/ and /g/ have the same articulation.
But, remember that it may be pronounced with a soft or a hard J depending on the area.
6. Differences between J and H in Spanish: A Pronunciation Guide
While the Spanish J is like the English sound H of “hit” or “hat” in some areas, when we see the consonant H actually written in a word, it is silent in Spanish, i.e., you vocalize the word as if the H weren’t there.
Let’s compare them!
Differences Between J in Spanish and H in Spanish
|Words with J||Pronunciation|
|JALO la puerta.|
I pull the door.
|/’xalo/ (soft j)/χalo/ (hard j)|
|Compro una JOYA.|
I buy a jewel.
|/’xoʝa/ (soft j)/’χoʝa/ (hard j)|
|Words with H||Pronunciation|
|El HALO del sol. |
The sun’s halo.
|El pueblo está en una HOYA.|
The town is in a broad valley.
|/’oʝa / (silent)|
Spanish Words With J – Examples
7. Download our CBC Starter Pack For the Best Language Learning Tips
You can use the tables above to practice these words and their meanings, and try to use them in your own sentences.
If you want to take your Spanish skills to the next level, you should also learn how to use them in real talk.
Conversation Based Chunking is a method that helps you observe and absorb the patterns and chunks that native speakers use in real-life conversations, without having to memorize grammar rules or translate in your head.
If you are interested in learning more about this method, you can check out some of the resources below.