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How to pronounce the letters B and V in Spanish?

Lots of kids have spelling problems with the letters B and V because they sound the same in Spanish. Native speakers pronounce the letter B and the letter V in 2 different ways -and none of them is exactly the same as in English.

Actually, English B sounds similar to Spanish letter P.

Still, people usually don’t work on the sounds of these 2 letters because Spanish natives can normally guess what you mean if you pronounce them as in English. However, letters V and B are those kinds of letters which tell a Spanish native speaker that you aren’t one of them and may cause some misunderstandings.

In this post we’ll see:

  • The 2 ways to pronounce the letters B and V in Spanish.
  • How to pronounce each of the 2 sounds and some tips.
  • When to say each of the sounds.
  • Examples of Spanish words with V and B.

What are the 2 ways to pronounce B and V in Spanish?

  1. [b] – the sound is similar to English B.
  2. [β] – this sound doesn’t exist in English.

1. HARD B and HARD V 

Their symbol, according to the IPA, is [b].

Tips to pronounce HARD B and HARD V

  • They’re softer than the English B. which is more sudden and clear than the Spanish B. They sound similar to baby, chamber and embrace -but softer.
  • They don’t sound like the letter B in baby or book.

When should I pronounce HARD B and HARD V?

1. At the beginning of the word.
barco, beso, bien, bueno.
vivir, viento, volar.

2. -mb-
hambre, cambio, hombre, lombriz

3. After N.

Vive en Barcelona.
Lo hice con buena intención.

¡Tiene un barco enorme!

envidia, envolver, invierno
Quiero una tarta con velas.

2. SOFT B and SOFT V

Their symbol, according to the IPA, is [β] and this sound doesn’t exist in English.

Tips to pronounce SOFT B and SOFT V

  • Your lips are not hermetically sealed.
  • The sound is produced by letting a trickle of air escape from your mouth, as you do when you pronounce the English V. The difference is that, when you pronounce the Spanish SOFT B and SOFTV [β], your teeth don’t make any function. You produce the sound with your upper and lower lip.

When should I pronounce HARD B and HARD V?

1. In the middle of the word.
abrir, hablar, abuelo, sabor.
cava, ave, uva, calavera.

2. In the middle of the sentence.

Me gustaría ir a Barcelona en barco.
Te mereces una  buena recompensa.
El barco no puede zarpar.

Viví en Nueva York mucho tiempo.
Al volver del viaje vi a un viejo amigo*.

Could you guess why the letter B in «en barco» and the letter V in «un viejo amigo« don’t sound soft, like the rest of B’s and V’s in the examples?

It’s because before the letters V and B there’s an N (un viejo, en barco). The letter B and the letter V are generally pronounced softly when they’re in the middle of the word or sentence, except after N and M.

Go back to to the previous sound ( [b] ).

Common misunderstandings with the letters B and V

When a Spaniard speaks in Spanish and say a word which starts with [p] (pala, pecar, parra, pazo), English natives might think we are saying a word which starts with the sound [b] and the other way around.

As you know, this occurs because the Spanish P sounds closer to English B.
(See how to pronounce the letter P in Spanish).

An English native sais/understands…A Spaniard understands/sais…
BalaPala
BecarPecar
BarraParra
BazoPazo
An English native sais/understand…A Spaniard understands/sais…
BearPear
BootPut
BinPin
BullPull

7 different names for the letters B and V

Since I can remember, we call «be» to the letter B and «uve» to the letter V in Spain. However, it wasn’t an official name.

In Latin America, they used to call the letter B:

  • be grande
  • be alta or
  • be larga

And the letter V was/is known as:

  • ve chica or
  • be corta

(small or short V).

Now, these 2 letters have an official name: «be» and «uve».

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