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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. They can be pronounced 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.

Let’s see the 2 ways of pronouncing the letters B and V.

1. Hard B and V 

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

When + Examples

Tips to 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.

The hard B has a dry sound.

It’s softer than the English B. which is more sudden and clear than the Spanish B.

The sound is produced just when your lips get open.

It sounds similar to baby, chamber and embrace -but softer.

It doesn’t sound like in baby and book.

2. Soft B and V

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

When + Examples

Tips to pronounce SOFT B and SOFT 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*.

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 V [β], you do it with your upper and lower lip, not with your teeth.

This sound doesn’t exist in English.

Could you say 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…
Bala Pala
Becar Pecar
Barra Parra
Bazo Pazo
An English native sais/understand… A Spaniard understands/sais…
Bear Pear
Boot Put
Bin Pin
Bull Pull

7 different names for the letters B and V

Since I can remember, we call «be» to letter B and «uve» to 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»

(big B, high B or long B).

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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