Spanish Hiatus – Examples + When to Separate the Vowels
Have you ever tried to say a Spanish word but it sounded weird and you didn’t know why?
For years I tried to say in English the word “pronunciation” accurately. I used to produce every single sound quite clearly but the word still sounded strange and I didn’t understand the reason.
I wasn’t able to say that word without such a terrible Spanish accent.
Nobody told me that I was doing wrong.
If you say a Spanish word, it sounds weird, and you don’t understand why; there are 3 possible reasons.
This is what you'll find in this post
- The 3 reasons why you probably sound strange
- Why I did that?
- What is a hiatus?
- How to identify Spanish hiatus
- Examples of Spanish hiatus with 2 vowels
- How to pronounce 3-vowel hiatus
The 3 reasons why you probably sound strange
- You’re pronouncing wrong some sound. Learn how to produce every Spanish sound here.
- You’re adding vowels where they don’t belong.
- You’re separating vowels in different syllables (hiatus) or putting them together (diphthong or triphthong) when it doesn’t correspond.
That’s what I’m going to explain to you: when to pronounce the Spanish vowels in different syllables.
One day I was watching a YouTube video. They were talking about pronunciation. I heard that word many times before I realized why I was saying it wrong.
But I finally did.
This is what I was saying:
(Joining the 2 vowels: diphthong)
This is how it’s pronounced:
(Separating the vowels: hiatus)
Why I did that?
In Spanish, we say /pro.nun.cia.ción/, putting the vowels together.
I was following the Spanish pronunciation patterns so I had a terrible accent. I still have an accent and I’ll always have an accent. But now, people understand me and I don’t need to repeat myself.
Hiatus and diphthongs are a very important part of the pronunciation of any language.
Knowing when to pronounce the vowels in the same or different syllables will make your speech more clear and fluent. And it is easier than you think.
By the end of this post, you’ll have a clear idea of how and when to join vowel sounds.
- Diphthong: 2 vowels pronounced in the same syllable (viernes, causa, cuidar).
- Triphthong: 3 vowels pronounced in the same syllable (limpiéis, buey, riáis).
What is a hiatus?
As you might know, Spanish hiatus is 2 or 3 vowels that are written side by side but pronounced in separated syllables.
Examples of Spanish hiatus:
How to identify Spanish hiatus
But before that: do you remember Alberto and Milu?
Here’s a short summary of parts 1, 2 and 3 of the story. However, if you haven’t read them, I recommend you do it. Otherwise, you won’t understand part 4.
Alberto is a big strong elephant and Milu is a tiny weak mouse who wants to live in his own house. The problem is that Milu is hungry and weak so he needs to stay close to Alberto to eat his scraps leftovers and get some energy.
Story (part 4) – Milu’s independence
It was Friday evening. Milu was super hungry so he started looking for something to eat. “Another weekend of hunger” -he thought.
It was raining. He looked towards the window when he suddenly saw it. A piece of cheese (tilde)! And it was a big one.
Milu ran to the cheese.
After a few bites, Milu got very strong and energetic. And, like Super Mario when he eats mushrooms, the tiny mouse suddenly grew.
(i, u) → (í, ú).
When Alberto came back home, he saw Milu. (As you know, for some strange reason, elephants are afraid of mice)*.
*(I recently found out this is because elephants are afraid that mice get stuck in their trunk).
Alberto ran away and Milu got his own house (syllable), becoming the only protagonist of his own story.
Under normal conditions, Milu’d had invited his mouse girlfriend into the house but the circumstances had changed:
The cheese makes Milu bigger. But it also makes him selfish. Milu had his own house and a big piece of cheese, and he didn’t want to share any of them.
Love for cheese is the strongest love.
So Milu broke up with his girlfriend.
This means that closed vowels with a tilde (í, ú) get independent of the rest of the vowels: they’re pronounced stronger and separated from the other vowels.
“Vivir en Escocia“ (Scotland) is much better than “Vivir en escocía“ (stinging).
Examples of Spanish hiatus with 2 vowels
- Hiatus with 2 open vowels (a, e, o) + (a, e, o)
(2 elephants [a, e, o] don’t fit in one house)
- Hiatus with (í/ú) + any other vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u, y)
(The elephant gets scared and runs aways from the mouse)
How to pronounce 3-vowel hiatus
Triphthongs aren’t very common in the Spanish language so when you see 3 vowels side by side, most likely, they will be pronounced in 3 different syllables. Or 2.
veían- ve-í-an (3 syllables)
creíamos – cre-í-a.mos (3 syllables)
leéis – le-éis (2 syllables)
Examples of 3-vowels hiatus
a) 2 open vowels side by side
When you find 2 open vowels side by side, they are pronounced in 2 different syllables:
Why can’t 2 open vowels be pronounced in the same syllable?
2 elephants (open vowels: a, e, o) don’t fit in 1 little house (syllable). They’re too big so each elephant needs its own house → Hiatus.
The 2 open vowels are pronounced separated (le-éis, le-áis, ve-áis).
However, when Milu (closed vowel) is weak and small, he needs to stay with Alberto → Diphthong.
1 open + 1 closed vowel (without accent mark) are pronounced in the same syllable (le-éis, le-áis, ve-áis).
b) 1 close vowel with an accent mark
Why is the close vowel (í/ú) pronounced in a different syllable this time?
What you see this time is not Milu (i/u). It’s Super Milu (í/ú).
Any elephant (open vowel) would be scared by a big mouse like him.
Alberto isn’t different from the rest of the elephants so every time he sees a Super Milu, Alberto runs away → Hiatus (ba-hí-a, hu-í-a, cre-í-a).
To recognize a hiatus you only have to answer 2 questions:
1. Are there 2 open vowels?
2. Is there any í/ú (with the accent mark)?
If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then you should split those vowels in different syllables.
Elephants can’t live together (a, e, o) and Super Milu (í, ú) wants the house only for him.