Spanish Hiatus – How to pronounce them + Examples
Recognizing Spanish hiatus isn’t as difficult as you think.
Before you read the end of this second part of the article, you’ll have a clear idea on how to recognize hiatus and how to pronounce them.
In the previous post (Diphthongs and Triphthongs), you’ve learned when 2 or 3 vowels should be pronounced in the same syllable.
- Diphthong: 2 vowels pronounced in the same syllable: i/u + any other vowel (or the other way around). Closed vowels (i, u) never carry an accent mark. Example: viernes, causa, cuidar.
- Triphthong: 3 vowels pronounced in the same syllable: (i/u) + (a/e/o) + (i/u). Close vowels (i, u) never carry an accent mark. Example: limpiéis, buey, riáis.
Table of contents
- 1 What is a hiatus?
- 2 How to recognize Spanish hiatus
- 3 Examples of Spanish hiatus
- 4 Resume
- 5 2 curiosities about hiatus
- 6 Exercise
What is a hiatus?
As you might know, Spanish hiatus are two or three vowels which are written side by side but pronounced in separated syllables.
Examples of Spanish hiatus:
caía = ca.í.a
país = pa.ís
búho = bú.ho
How to recognize Spanish hiatus
Read the story below (part 4) to remember easily how to pronounce a hiatus.
But before that: do you remember the story of Paco and Milu?
Read parts 1, 2 and 3 of the story here.
Here’s a short summary, in case you haven’t read it or don’t remember:
Paco is a big and strong elephant and Milu is a tiny mouse who wanted to pursue his own path and get his own home. The problem was that Milu was so hungry and weak that he needed to stay close to Paco to eat his leftovers and get some energy.
Story (part 4): The mouse gets independent
It was Friday. Milu was super hungry so he started looking for something to eat. “Another weekend of hunger” -he thought. It was raining. He looked through the window when suddenly he saw it. A piece of cheese (accent mark)! And it was a big one.
After few bites Milu got very energetic and -like Super Mario when he eats mushrooms- the tiny mouse suddenly grew
(i, u) → (í, ú).
When Paco came back home, he saw Milu. (As you know, for some strange reason, elephants are afraid of mice).
Paco run away and Milu got his own house (syllable), becoming the protagonist of his own story.
Under normal conditions, Milu’d had invited his girlfriend the mouse into the house but the circumstances had changed:
Milu had his own house and a big piece of cheese. And he didn’t want to share any of them so he broke up with his girlfriend. Love for cheese is the strongest love. What a selfish mouse!
This means that close vowels with an accent mark (í, ú) get independent of the rest of the vowels and are pronounced stronger.
How to pronounce 3-vowel hiatus
Triphthongs aren’t very common so when you see 3 vowels side by side, most likely, they will be pronounced in 2 or 3 different syllables.
To know how to break down diphthongs, you should put into practice everything you’ve read in this post and in the previous one.
♣ TIP: the accent mark shows where the hiatus is.
Examples of Spanish hiatus
- Examples with 2 open vowels (a, e, o) + (a, e, o)
paella = pa.e.lla
correo = co.rre.o
barbacoa = bar.ba.co.a
leer = le.er
microhondas = mi.cro.hon.das
- Examples with 1 close vowel with the accent mark (í, ú) + any other vowel (a, e, i, o, u, y)
tío = tí.o
cacatúa = ca.ca.tú.a
policía = po.li.cí.a
meneíto = me.ne.í.to
ataúd = a.ta.úd
caída = ca.í.da
Examples of 3-vowels hiatus
a) 2 open vowels together:
leéis = le.eis
peleáis = pe.le.áis
creéis = cre.éis
Why can’t 2 open vowels be pronounced in the same syllable?
2 elephants (open vowels) don’t fit in 1 little house (syllable) because they’re too big. → hiatus (le.éis, pe.le.áis, cre.éis)
However, Milu (close vowel) is weak and small so he needs to stay with Paco → diphthong (le.éis, pe.le.áis, cre.éis)
b) 1 close vowel with an accent mark:
bahía = ba.hí.a
huía = hu.í.a
creía = cre.í.a
Why is the close vowel 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 would be scared by a big mouse like him. The 2 Pacos aren’t different from the rest of the elephants so when they’ve seen Super Milu, they’ve run away → hiatus (ba.hí.a, hu.í.a, cre.í.a).
c) 2 close vowels separated-the first one carries a tilde.
estaríais = es.ta.rí.ais
haríais = ha.rí.ais
creeríais = cre.e.rí.ais
Once more Paco’s run away from Super Milu. Paco’s entered an empty house -or that’s what he thinks because there’s actually a tiny Milu in the house who’s still weak and needs to stay with Paco (es.ta.rí.ais, ha.rí.ais, cre.e.rí.ais).
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 pronounce them, at least, in 2 different syllables.
2 curiosities about hiatus
- Most of the previous words are verbs that already had a hiatus in their infinitive form: leer, creer, pelear, caer… This kind of verbs can contain up to 4 vowels in a row (leíais, creíais, caíais…).
- Some compound words can have 3 vowels side by side too but they’re very few, for example:
limpiaúñas = lim.pia.ú.ñas
quebrantahuesos = que.bran.ta.hue.sos
Could you say how to pronounce the word huíais and why?
♣ Possible answers:
Answer in the comments below ⇓⇓⇓