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 -and at least one of them is i/u (without an accent mark). Example: viernes, bueno, cuidar.
- Triphthong: 3 vowels pronounced in the same syllable. (i/u) + (a/e/o) + (i/u). Closed vowels (i, u) never carry an accent mark. Example: limpiéis, buey, riáis.
Table of contents
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
In this part of the story, Milu was looking for something to eat. He found a piece of cheese (tilde) next to the window and he went for it. 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 the Milu. (As you know, for some strange reason, elephants are afraid of mice).
So Paco run away and Milu got his own house, becoming the protagonist of his own story.
Under normal conditions, Milu’d had invited his girlfriend the mouse into the house but those normal conditions 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.
This means that closed vowels with a tilde (í, ú) get independent of the rest of the vowels and are pronounced stronger.
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.
- 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 closed 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
How to pronounce 3 vowel hiatus
When you see 3 vowels side by side, most likely, they will be pronounced in 2 or 3 different syllables. Triphthongs aren’t very common.
To know how to break down diphthongs, you should put into practice everything you’ve read in this post and in the previous one.
Pay attention to the accent mark; it shows you where is the hiatus.
Examples of hiatus of 3 vowels
a) With 2 open vowels together:
leéis = le.eis
peleáis = pe.le.áis
creéis = cre.éis
2 elephants is too much for 1 little house. They’re too big so they don’t have space enough → hiatus (le.éis, pe.le.áis, cre.éis)
Milu is weak so he needs to stay with Paco→ diphthong (le.éis, pe.le.áis, cre.éis)
b) 1 closed vowel with a tilde in the middle:
bahía = ba.hí.a
huía = hu.í.a
creía = cre.í.a
Super Milu scares the two Pacos, who run away from him –any elephant would be scared by a big mouse like super Milu → hiatus (ba.hí.a, hu.í.a, cre.í.a).
c) 2 closed vowels -the first one carries a tilde.
estaríais = es.ta.rí.ais
haríais = ha.rí.ais
creeríais = cre.e.rí.ais
Once more Paco runs away from Super Milu. But there’s another Milu who’s still weak and have to stay with Paco (es.ta.rí.ais, ha.rí.ais, cre.e.rí.ais).
2 curiosities about hiatus
- Most of the previous words are verbs that already had 2 vowels side by side 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?
Answer in the comments below ⇓⇓⇓
The answer to the previous question (and a hint for today’s question):
“Could you say whether there’s a triphthong in the word huíais and why?”
b) There isn’t any triphthong because:
Triphthongs are formed always by i/u + a/e/o + i/u (there’s one combination with these letters: huíais) but the closed vowels (i, u) of a triphthong never have a tilde.