The Spanish alphabet uses the Latin script with one additional letter: eñe, “ñ”. Altogether, there are 27 letters in the Spanish alphabet. However, things were different up until 2010. Before that, ch and ll were also considered separate letters (making it 29 letters in the alphabet). In 2010, the Royal Spanish Academy officially removed them from the alphabet.
Letters “k” and “w” are considered part of the Spanish alphabet but they are only used in words borrowed from other languages, such as karate, kilo, or waterpolo.
The letter “ç” (c-cedilla) was used in Old Spanish. It is still used in many languages, such as French, Portuguese and others. It is now obsolete in Spanish. It has merged with “z” and Old Spanish coraçon, cabeça, fuerça became modern corazón, cabeza, fuerza.
Another peculiar feature of the Spanish alphabet are vowels marked by acute accents (also called diacritic signs). These are not considered to be separate letters but are used in written texts for two main purposes.
The first purpose is to mark word stress if it does not follow the most common pattern (el examen – los exámenes).
The second purpose is to differentiate words that are otherwise spelled absolutely the same, for instance: tú “you” and tu “your,” sólo “only” (as in “solamente”) and solo “alone”.
Although most of the letters are the same as in English, German and other languages using the Latin script, some of the letters have quite a different pronunciation, compared to other languages:
- The Spanish “b” and “v” are pronounced exactly alike. These two letters have two different sounds. The “hard” b or v (similar to the English b, but less explosive) is used at the beginning of a sentence, after n or m, and sometimes also after d in words such as advertencia (warning). In other cases, the “soft” b or v is used. It is very much similar to the English v, but with the two lips touching instead of the lower lip and upper teeth.
- The letter “j” is pronounced as /x/: Juan, jirafa, juez, jaja (used in texting instead of haha) and so on.
- Double el “ll” is pronounced as /ʝ/ (similar to the first sound in the English word yellow): llamar, amarillo, paella and others.
- The letter “h” is silent, except for loanwords, like hámster.
If your native language uses the Latin script as well, mastering the Spanish alphabet will be relatively easy as the letters are the same and many of them have very similar pronunciation. However, it is still important to study the alphabet carefully as there are some peculiarities (accents, letters like j, ñ, ll that have different pronunciation). If you master the alphabet at the very beginning of studying the language it will save you time further down the road.