The letter G in Spanish can be tricky, because there are four ways to pronounce it.
In this article, I will answer the following questions:
- What are the four ways to pronounce the G in Spanish?
- How do you pronounce each Spanish G sound?
- When do you use each pronunciation?
What are the four ways to pronounce G in Spanish?
There are four ways to pronounce the letter ⟨G⟩ in Spanish:
- /g/ : voiced velar stop
- /ɣ/: voiced velar fricative or approximant
- /h/: voiceless glottal fricative
- /x/: voiceless velar fricative
Please don’t be intimidated by the symbols.
When I use angle brackets around a letter, like this: ⟨G⟩, it just means I’m referring to the written letter.
When I use slashes to enclose a letter, like this: /g/, it just means I’m referring to a sound. And I’m using the international phonetic alphabet symbol to express sounds.
These symbols are helpful because one written letter can have multiple sounds associated with it, depending on the context.
How do you pronounce each one?
Pronouncing /g/ : the voiced velar stop
1) Press the back of your tongue against the soft palate to completely block airflow.
To find your soft palate, slowly crawl your finger through the back of your mouth. Your hard palate will be rigid and bumpy. Keep going until you feel soft tissue. That is your soft palate where you will creating this sound.
2) Build air pressure behind the block point.
If you press the back of your tongue (point number five in the image above) against your soft palate firmly, you’ll block airflow and thus build up pressure
3) Remove your tongue to release burst of air, while voicing.
Make sure you activate your vocal chords (where it says glottis on the image above).
Spanish words where this sound shows up include: “gota, gato, gusto”.
Pronouncing /ɣ/ : the voiced velar fricative or approximant
1) Place the back of your tongue loosely against the soft palate, or close to it without touching.
Touching the soft palate would be a fricative, while coming close without touching would be an approximant.
2) Leave your tongue in position while allowing voiced air to pass through constriction.
So this makes a softer sound than the harder /g/ counterpart.
Spanish word examples include: “agua, jugo, amigo”.
Pronouncing /x/: the voiceless velar fricative
1) Press the back of your tongue firmly against the soft palate.
2) Leave your tongue in position while allowing voiceless air to pass through constriction.
So here, you’re not activating your vocal chords. If you struggle with this sound, I recommend practicing the english “k” sound. It is made at the exact same point in your mouth and it is also voiceless. The only difference is that the “k” is a hard stop, whereas here the air passes between your tongue and soft palate.
Words in Spanish that include this sound: “gente, jorge, gerencia”.
Pronouncing /h/: the voiceless glottal fricative
1) Constrict your vocal chords.
This sound is called a “glottal” fricative because it is made at the vocal chords, or the glottis as pictured above.
2) Allow voiceless air to pass through the constriction.
Again, don’t activate your vocal chords.
Spanish words examples include: “gente, jorge, gerencia”.
Yes, I know these are the same word examples I used above. That’s because those words can be said either way. Keep reading!
When do you use each pronunciation?
When do you use /ɣ/ instead of /g/?
First, understand that /ɣ/ is the “soft” version of /g/.
People are more likely to use /ɣ/ when the ⟨g⟩’ is in the middle of the word, such as “agua,” because it’s smoother and comes out more quickly.
When people speak Spanish fast, they’re often taking these types of shortcuts—making softer, easier sounds.
This means that mastering the /ɣ/ sound is a key to learning to speak Spanish quickly.
Caribbean speakers, in particular, speak quickly and tend to utilize the /ɣ/ sound a lot.
But remember that a single person can alternate between using both sounds, depending on the accent and context.
When do you use /h/ instead of /x/?
Similarly to the example above, /h/ is the “soft” version of /x/.
But in the case, the sound someone will use depends entirely on the accent of speaker.
Mexicans, for example, tend to use /h/ while Spaniards almost always say /x/.
When do you use /g/ (and /ɣ/)?
Use the /g/ and /ɣ/ sounds when the letter ⟨G⟩ comes before ⟨A⟩, ⟨O⟩, or ⟨U⟩. This includes words like “Gato”, “Jugo”, or “Gusto”.
You also use /g/ and /ɣ/ when the /g/ sound precedes /i/ or /e/ sounds. But in this case, you would spell it ⟨Gu⟩. “Guillermo”, or “Guerra” are good examples.
When do you use /x/ (and /h/)?
When the letter ⟨G⟩ comes before the letters ⟨E⟩ and ⟨I⟩, such as in gente, or gimnásio, always use the /x/ or /h/ sound.
The /x/ or /h/ sounds are also used if a ⟨J⟩ or ⟨X⟩ comes before and /a/, /o/ or /u/ sound. Examples include “Javier”, “Julio”, and “Oaxaca”.
Also note that depending on the word, the sound /xi/ can sometimes be written ⟨JI⟩, such as in Jimenez. There’s no hard and fast rule, it’s just something you’ll pick up as you become more familiar with the language.
If this all seems confusing, I’ve created several charts to help you untangle the different sounds.
The column on the left indicates the sound, and the column on right indicates how it is written in Spanish.
Now, here are the sounds in the context of actual words. Again, the column on the left indicates the sound, and the column on the right indicates how it is written in a Spanish word.
And finally, this tree chart below should give you an aerial view of the relationships between the written letters and the sounds they make. So ⟨G⟩, on the left, can represent any of the four sounds in the middle column.
Then, the top two sounds can also be represented by the letters ⟨Gu⟩ and the bottom two sounds can also be represented by ⟨X⟩ or ⟨J⟩.
If you want to hold on to the slides from the video above, feel free to download them here.
And remember, in this article we covered 4 of the Elemental Sounds of Spanish, but there are 35 more.
Want more? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Spanish Pronunciation here.