The Sounds of the Letters C and Z in Spanish (Part 1)

The pronunciation of the letters ‘c’ and ‘z’ sometimes causes difficulties for non-native Spanish speakers learning the language due to the distinctive regional variations. One variation comes from Latin America, Andalusia and the Canary Islands; the other from the rest of mainland Spain.

“… and one rainy, windy morning this week,  just by the time I was finishing this blog, the computer decided to die of a cyber stroke. Fortunately, a back up copy was done the night before. I am still mourning the sudden departure of my longtime friend and work companion. Computers, contrary to diamonds, are not forever.” 

The Spanish speaking world highlighted in blue colour ©BernardaAlba

The Spanish speaking world highlighted in blue colours © BernardaAlba

The Spanish language is spoken by over 400 million native speakers and it is of no surprise that regional variations occur. I believe that these differences enrich the language and do not provide any real obstacle in effectively communicating across the different regions.

In most of Spain…

When the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowels ‘e’ and ‘i’, the sound is similar to a soft “th” sound in English [1], for example:  c + e: cerrado,  la cerradura Screen shot abierto cerrado Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 12.29.23 PM cerradura Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 2.35.27 PM c + i:  gracias, fácil/difícil, el cisne cisne dibujo cisne Similarly, the English sound ‘th’ is applicable to the letter z followed by any vowels, for example:   z + a:  la zanahoria zanahoria-3 Screen shot 2014-10-23 at 2.45.46 PM z + o:  marzo, el buzón, el zorro/la zorra zorro Screen shot 2014-10-25 at 9.31.03 AM z + u: el azúcar, (el color) azul azul azul Please note: there are only a few words with the combination ‘z’ + ‘e’ and ‘z’ + ‘i’, eg.: z + e: el zenit, Nueva Zelanda Nueva Zelanda z + i: zigurat zigurat zigurat

In Latin America, Andalusia, the Canary Islands and…

The English sound “th” does not exist in the Spanish spoken in Latin America, Andalusia and the Canary Islands. The letter ‘c’ followed by ‘e’ or ‘i’ or the letter ‘z’ followed by vowels are pronounced as the sound ‘s’ in English [2].  The Real Academia Española, the Spanish Royal Academy, states that this variation also appears in certain areas of Murcia and Badajoz and in rural areas of Galicia. It is also used by some social groups in Valencia, Catalonia, Mallorca and the Basque Country, when they speak in Spanish and not their local dialect. This is completely accepted in the “norma culta”, the standard  norm, in Latin America, Andaluzia and Canary Island [3].


A curious student asked me: but what happens when the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowel ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’? Curiosity is a great thing, when learning, it should be something we all encourage. I mentioned the letter ‘c’ followed by ‘e’ and ‘i’ and their variables according to the regions. Now, in this instance: When the letter ‘c’ is followed by the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’ and ‘u’ it has a similar sound as the sound of the letter ‘k’ in English [4], for example: c + a: la casa, la calabaza calaba2 calaba c + o: el coco, comer coco Screen shot 2014-10-25 at 1.51.58 PM c + u: cuatro, la cuchara, el cuchillo


October 2014

[1] This variation is known as ceceo. [2] This variation is known as seseo. [3] See: Diccionario panhispánico de dudas ©2005 – Real Academia Española [4] phoneme K


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About hoxton spanish tutor info

Hi, my name is Adrian Sanchez. I am passionate about words and languages, particularly Spanish, the language I learned at my mother’s knee. I am curious about how languages change and evolve. I am a qualified Spanish Teacher (CLTA) and a journalist. I have taught in literacy campaigns in Latin America and given Spanish tuition in Spain and in the UK. I would like to share some of my thoughts on the Spanish language; and particularly on what I have learned from my students, who in many ways have become my teachers throughout the years. Spanish is a vast and beautiful language and I would like you to accompany me on a journey of discoveries, so I will be presenting two blogs per month and I would like to hear from you. Here is a link to my webpage: You can visit my blog here: Email: Thank you!

5 responses to “The Sounds of the Letters C and Z in Spanish (Part 1)”

  1. Kevin says :

    Very useful, thank you.


  2. conniecockrell says :

    Thank you for visiting so many of my web pages and following my blog. I appreciate it.


  3. Aquileana says :

    In Spain people pronounce S as a Z …

    Here in Argentina we don’t even pronounce Z as Z
    ( We pronounce both Z and s as “s”)…

    Great blog…

    I am a native Spanish speaker, let me know if you need something!.
    All the best to you. Aquileana 😀


    • hoxton spanish tutor info says :

      Dear Aquileana,

      Many thanks for your kind comments. Certainly, there is no uniformity about the pronunciation of the sound ‘s’ across Spain. When I discussed the use of ‘c’ and ‘z’ in my blog, I was very careful to prefix my comments with the heading ‘in most of Spain’. However, I believe that these differences enrich the language and do not provide any real obstacle in effectively communicating across the different regions.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by and for the offer of assistance, which I may well take up sometime. Please keep in touch!

      Kind regards,

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: