When talking to someone who is originally from Mexico, España, Venezuela, or any other Spanish-speaking country, you might have noticed that we rarely pronounce letters B and V as they should be pronounced in English.
The reason is that, en español (in Spanish), the difference between those two letters is very subtle, indiscernible even. Therefore, you might agree that our pronunciation of these two letters may give us away as non-native speakers of English.
In this article, we will delve into the similarities and differences that exist in Spanish between la letra beh (letter B) y la letra uh beh (letter V). Among other things, I will share with you tips and tricks about how to pronounce them so that they become your ally and you’re not given away by them as a non-native speaker of Spanish.
How are letters B and V called in Spanish?
Antes que nada (First things first), let’s go over the names of these two letters, but before we do, I’d like to invite you to check out my video about el abecedario, where you’ll learn the names and pronunciation of all the letters in the Spanish alphabet.
Now, officially, letter B is called letra beh and letter V is called uh veh. Pero, en realidad (But the truth is that) the name uh veh is more common in Spain, whereas all other countries are used to calling them beh and veh, respectively. Since they’re pronounced essentially the same way, we make a distinction by adding adjectives that refer to the size of these letters in relation to one another.
For us, Spanish speakers, letter B is obviously taller or bigger than letter V; así que decimos (so we say) beh grande (big b) or b larga (tall b) to refer to letter B, and beh chica (small b), beh corta (short b), beh pequeña or beh chiquita (little b) to refer to letter V… You must be laughing by now. I would be!
Anyway, feel free to choose whichever name you like when spelling out words containing a B or a V. Actually, you’ll discover that if you’re spelling something out and say letra uh veh, in most cases, people will double-check by asking “¿beh chica o beh grande?” or “¿beh larga o beh corta?”. That happens to me all the time when I spell out my last name! So, it will certainly happen to you at some point! ¡Prepárate! (Be ready for it!)
Strategy to differentiate these two letters when spelling out words
Another strategy that is often used by Spanish speakers to differentiate these two letters when spelling words out is by referring to two animals: a donkey and a cow. What?! Why?! Well, that’s because a “donkey” is called “burro” and a “cow” is called “vaca”.
Since burro is spelled with a B and vaca is spelled with a V, we say beh de burro and veh de vaca. You may also use any other word starting with either letter, but most people use these two animals almost always! I guess that’s a fun fact that will help you remember how to refer to each letter, así que no lo olvides (so keep it in mind)!
Now, regardless of the many names Spanish speakers have for these letters, they’re pronounced essentially the same way. Pero debes saber (But you should know) that there are slight differences depending on where either letter is in a word. Knowing and practicing these differences will be key to your pronunciation being like that of a native speaker.
Tips and tricks to pronounce these letters
Bueno, ¿cuál es la diferencia? (So, where is the difference?)
Basically, when letter B or letter V are at the beginning of a word, the sound they both represent is a hard one because the vocal track is blocked and the air flow ceases (us, linguists, call it a plosive sound and it almost resembles the sound of letter B in English).
Let’s go over some examples…
To make things easier, we’ll follow the order of the vowels in our examples. Por cierto (By the way), if you haven’t done so, check out my video about the vowels to learn more about them!
So, we’ve got words like:
- baile (dance)
- beso (kiss)
- bianual (biannual)
- boca (mouth)
- bueno (good)
Now let’s go over palabras que empiezan con uh veh (words starting with letter V):
- vaso (cup)
- velo (veil)
- vela — which is not a feminine veil, but a candle
- vidrio (glass)
- voto (vote)
- voz (voice) — not to be confused with “vos”, a form of address
- vuelo (flight)
Regardless of whether we’re using letter B or letter V, the sound is effectively the same. But why is it deemed to be a hard or strong sound? Well, because when these letters appear in the middle of a word, our lips barely touch and the sound is softer (some people even say it’s lazier).
These are some examples:
- avena (oat)
- centavos (cents)
- trabajar (to work)
Now, the hard sound represented by these two letters remains when they appear next to another consonant como la letra eh meh (letter M), la letra eh leh (letter L) y la letra eh reh (letter R), like the following examples:
- blusa (blouse)
- blanco (white)
- asombroso (wonderful)
- brazo (arm)
- brecha (gap)
Additionally, there are words where both sounds (the hard and the soft) appear. For instance, vivir (to live), bebé (baby), buscaba (I used to look for).
FREE Spanish Training
¡Muy bien! Now you know the similarities and differences between las letras beh grande y beh chica, also called beh larga y beh corta or, simply, beh y uh veh, remember? You also know what you should pay attention to to pronounce them like a native speaker. Si sigues practicando (If you keep on practicing), you won’t have to worry about these letters again.
Antes de despedirme (Before saying goodbye), I’d like to remind you that we, the Spring Spanish teachers, have a whole series of Spanish beginner videos. So, subscribe to our channel and feel free to check out all the videos that we have prepared for you!
Now, if you're ready to take it a step further and get really serious about learning Spanish, we have a free Spanish training on our website where you'll discover the method we use in our Spring Spanish Academy to teach students to speak fluent Spanish. You also get some free sample Spanish lessons there that come straight from our Academy!