Let’s talk about when to use the letter V vs. the letter B in Spanish and how to avoid common Spanish spelling errors. There was one thing that used to always confuse me when I first started learning Spanish:
When To Use V vs. B in Spanish
When hearing a Spanish word for the first time, and you have never seen the word written before and the word has a “b” or “v” sound, how do you know if you should spell the word with the letter “b” or the letter “v.”
Unlike in English, where the English letters “b” and “v” have distinct sounds, in general, the Spanish “b” and “v” are pronounced exactly the same.
I remember a few years ago in “Nueva York” (New York City) when I went with a friend to buy a cell phone and the salesman in the cell phone store was a native Spanish speaker.
I am not sure from which country, but I believe that he was from “La República Dominicana” because the neighborhood in the Bronx where the cellphone store was located was a “barrio” (neighborhood) that was mainly Dominican and Puerto Rican.
The salesman had learned enough English to obtain a sales job where it may be necessary for him to speak English. And I remember him telling my friend in English that the cell phone had “video.”
But he did not pronounce the English word “video.” He pronounced the Latin American Spanish word “Video” with the word beginning with a “B” sound as in “boy” instead of a “V” sound.
And I remember my friend asking him over and over again “the cell phone has what?” and the sales guy kept saying “the cellphone has bideo.”
My friend must have asked the sales guy 4 or 5 times “the cell phone has what?” And the sales guy must have replied 4 or 5 times “the cellphone has bideo.”
Finally, I got bored with the Abbott and Costello routine and explained to my friend that the salesman said that “the cell phone has video.”
So if the Spanish “b” and “v” are pronounced exactly the same how do you know or how do native Spanish speakers even know how to spell a word in Spanish that has the letter “b” sound or “v” sound.
By the way, the general rule (according to the Spanish textbooks) of pronunciation say that at the beginning of a word and after the letters “m” or “n”, the Spanish “b/v” sounds more like the “b” in the English word “boy.”
In other instances, the “b/v” is pronounced like an English “b” in which the lips are not allowed to touch.
With that said I can tell you that I have seen posts at learning-Spanish forums from English speakers who have said that they have heard some Spanish speakers pronounce “votella” (bottle) instead of “botella.” And I have used self-study Spanish courses where the speakers sounded as if they were actually pronouncing “vamos” (“let’s go” how it is actually spelled) instead of “bamos” (“let’s go” how it would be pronounced according to the above rule.)
And I have heard Spanish speakers pronounce “ya vuelvo” (I will be right back) instead of pronouncing “ya buelvo” (how it would be pronounced according to the above rule.)
But the objective of this blog post is NOT to determine when to use a “b” sound or a “v” sound in Spanish — but to tell you how to tell someone how to spell a word in Spanish that has the letter “b” or “v.”
The rule is very simple . . .
If the word has the letter “B” in it then you say “B grande” (big B). You can also say “B larga” (long B).
If the word has the letter “V” in it then you say “V pequeña” (little V). You can also say “V corta” (short V).
In Colombia, instead of saying “B grande” or “B larga” it is common to hear people say “B de Bogotá.” I guess in Spain it is common to hear people say “B de Barcelona.”
Before I go I want to give you SEIS (6) tips for you that are related to this topic:
1. In Latin America where the Spanish is more Americanized the English word and the Spanish word “video” are spelled the same. That is “video.” And the accent is put on the next to last syllable of the word.
In Spain, the word is spelled and pronounced with the accent on the first syllable or on the
letter “i” as in “vídeo.”
2. The Spanish verb for “to spell” is “deletrear.”
En la clase de español deletreamos unas palabras para aprender su pronunciación.”
In Spanish class, we spelled a few words in order to learn pronunciation.
3. To ask someone “how do you spell it” you can just ask “¿Cómo se escribe?”
4. All “letras” (letters) in the Spanish alphabet are feminine. For example, one says or writes: la a, la b larga, la c, la d, la v corta, etc.
5. Besides letter of the alphabet, “letra” also means “handwriting.”
Yo escribo con una letra muy redonda y elegante.
I write with a very circular and elegant handwriting.
By the way, a really fancy Spanish word that you may hear for handwriting is “caligrafía.”
You can just think of the Spanish word “caligrafía” as the equivalent to the English word calligraphy.”
5. Besides letter of the alphabet, “letra” also means “lyrics of a song.”
A Common Gringo Pitfall To Avoid
In Spanish you do not refer to the words of a song as “palabras” (words).The words of a song are called “letra” (lyrics).
Se me olvidó la letra de esa canción.
I forgot the lyrics of that song.