B or V?

¡Hola a todos!

Hope you are doing well. This week, I’m going to talk about an orthography and pronunciation topic: B and V in Spanish.


I’ll start with the pronunciation, because is one of the things that drive my students crazy, specially beginners. Why so? Because other languages, such as French or English, make the difference between /b/ and /v/ sound; but this is not what happens in Spanish, according to the RAE (Real Academia Española):

«No existe en español diferencia alguna en la pronunciación de las letras b y v. Las dos representan hoy el sonido bilabial sonoro /b/.»

If you visit the RAE website, you will verify that there’s no difference between B and V, as both are pronounced /b/.

But, why do we have the two letters if we only have one sound? Because of tradition. In Latin, both sounds were differenced, so Spanish kept both graphics in order to stick to Latin.

The RAE explains that there was a time when a difference was made in Spanish between /b/ and /v/, as an influence of English and French, for example, for these languages do distinguish both sounds. Furthermore, some people from Catalonia, Valencia or some places in America may pronounce /v/ due to the influence of the Amerindian or regional languages.

But since 1911, “the Academy explicitly quitted recommending this distinction”, so the pronunciation of B and V in Spanish is absolutely the same: /b/.


Many of my students like jokes and they tell me: “If they are pronounced the same, then I can write everything using only B or V, right?”. The answer is, definitely, NO. Spanish has orthography rules, and these rules are important; also, if you write certain words with B instead of V, for example, they might mean different things.

You can see the general rules for B and V on the attached pictures to this post.

And about those words whose meaning could change depending on the spelling, I give you some of them here, but there are a lot!


  • Baca ≠ Vaca

This is the most common one, I think. When we, Spanish natives, are at school learning how to write and face this two letters, teachers usually write La vaca está en la baca, which means “the cow is on the roof rack”.


  • Barón ≠ Varón

Barón is a baron, a title of nobility; but if you write it with V, you will be talking about a regular man, as varón means “male”.


  • Baya ≠ Vaya

Baya is easy, it’s a berry. But vaya can mean different things: it can be an interjection or the verb ir (to go): present subjunctive 1st person singular, present subjunctive 3rd person singular or imperative 3rd person singular.

You can remember the difference with the sentence ¡Vaya baya he encontrado!


  • Bello ≠ Vello

Something bello (masculine adjective) is something beautiful. A vello is a thin hair, like the one in the arms, or the bloom in a fruit. You can usually listen vello facial referring to the facial hair.

But remember, it is only for the thin hair; the hair in the head is called pelo, melena or cabellera.


  • Botar ≠ Votar

These two verbs are absolutely different: botar means “to bounce” and votar means “to vote”! Of course, all their forms when conjugating must maintain the B or V. It’s not the same to say votamos / botamos, and we must make the difference.


  • Grabar ≠ Gravar

Another example like the previous one: grabar means “to record” or “to engrave”, but gravar means “to levy”.


  • Sabia ≠ Savia

Sabia is an adjective to describe a wise woman (a wise man would be sabio), while savia is the sap, a “liquid transported by the conductive tissue of plants”.


  • Bienes ≠ Vienes

Bienes are goods, the patrimony a person or a company owns; vienes is present 2nd person singular for venir (to come; you come).


  • Cabo ≠ Cavo

Cabo is, among others, a cape, and also the ending part of some objects; cavo is present 1st person singular for cavar (to dig; I dig).

But, warning! Cabo is NOT present 1st person singular for caber (to fit); this form is yo quepo, as it’s an irregular verb for the 1st person.


  • Hierba ≠ Hierva

Hierba is the grass; hierva is present subjunctive 1st or 3rd person singular for hervir (to boil).


  • Tubo ≠ Tuvo

Tubo is a tube, a pipe; tuvo is simple perfect past 3rd person singular for tener (to have; he had).


Do you know other pair of words whose pronunciation is the same but their meaning is completely different? Write them below!

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¡Hasta la próxima!

Publicado en Orthography.

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