How to Pronounce ‘X’ in Spanish

Letter X On Interior At Miami Airport
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You may have noticed that the Spanish x is sometimes pronounced like the English x, but sometimes like the English s. If so, you might be wondering: Are there rules about when it is pronounced as an "x" and when it's pronounced as an "s"?

‘X’ Between Vowels

Due to regional variations, there aren't any rules that hold true throughout the Spanish-speaking world. In general, however, when between vowels (as in exactamente) the Spanish x is pronounced like the English "ks" sound but softer or less explosive.

‘X’ Before Another Consonant

When it comes before another consonant (as in expedición), it has the "s" sound in some regions/countries but the soft "ks" sound in others. In some areas, the letter's pronunciation before a consonant varies from word to word. The only way to know for sure is to listen to someone speaking with the regional accent you wish to emulate.

Words Beginning with ‘X’

When a word begins with x (there aren't many such words, and most are English cognates), it is usually given the "s" sound, not the "z" sound of English. Thus a word like xenofobia sounds the same as if it were spelled senofobia.

‘X’ in Mexican Place Names

In some Mexican place names, indeed in the name of México itself, the x is pronounced the same as the Spanish letter (or the english h). "Oaxaca," for example, sounds like "Wa-HA-ka."

‘X’ with a ‘Sh’ Sound

Making matters more confusing is that in a few words of Catalan, Basque or indigenous American origin the x is pronounced like the English "sh." This is especially common in southern Mexican and Central American place names. The No. 2 city of Guatemala, for example, is Xela, pronounced something like "SHEL-lah."

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Erichsen, Gerald. "How to Pronounce ‘X’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Erichsen, Gerald. (2023, April 5). How to Pronounce ‘X’ in Spanish. Retrieved from Erichsen, Gerald. "How to Pronounce ‘X’ in Spanish." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).