Grammar Guide
Language Basics
How to Pronounce "C" and "Z" in Spanish

How to Pronounce "C" and "Z" in Spanish

Quick Answer
  • The letter c in Spanish can be pronounced like the k in the English word kick, the s in the English word sun, or the th in the English word thing.
  • The letter z in Spanish can be pronounced like the the s in the English word sun or the th in the English word thing.

C in Spanish

  • The letter c in Spanish is pronounced like the k in the English word kick:

    • before the letter a, as in carro (car),
    • before the letter o, as in coco (coconut),
    • before the letter u, as in cuna (crib),
    • before another c, as in the word dirección (address).
  • The letter s in Spanish is pronounced like the s in the English word sun by speakers of Latin American Spanish:

    • before the letter e, as in centavo (cent),
    • before the letter i, as in cisne (swan).
  • The letter s in Spanish is pronounced like the th in the English word thing by most speakers of Castilian Spanish (the Spanish spoken in Spain):

    • before the letter e, as in centavo (cent),
    • before the letter i, as in cisne (swan).

The Canary Effect

Speakers from Andalucía (Andalusia) and las Islas Canarias (The Canary Islands), two regions of Spain, pronounce the letters c and z just like speakers from Latin America (that is, they never use a th sound). In fact, Latin American Spanish owes its pronunciation of these letters to early Spanish explorers from Andalucía and las Islas Canarias who brought their language and particular pronunciation to the Caribbean and the Americas. This spread of the Andalusian/Canary Islands accent to the New World is known as "The Canary Effect."

Z in Spanish

  • The letter z in Spanish is pronounced like the s in the English word sun by speakers of Latin American Spanish.

  • The letter z in Spanish is pronounced like the th in the English word thing by most speakers of Castilian Spanish.

Fancy Terms

Seseo - This term is used to refer to the pronunciation of the letter z and the letter c when it comes before e or i like the s in sun. Seseo is the norm for speakers of Latin American Spanish and speakers of some Spanish regions like Anadalusia and The Canary Islands.

Ceceo - This term is used to refer to the pronunciation of the letter z and the letter c when it comes before e or i like the th in thing. Ceceo is the norm for most speakers from Spain.

Seseo vs. Ceceo

Let's take a look at how speakers from different regions pronounce words containing c and z!

WordLatin American Pronunciation (seseo)Castilian Pronunciation (ceceo)
carro (car)c sounds like English kc sounds like English k
coro (chorus)c sounds like English kc sounds like English k
Cupido (Cupid)c sounds like English kc sounds like English k
cisne (swan)c sounds like English sc sounds like English th
cielo (sky)c sounds like English sc sounds like English th
dirección (address)first c sounds like English k, second c sounds like English sfirst c sounds like English k, second c sounds like English th
zapato (shoe)z sounds like English sz sounds like English th
zorro (fox)z sounds like English sz sounds like English th
rezar (to pray)z sounds like English sz sounds like English th
capaz (capable)z sounds like English sz sounds like English th