Homophones in Spanish (Plus Fixing Common Mix-ups)

Most world languages have some pesky homophones—words that sound the same but mean different things.

Some languages do this more than others, of course.

Spanish is a pretty big offender, even mixing up its native speakers with trickier sounds!

As though we needed more obstacles thrown in our path when trying to learn Spanish.

But, c’mon, you’re an English speaker.

English is infamous for its homophone usage—their, there and they’re, anyone?—so count yourself lucky that you don’t have to learn those from scratch.


5 Types of Spanish Homophone Pitfalls

1. The Accents Pitfall

Some words not only sound the same, but are written exactly the same. Well, almost. The Spanish language helps us out by throwing on accent marks where it deems necessary.

Take, for example, el and él. Same exact letters. The only difference is in the symbols.

Curated authentic video library for all levels
  • Thousands of learner friendly videos (especially beginners)
  • Handpicked, organized, and annotated by FluentU's experts
  • Integrated into courses for beginners
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

Normally, Spanish accent marks (called tildes, not acentos—here’s the complete guide) are used to show where the stress should fall.

In the case of él and el, however, the accent is simply used to differentiate meaning—with the accent, él means “he,” and without the accent, el is the definite article “the.”

Another instance of this is de and . Again, the accent here doesn’t mean “pronounce the e with a little more force.”

It’s simply used to distinguish the two words, since they’re spelled and pronounced exactly the same. Without the accent, de is the preposition “of.” With the accent, it’s the command or subjunctive form of the verb dar, meaning “to give.”

2. The B/V Pitfall

If Spanish is completely phonetic, why can’t they do away with either the B or the V? It’s a question that keeps me up at night but, alas, both B and V make a light b sound.

Not quite as forceful as the English b, but with the lips a bit more relaxed (a voiced bilabial fricative, if you want to get technical).

Therein lies the reason Spanish speakers have difficulty hearing the difference between “berry” and “very” or “vest” and “best,” but I digress.

An example of the B/V pitfall would be hierba (weed) and hierva (boil [water]). Also: iba (I/he/she was going) and IVA, an acronym that stands for “sales tax.”

See? Not the same meanings at all, but these sounds make it easy to get tripped up if you can’t understand the context.

Video player for learners like you
  • Interactive subtitles: click any word to see detailed examples and explanations
  • Slow down or loop the tricky parts
  • Show or hide subtitles
  • Review words with our powerful learning engine
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

hierba , hierva

iba , IVA

3. The Silent H Pitfall

I mean no disrespect to Spanish here, but its H is useless. The letter is a remnant of Latin, Spanish’s predecessor, but it serves no purpose in pronunciation today (except to trip learners up).

Therein lies the problem with homophones such as Asia and hacia, the first one being the continent, the second being the preposition “towards.”

So you can move “hacia Asia,” but you should know the difference between the two.

The silent H pitfall doesn’t just occur with the vowel a.

With o we can use the simple example of hola (hello) and ola (wave). These are pronounced exactly the same.

An example with e is echo, the first-person conjugation of echar, a verb which has about 20 meanings but we’ll go with “to throw away” here. Then you have hecho, with a silent h, meaning both “fact” and also the participle form of hacer (to do or make).

hacia , Asia

hola , ola

echo , hecho

4. The Y/LL Pitfall

These sounds are pronounced slightly differently. To the untrained, non-native ear, the difference is hardly discernible.

Arroyo , Arrollo

Arroyo: a small stream or river

Arrollo: the first-person conjugation of arrollar, which means “to run over, to knock down”

Master words through quizzes with context
  • Learn words in the context of sentences
  • Swipe left or right to see more examples from other videos
  • Go beyond just a superficial understanding
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

Rayar , Rallar

Rayar: to draw lines, to scribble
Rallar: to grate (cheese, for example)

5. The C/Z/S pitfall

Here we have not just two but three sounds to look out for. With the C/Z/S pitfall, it’s important that we separate Castillian Spanish (from Spain) from the rest of the pack.

In Spain, the S makes an English “S” sound, but the C and the Z make an English “th” sounds.

That’s what people are talking about when they affectionately (or mockingly) refer to the Spanish “lisp” (the real term is ceceo, said, of course, with two lisped C’s).

And due to Spanish phonology, C and Z can never appear in the same letter “slot” of a word, so there’s really no C/Z/S pitfall in (most parts of) Spain.

In Central and South America, and the Canary Islands of Spain, however, we do see the C/Z/S homophones. The C, Z and S all sound alike—like the English “s” sound.

So you can never quite tell if your conversation partner is talking about his house—casa—or hunting, caza. Another example is ciento (one hundred) versus siento (I feel).

casa , caza

ciento , siento

How to Tackle Spanish Homophones

Now we’ve identified the types of Spanish homophones. They may seem tricky, but don’t despair. There are ways to tackle them that don’t have you bowing down in defeat.

Step #1. Study vocabulary.

It seems like a no-brainer, but if you know that both the words casa and caza exist, you can begin to see which one fits better in context (and I’m willing to bet it’s casa 90% of the time).

Stop memorizing words.
Start building sentences.
  • FluentU builds you up, so you can build sentences on your own
  • Start with multiple-choice questions and advance through sentence building to producing your own output
  • Go from understanding to speaking in a natural progression.
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

Step #2. Context is your best friend.

As you begin to get fluent in the language, you’ll use contextual clues to fill in vocabulary you’re not familiar with.

This will also help you to choose which vocabulary makes the most sense.

At the beginner level, you know that people greet you with hola, not ola.

But if the homophone in question is more complicated, or the two words share the same part of speech—two high-level verbs like rayar and rallar, for instance—context becomes hugely important to ascertaining meaning.

The more you listen to Spanish, the easier this becomes.

And it’s even better if you have subtitles, like the ones included in all the videos on FluentU.

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month)

  FluentU Ad

Step #3. Focus on the nuances of the Spanish sound system.

Certain Spanish speakers with specific accents pronounce some of the letters slightly differently.

Focus on whether you can hear a tiny, minuscule difference between the B and the V.

Is one softer than the other? Is one sound produced by using the teeth a bit, and not just both lips?

Accurate, detailed word explanations made for you
  • Images, examples, video examples, and tips
  • Covering all the tricky edge cases, eg.: phrases, idioms, collocations, and separable verbs
  • No reliance on volunteers or open source dictionaries
  • 100,000+ hours spent by FluentU's team to create and maintain
Learn more about FluentU
Learn more about FluentU

The nuances of the Spanish sound system also extend to the accents and the geographic areas in which you’re learning or speaking Spanish.

The “lisp” should give you a big clue if you’re in Spain.

It’s good to familiarize yourself with the basic rules of Spanish everywhere, but if you plan on moving to Ecuador, for example, read up on Ecuador’s specific accents and sound system.

Why Learn Spanish Homophones?

As big a pain as it is to learn and recognize the homophones, it’s a deed that must be done.

Much like mastering gender or the plural in Spanish, it’s a step you must take to reach fluency. If you can’t learn to recognize homophones in oral communication, you’ll be tripped up in conversation time and time again.

(Remember to brush up on those listening skills, and stay on top of your false friends!)

With time, you’ll learn to focus on contextual clues. But when first starting, it’s important to have a mental list of the homophones of a language.


Spanish has far fewer homophones than English. In this respect, it’s a really easy language to study.

The sound system is relatively uncomplicated, and each letter is assigned one sound, with only very few exceptions.

Hi, I'm Alan! I became obsessed with learning Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in 2001, and managed to get good enough to work professionally in those languages as a management consultant.

I started FluentU to build a new kind of language app.
Want to learn more about how FluentU got started?

So now that you’re aware of the most difficult part of Spanish pronunciation, all that’s left to do is practice, practice, practice!

And One More Thing…

If you've made it this far that means you probably enjoy learning Spanish with engaging material and will then love FluentU.

Other sites use scripted content. FluentU uses a natural approach that helps you ease into the Spanish language and culture over time. You’ll learn Spanish as it’s actually spoken by real people.

FluentU has a wide variety of videos, as you can see here:


FluentU brings native videos within reach with interactive transcripts. You can tap on any word to look it up instantly. Every definition has examples that have been written to help you understand how the word is used. If you see an interesting word you don’t know, you can add it to a vocab list.


Review a complete interactive transcript under the Dialogue tab, and find words and phrases listed under Vocab.


Learn all the vocabulary in any video with FluentU’s robust learning engine. Swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you’re on.


The best part is that FluentU keeps track of the vocabulary that you’re learning, and gives you extra practice with difficult words. It'll even remind you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. Every learner has a truly personalized experience, even if they’re learning with the same video.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

Enter your e-mail address to get your free PDF!

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe