All EOS blogs All Spain blogs  Start your own blog Start your own blog 

Still Discovering Spain...

Here for over 25 years and I still discover new things every day...

Do you spell that with a B or a V?
Thursday, November 17, 2022 @ 11:48 PM

All too often I’m asked this question even by native speakers! Although you can tell by looking at nearly any Spanish word how it is pronounced, the reverse isn't always true. Because of the silent h and the existence of letter pairs that can sound alike, creating homophones, it is often possible to match more than one spelling with a particular sound.

This is especially true in the case of the b and v, which, except in a few types of nonstandard speech, share the same sounds.

But it only really becomes an issue when you start writing in Spanish. If you never write in Spanish you need not worry too much. However, as I mentioned before, even native speakers frequently mix up the letters in their writing, and there are a few words (such as ceviche or cebiche, a type of seafood dish) that can be spelt with either letter. 

It really couldn’t be any simpler… After all, there are only 41 rules and 90 or so exceptions to the rules when it comes to using B and V, so once you’ve mastered them it’s pretty straightforward!

Whoever said Spanish was simple?!

Most Spanish and English cognates are derived from Latin, and generally, the use of b or v remains unchanged. Examples include botella (bottle), batalla (battle), avisar (to warn, related to "advise"), vocabulario (vocabulary), vibrar (vibrate), versátil (versatile) and vicio (vice). (Throughout this lesson, the definitions given aren't the only ones possible.) Exceptions: Among the words that don't follow this rule are verbs related to probar (to try, related to "probe"); words related to gobernar (to govern); some verbs ending in -bir such as recibir (to receive), concebir (to conceive) and percibir (to perceive); alcoba (bedroom, related to "alcove"); and haber (to have).

Words with prefixes: Although several much-used prefixes use a b, the only really common prefix using a v is vice- (meaning "instead of"), as in vicepresidente (vice president) or vicecónsul (vice counsel). Prefixes using b include ab- (indicating negation or separation), bi- (two), sub- (under), bene- (good) and bio- (life). Examples of such words are bilingüe (bilingual), subordinar (to subordinate), abstinencia (abstinence), bendito (blessed) and biología (biology).

Suffixes: Common suffixes with a b include -bilidad and -ble, both of which suggest having a quality of some sort. Examples include culpabilidad (guilt), amabilidad (kindness), terrible (horrific) and amable (friendly). There are also -fobia, indicating a fear, such as claustrofobia (fear of closed spaces) and entomofobia (fear of insects). The most common suffix with a v is -ivo, which indicates having a certain quality, such as in activo (active) and pasivo (passive).

With m and n: B can follow m and v can follow n, but the opposite is extremely rare. The sound of -mb- and -nv- are identical. Examples include envasador (packer), embajador (ambassador), enviar (to send), cambio (change), también (also), ambiente (environment), inversor (investor) and envidiar (to envy).

Preceding r and l: The b can come before either of these consonants, although v cannot. Examples include posible (possible), hablar (to speak), broma (joke), abrazo (embrace), abril (April) and obligar (to require).

In verb conjugations: Conjugations of the imperfect tense use a b, as in comprábamos (we were buying) and hablabas (you were speaking). Three verbs — andar (to walk), estar (to be) and tener — use a v in the preterite tense. Examples: anduve (I walked), estuviste (you were) and tuvieron (they had).

If all this wasn’t enough and you would like to know all the rules that apply to B and V… they are.

Good Luck!


Words written with B

Rule Nº.1
Words containing: bla- ble- bli- blo- blu-.
Examples: Tiembla, tembló, habla, cable, tabla, Biblioteca, bloque, blusa, bledo, Biblia.
Exceptions: Vladimir. 

Rule Nº. 2
Words containing:  bra- bre- bri- bro- bru- .
Examples: Brasa, breve, cobra, cubre, brote, bruto, colibrí, abrupto, abrumador. 

Rule Nº. 3
Before a Consonant, you use b and not v. 
Examples: Libre, abdomen, obligatorio, lombriz, obvio, Brigadier, ombligo, cabra, tabla absoluto, 

Rule Nº. 4
After  ‘m’ we always use b and not v
Examples: Tiembla, tembló, Colombia, cambio, hombre, hombro, timbre, émbolo, embalse, zambullirse. 

Rule Nº 5
The Pretérito Imperfecto (Imperfect tense) of verbs ending in - ar and ir. 
Examples: Cantabas, bailabas, estudiábamos, ordenaban, hablabais, miraban, caminabas, apuntaba, iba, ibas, íbamos, ibais, iban. 

Rule Nº 6
With the prefixes bi- bis- biz- that mean two o twice. 
Examples: Bimotor (two engines), bimestre (two months), bisectriz (two same parts), bisabuelo (twice father), bisnieto (twice son), bizcocho (Bread with no yeast that is baked twice), bizco (somebody who sees double). 

Rule Nº 7
Words that start or end with bio and means ‘life’
Examples: Biología, biografía, Bioquímica, biorritmo, microbio, anaerobio. 

Rule Nº 8
Words that start with bene, bien, bono and imply  “well - good”. 
Examples: Benefactor, benevolente, bienaventurado, bondadosa, bonita, bienestar. 

Rule Nº 9
Words that start with bibli- and mean or are related to the word “book”. 
Examples: Bibliografía, Biblioteca, Biblia, bibliófilo, Bibliotecario. 

Rule Nº 10
Words that start with the prefix sub- (and mean or imply low, under, inferior, secondary, reduced). 
Examples: Suboficial, Subteniente, Subsecretario, subconjunto, subasta, subrayar, subordinado, submarino, subjetivo. 

Rule Nº 11
Words that begin with  alb-. 
Examples: Alba, albañil, albaricoque, álbum, albur, albatros, albedrío, alberca, albergue, albino, albóndiga, alborada. 
Exceptions: Álvarez, Álvaro, álveo, alveolo, alverja, alveario. 

Rule Nº 12
Words that begin with bu-. 
Examples: Buque, burro, bufanda, bueno, búho, búfalo, buey, buitre, buche, bufé. 
Exceptions: Vudú, vuelco, vuelo, vuelta, vuestro, vulcanizar, vulcanología, vulgar, vulgo, vulnerable. 

Rule Nº 13
Words that begin with cub-. 
Examples: Cubo, cúbico, cuba, cubilete, cubierto, cubículo, cubrir. 

Rule Nº 14
Words that begin with hab- y heb-. 
Examples: Haber, habitación, hebra, hebreo, Habana, habano, hábil, hebilla. 
Exceptions: Hevea 

Rule Nº 15
Words that begin with  lab- rab- sab- tab-. 
Examples: Labor, laboratorio, labio, laberinto, labrado. Rabia, rabino, rábano, rabadilla, rabo. Sábado, sábana, sabana, saber, sabotaje. Tabla, taburete, tabaco, tabaquismo, tabú. 
Exceptions: Lavar, lava (volcano), lavanda, ravioles, savia. 

Rule Nº 16
Words that begin with ob-. 
Examples: Objeto, obispo, obrero, obeso, obelisco, oblicuo, obtuso, obturador, obedecer, obcecado, obligatorio, óbolo, observatorio. 
Exceptions: Oveja, Oviedo, Ovidio, overol, ovillo. 

Rule Nº 17
Words that begin with trib- rib- y turb-. 
Examples: Tribu, tribuna, tributo, turbio, turbina, ribera (orilla), ribete. 
Exceptions: Trivial y sus derivados, rival y sus derivados, rivera (arroyo). 

Rule Nº 18
Words that begin with urb- and mean or imply ‘city - town’. 
Examples: Urbe, urbanidad, urbano, urbanización, urbanista, urbanizable. 

Rule Nº. 19
Verbs that finish in -ber. 
Examples: Beber, caber, deber, haber, saber, sorber, absorber. 
Exceptions: Absolver, atrever, conmover, disolver, envolver, mover, precaver, prever, remover, resolver, revolver, ver, volver. 

Rule Nº 20
Words that finish in -bilidad. 
Examples: Amabilidad, aplicabilidad, contabilidad, habilidad, solubilidad, inviolabilidad, imposibilidad, probabilidad. 
Exceptions: Movilidad, civilidad. 

Regla Nº 21
Verbs that finish in -bir y -buir, and all their conjugations. 
Examples: Recibir, distribuir, contribuir, concebir, imbuir, atribuir, retribuir, escribir, describir, suscribir, subir, exhibir, prohibir, sucumbir. 
Exceptions: Hervir, servir, vivir, convivir, revivir. 

Rule Nº 22
Words that finish in -bunda, -bundo. 
Examples: Tremebundo, nauseabundo, moribundo, abunda, vagabundo, furibundo. 

Rule Nº 23
Words derived from the  latin ‘árbiter’ (árbitro). 
Examples: Arbitraje, arbitrar, arbitral, arbitrario, arbitrio, arbitrariedad, arbitrariamente. 

Rule Nº 24
Words derived from the greek ‘ballein’ (arrojar) and  ballezein (bailar). 
Examples: Bala, balística, balompié, baloncesto, bola, parábola, bólido, bolo, boliche, ballesta, émbolo, símbolo, baile, bolero, balada, diablo, discóbolo. 

Rule Nº 25
Words derived from the latin  barba and barca. 
Examples: Barbado, barbería, barbero, barbudo, imberbe, barbilla. Barco, barquero, barquito, embarcación, embarque, barcaza. 

Rule Nº 26
Words derived from the greek barys (pesado, grave). 
Examples: Barómetro, barítono, barisfera, barométrico. 
Exceptions: varita. 

Rule Nº 27
Words derived from the latin bucca (boca), bellum (guerra) and caput (cabeza). 
Examples: Bocado, bocadillo, bocacalle, bocazas, boquete, boquilla, desembocadura, boquiabierto. Bélico, belicoso, beligerante, rebelión, rebelde. Cabezón, cabecera, cabecilla, cabecear, cabestro, encabezar. 

Rule Nº 28
Words from the latin labor (trabajo) and liber (libre). 
Examples: Laboral, laborable, laborar, laboratorio, laborioso, laboriosidad, labrar, labriego, labrador, elaborar, colaborador. Liberación, libertad, liberal, liberador, libertador, libero, libertino, libertinaje. 

Rule Nº 29
Words derived from the latin ruber (rojo) y tribuo (dar). 
Examples: Rubio, rubí, rubor, ruborizado, ruborizarse. Tributo, tributar, tributario, contribuir, contribuyente, contribución, atribuir.

Words written with V 

Rule Nº.1
After d  and n you use v and not b
Example: Adverbio, invierno, envidia, envase, adversario, investigación, envoltura, convulsión, convivir, invitar, invento, envejecido, advertencia, invicto. 

Rule Nº.2
After ‘ol ‘ you use v and not b
Ejemplos: Olvidar, inolvidable, resolver, polvo, polvoriento, solvente, disolver. 

Rule Nº.3
The past simple, imperfect and the future subjunctive of the verbs estar, tener, andar and their compounds. 
Examples: Tuve, estuve, tuviera, estuviera, anduve, anduvo, retuvo, contuvimos, obtuviese, tuviere, tuviese. 

Rule Nº.4
Words that begin with vice- (instead of) and villa- (house, villa). 
Ejemplos: Vicerrector, viceministro, vicealmirante, villancico, villano, villorrio. 
Excepciones: Bíceps, billar. 

Rule Nº.5
Words that begin with clav- y salv-. 
Examples: Clavo, clave, salvavidas, salvaje, salvedad, clavel, clavícula, clavija, conclave, enclave, salvo, salvados. 

Rule Nº.6
Words that begin with div-. 
Examples: Dividir, diversión, divino, diva, diván, divergencia, divagar, divisa, divulgar, divertido, diverso, divorcio. 
Exceptions: Dibujo, dibranquial. 

Rule Nº.7
Words that begin with  eva- eve- evo- evi-. 
Examples: evitar, evidencia, evidente, evadir, evasor, evaporar, evacuar, evocar, evangélico, eventualmente, evolución, evento. 
Exceptions: Ebanista, ébano. 

Words that begin with nav- nov- pav-. 
Examples: Nave, novia, noveno, navaja, novela, navidad, pavo, pavesa, pávido. 
Exceptions: Nabo, noble, pabellón, Nobel. 

Rule Nº.9
After the prefix pra- pre- pri- pro. 
Examples: previo, depravado, privado, proveer, previsto, providencia, provocar, privilegio, provecho, proverbio, provinciano. 
Exceptions: Prebenda, probable, probar, problema, probo. 

Rule Nº.10
Words that end in -ava -ave -avo -eva -eve -evo -iva -ivo. 
Examples: Octava, clave, grave, nueva, leve, suave, comunicativo, legislativa, llamativa, fugitivo, paliativo, medioevo, activo, pasivo, pavo, pensativa, permisivo, recursivo, bravo. 
Exceptions: Baba, haba, sílaba, traba, árabe, jarabe, cabo, lavabo, nabo, menoscabo, rabo, ceba, prueba, mancebo, placebo, recebo, sebo, criba, giba, arribo, estribo, recibo. 

Rule Nº.11
Words that end in - viro- vira- ívoro-ívora. 
Examples: Elvira, carnívoro, herbívora, omnívoro, triunviro, revira. 
Exceptions: Víbora. 

Rule Nº.12
Words derived from the latin  cavus (hueco). 
Examples: cavar, caverna, cueva, cavidad, concavidad, cavernícola, excavar, recoveco, excavación.


Like 1


eileen66 said:
Saturday, November 19, 2022 @ 2:58 PM

I was told by a native speaker in Alicante that the v is pronounced the same as a v in English. I had spent months trying to perfect the soft b for v so was very confused. He said that the most educated speakers do not pronounce v and b the same , ever. This still confuses me as the soft b is mentioned everywhere in books for Castilian Spanish. Any thoughts?

Mac75 said:
Sunday, November 20, 2022 @ 6:50 PM

Well, I don't know who would have told you that but in over 25 years of living in Spain and working with Spaniards, I am yet to find someone who pronounces the V as we do in English and I have worked with University professors and alike. It's the first time I have ever heard that.

lenox said:
Saturday, December 17, 2022 @ 12:04 PM

Beati hispani quibus vivere est bibere. The Romans were impressed by Spain 'where to live is to drink' (they both sound the same).

Leave a comment

You don't have to be registered to leave a comment but it's quicker and easier if you are (and you also can get notified by email when others comment on the post). Please Sign In or Register now.

Name *
Spam protection: 
Your comment * (HTML not allowed)
(Items marked * are required)


This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse you are agreeing to our use of cookies. More information here. x