The alphabet and sounds of Esperanto


Here is Esperanto's alphabet, and how each letter is individually pronounced. In Esperanto, the idea is: one letter, one pronunciation. Due to physical limitations of the human voice, this isn't always strictly possible, but you should do your best to make the pronunciation of a letter the same as anywhere else it might appear; if you find yourself pronouncing it significantly differently, you're almost certainly doing it wrong. The vowels, in particular, should be pronounced as short, puretones, not long and drawn out as they are pronounced by some English speakers.

Here are the letters which constitute Esperanto's alphabet.
Esperanto letter English equivalent
a a in father, never as in face or fat [footnote 1]
b b in bib
c ts in tsunami, never as s or k [footnote 2]
cx (c with circumflex) ch in church
d d in deed
e e in set, never as ee in peep
f f in fife
g g in get, never as in gem
gx (g with circumflex) g in gem, never as in get
h h in hail
hx (h with circumflex) ch in German Bach or Scottish loch [footnote 3]
i ee in peep, never as i in pip
j y in yawn or boy
jx (j with circumflex) s as in measure, never as j in judge
k k in kick
l l in lull
m m in maim
n n in noon
o o in cold
p p in peep
r slightly trilled as in Spanish [footnote 4]
s s in cease
sx (s with circumflex) sh in shush
t t in toot
u oo in food, never as u in dud
ux (u with breve) w in weight or cow [footnote 5]
v v in valve
z z in zones

Esperanto, like most other languages, also contains diphthongs (vowels sequences that are pronounced as single, new sounds). Several are quite familiar to English ears, but a few are unheard of in the English language, so they deserve special mention:

Esperanto diphthong English equivalent
aj i in fine; the long i sound in English
ej ay in bay; the long a sound in English
oj oy in boy
uj something like the oo-y in too-young (as one word) [footnote 6]
aux ow in now
eux like neh-oo with the oo unstressed; no equivalent in English
oux ow in flow; the long o in English [footnote 7]

There are some further rules for putting it all together.

Esperanto words are divided into syllables in the usual way, centered around vowels (and diphthongs). The accent of an Esperanto word is always (without exception) on the second-to-last syllable. (If the word only has two syllables, then the second-to-last syllable is actually the first.) Diphthongs always count as one syllable, not two syllables on each vowel sound. For instance, in Esperanto, the word morgaux has two syllables, not three, and is pronounced mór-gow, not mor-gáh-oo (the accent mark denotes on which syllable the accent goes); the two vowels constituting a diphthong should never be separated into different syllables.

The letter a should not be pronounced so that it is long. Try for the sound in father but for the length of the sound in sat.

footnote 1
The letter c should be pronounced as fluidly as possible. In Esperanto, it is one specific sound, not the joining of two consonants.

footnote 2
The letter hx is a little peculiar for most English speakers, but most have heard the sound before. In Esperanto, hx is fairly rare and is actually being actively replaced with cx or k, depending on context, by many speakers.

footnote 3
American speakers, in particular, aren't used to trilling the r. In Esperanto, a few flaps (say, between one and three) of the tongue is sufficient; there should always be a trill, but it shouldn't be too long (as in some instances of Spanish pronunciation). It should never be pronounced like the American, British, or French r.

footnote 4
The ux is roughly equivalent to the English w, but it is rarely used at the start of a word, and almost always is used in diphthongs such as aux (pronounced ow).

footnote 5
The uj diphthong is among the hardest of Esperanto sounds for English speakers to pronounce; it does not appear in many words, but some of the words it appears in are very common (the pluralized forms of the correlatives, for instance), and so cannot be ignored. The best way to learn how it is pronounced, which can also be applied to all other diphthongs, is to imagine two words, one which ends in the first vowel sound and the other which begins the second vowel sound. Then try pronouncing these two words together with as little of a word break as possible. The uj diphthong contains the English oo (short) sound and the y semivowel. It should not be pronounced as two distinct vowel sounds -- it's ooy, not oo ee.

footnote 6
This diphthong is extremely rare in Esperanto, so rare to not be deserving of much mention other than that it exists.

footnote 7
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