Spanish Pronunciation: Intonation

"Intonation", as it relates to pronunciation in Spanish, refers to whether the pitch of the voice is rising or falling. Intonation in the Spanish language is important because it can change the meaning of a what is being expressed.

When speaking Spanish, normal statements always end in a falling pitch – with the voice falling. Listen to the examples below while paying attention to the intonation at the end of the sentence. Then repeat each sentence out loud.
Fernando is a teacher.
Fernando es un profesor.
Mario is a carpenter.
Mario es un carpintero.
Ana Paula is a nurse.
Ana Paula es enfermera.
The jacket is in the car.
La chaqueta está en el carro.
The couch is in the living room.
El sofá está en la sala.
The workers arrive at five.
Los obreros llegan a las cinco.
The chef cooks a cake.
El chef prepara una torta.
María is coming with the kids.
María viene con los chicos.


Information questions elicit information. They always start with question words (ie. cuántos). Like statements, information questions always end in a falling pitch. Listen to the information questions below while paying attention to how the pitch falls at the end of each question. Then repeat each question out loud.
How old is your friend?
¿Cuántos años tiene su amiga?
Why do you study a foreign language?
¿Para qué estudias un idioma extranjero?
Where did you study English?
¿Dónde estudiaste Inglés?
How long have you lived in Argentina?
¿Desde cuándo viven Ustedes en Argentina?
Who is that man in the store?
¿Quién es ese hombre en la tienda?
What is your sister's name?
¿Cómo se llama su hermana?
Why do you like to visit Paraguay?
¿Por qué te gusta visitar Paraguay?
Where is the best place to go shopping?
¿Dónde está el mejor lugar para ir de compras?


Unlike statements or information questions where the pitch of the voice falls toward the end of a sentence, with simple yes/no questions, the pitch of the voice--or intonation--rises toward the end of the question to convey uncertainty. Listen to the yes/no questions below while paying attention to how the pitch rises at the end of each question. Then repeat each question out loud.
Do you have a lot of customers?
¿Tiene usted muchos clientes?
Is it a good idea?
¿Es buena la idea?
Does he have good manners?
¿Tiene buenos modales?
Do you know how to fix it?
¿Sabes tú arreglarlo?
Do you know how to read and write?
¿Sabes tú leer y escribir?
Is the ocean deep?
¿Es el océano profundo?
Is the movie entertaining?
¿Es la película entretenida?
Did the workers arrive on time?
¿Llegaron los obreros a tiempo?


In Spanish, when asking questions that elicit the respondent to make a choice between several alternatives, the pitch of the voice rises with each choice, and then falls as the final option is presented. Listen to the choice questions below while paying attention to how the pitch rises with each choice, then falls with the final option. Afterwards, repeat each question out loud.
Do you prefer to study mathematics, history or English?
¿Prefiere usted estudiar matemáticas, historia o inglés?
Do you prefer to study, play or work?
¿Prefieres estudiar, jugar o trabajar?
Would you rather eat beef, pork or chicken?
¿Prefiere usted comer res, cerdo, o pollo?
Do you drink coffee, tea, water or mate?
¿Bebe usted café, té, agua o mate?
What do you like more, meat, fruit or vegetables?
¿Qué te gusta más, carne, fruta o verduras?
Does he have red or brown hair?
¿Tiene él, el pelo rojo o marrón?
Is he a fat or skinny man?
¿Es un hombre gordo o flaco?
Is she a pretty or ugly women?
¿Es una mujer bonita o fea?