This month’s Spanish letter is F, and at long last we’ve come across a bit of light relief from all our explanations about sound, because the letter F is pronounced exactly the same in English as in Spanish. Seems almost incredible, doesn’t it?

You may well have noticed that there are similar words in English and Spanish containing the “F” sound, which are written with “ph” in English, but with F in Spanish. These Spanish words can look a little odd to us, especially when the words are academic type ones like filosofía (philosophy) and fenómeno (phenomenon). To our eyes they can look like childish misspellings, but no, it’s just Spanish being more logical again!

Here are some more of those similar words, reflecting the sound “F” in English. To start with, function, which means “function”. Notice when saying this word that there is no “k” sound in it as there is in English as the C is a “th” sound. From this we get that well worn phrase no funciona – “it doesn’t work”. The word for “photograph” is fotografía, but this is almost always abbreviated to foto. It is a feminine word, so “a photo” is una foto. Some nice easy ones – fragmento means fragment, fútil means futile, futuro means future and funeral means funeral. No surprises there! Fracción means fraction, but oddly infracción means infringement; in other words the breaking of the law or the rules of a game. The Spanish news often refers to infracciones de tráfico, in other words “driving offences”.

Our last word is more than just a similarity, it is a word directly imported from English – fútbol. There is actually a pure Spanish word for this which is balompié, but it is hardly ever used. Fútbol is the word we always hear, but of course pronounced with the correct Spanish accent, with the rounded “u” and “o” and the clear “l” sound at the end.

Now for our “estranged cousins”, often referred to as “false friends”; that is words that look as though they mean the same thing but don’t. The Spanish word fábrica means “factory” not “fabric”, the word for “fabric” being tejido. A slightly trickier false friend is the word familiar. This can mean the same as the English word “familiar”, but is very often used to refer to the family, as in the phrase un ambiente familiar which means “a family atmosphere” (and not “a familiar atmosphere”). We can also use the word to mean a “family member” as in amigos y familiares: “friends and members of the family”.

A common and useful word in Spanish beginning with F is the word for “easy” which is fácil. Notice that the emphasis on this word falls on the first syllable “FA” and not on the “cil”. This is opposite in meaning to difícil, which also has the accent on the second to last syllable – di FIC il. I point this out because I frequently hear these words mispronounced by placing the emphasis at the end of the words. Another useful F word is “fijo”. It means “fixed”, but it is often added to a statement as a way of emphasizing the truth of an assertion, like saying “I’m certain” or “for sure”. For example – “dos más dos son cuatro – fijo” (Two and two are four – for sure). Fijo is also used when talking about telephones: un teléfono fijo means a “landline”.

The word for “fire” begins with F – fuego, and this gives us our saying for this week: “El que con fuego juega, se quema.” This means “He who plays with fire burns himself”. We might say in English “If you play with fire, you’ll burn yourself.” I think the meaning is obvious, but it’s one of those things we might occasionally need to say to people who like to live dangerously.

Jane Cronin, Spanish classes and talks. Tel: 968 18 32 58