Last modified on 15 July 2014, at 08:05


This Module is part of the Quechua wikibook

Because Quechua was only recently transcribed into a Latin alphabet, it does not suffer from non-phonetic spellings like English; instead, what you see is what you say. In this course we will use the Quechua writing system as approved by the Peruvian government in 1985.


There are only three vowel phonemes in Quechua: /i/ (front close unrounded), /a/ (central open unrounded), /u/ (back close rounded), forming a triangular system with two degrees of openness (open and close). In contrast, Spanish has a 5-vowel triangular system (i, e, a, o, u), with three degrees of openness (open, mid and close).

Note this means that e and o are phonemic in Spanish but not in Quechua where they are merely allophonic variants of /i/ and /u/; this is because those vowels contrast and distinguish words in Spanish, so in Spanish it makes sense to spell them differently, but this is not true for Quechua, where the choice of [i]/[e] and of [u]/[o] is determined purely by the phonetic environment in which the phonemes /i/ and /u/ appear and not by meaning.

Strange as it may seem to Westerners to have so few vowels and to not distinguish e and o as independent vowels, Quechua vowel system is far from rare or unique, as several other languages from different parts of the world, such as Classical Arabic and Inuktitut, feature analogous 3-vowel systems.

Phoneme Spelling Sound Example Audio
IPA X-SAMPA Similar to English
/a/ a [a]
[ɑ] (*)
[A] (*)
ah; a as in father
o as in (American) hot
akupana (sunset)
qatiq (descendant)
About this sound listen
/i/ i [i]
[e] (*)
[e] (*)
ee, as in bee
e as in met
isanka (basket)
qatiq (descendant)
/u/ u [u]
[o] (*)
[o] (*)
oo as in boot
aw as in saw
trawu (alcohol)
waylluq (lover)
(*) When in the vicinity of uvular consonants (q, q', qh)


Most Quechuan consonants are similar to their English conterparts, however some people may have trouble with glottal stops.

IPA X-SAMPA Sound English Quechua Example Translation
p p p p, as in pot p Puka Red
t t t t, as in stamp t Taki Song
tS ch ch, as in chat ch Machu Old
k k k k, as in king k Mallki Mallki Forest
s s s s, as in sit s Sunqu Heart
q q similar to a k but further down the throat (no English equivalent) q Qillqay To write
h h h h, as in hug h Harawi Poem
m m m m, as in mate m K'allma Branch
n n n n, as in band n Manka Pot
ɲ J similar to ny ny, as in canyon ñ Ñaqch'a Comb
l l l l, as in live l Lawa Soup
ʎ L similar to ly lli, as in million ll Llank'a Job
r r r r Rap'a Page
w w w w, as in wing w Wanp'u Boat
j j y y, as in yes y Yaykuy To get up

For loanwords, Quechua can use b,c (as in jam), d, f, g, x (as in khan) and z (as in throw).