As Spanish learners know, the word for "and" is y, which is pronounced like the "ee" in the English word "see." You'll see y almost as soon as you start studying Spanish in phrases like café y pan (coffee and bread), y yo (you and I), and el búho es grande y me da miedo (the owl is large and it scares me).

But as you learn more Spanish, you'll find another way to say "and": e, which is pronounced like the "ay" in English "say." ¿¿Y y e?? What's going on here?

When do you use y in Spanish?

In nearly all cases, y is the way you'll say "and" in Spanish. Think of it as the default!

When do you use e in Spanish?

There is one exception when it comes to "and": If the next word also starts with an "ee" sound, use e instead.

So for example, if you want to say that the book is fun and interesting, you'll use the word interesante (interesting). Since interesante starts with i (which makes that same "ee" sound), you'll use e before it:

  • El libro es divertido e interesante. (The book is funny and interesting.)
  • El libro es interesante y divertido. (The book is interesting and funny.)

That's the whole rule! Just the one exception, before words that also start with the "ee" sound. That'll include words that start with the letter "i" (like interesante), words that start with "hi" (like hijo, "son") because the "h" is silent in Spanish, and occasionally some words that have "y" as a vowel at the beginning (like the name Ysabel).

Why does Spanish have two words for "and"?

All languages have rules about what sounds can go next to each other in words and sentences. In English, we have the rule that we don't put "a" in front of words that start with "a." That's why we say "an apple" but "a banana." There's not an especially good reason why, besides breaking up similar sounds... it's just how the language works!

The same is true for Spanish y and e: in Spanish, you just don't say y before words that start with the "ee" sound! Instead, use e.

There's a similar rule about the words for "or" in Spanish: o is the default word, but when it comes before a word that starts with the same sound (like otros "others"), you instead use u instead. So you say otros edificios o casas (other buildings or houses), but casas u otros edificios (houses or other buildings).

And… that's all there is to it!

There's an easy rule for remembering when to use y and e (and o and u) in Spanish, but some patterns are trickier to learn. For more tips about Spanish grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, read the Duolingo Blog, or submit your own question to our language-learning column, Dear Duolingo!