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How To Pronounce Quinoa

Quinoa's popularity in the United States, and worldwide, has really taken off, but pronouncing it is a mystery to many. Are there three syllables, or two? Which syllable gets the most emphasis? Let's take a look at the pronunciation of this word.


There are two syllables in

. We could separate them like this:


The IPA for this word is:


Let's take a closer look at each syllable.

First syllable


The first syllable, /kin/, has three sounds. The first sound is . The is a voiceless velar stop, which means we create it by lifting the back of our tongue in order to stop air that is coming through our velum, while our vocal cords are not vibrating. Since this is the first sound in

, it is aspirated, or pronounced with a large puff of air, because in American English voiceless stops that occur at the beginning of a word are always aspirated.

The second sound is . The sound is a near-high front unrounded vowel, which means that we make it by raising our jaw when we say it and keeping our tongue tip in near the front, but extremely high in our mouths. The lips are fairly close together when we say it, but not rounded. This sound is often difficult for non-native speakers of American English to both recognize and pronounce. They are very likely to pronounce it as , the high front unrounded vowel. However, when we say , the tongue position is not as high, and the lips are closer together than when we say .

The third sound in this syllable is . This is a voiced alveolar nasal stop, which means we make it by vibrating our vocal cords while sending air through our nose.

This syllable, /kin/, has primary syllable stress. It is louder, longer, and has a higher (rising) pitch when we say it.

Second Syllable


The second syllable, /wa/, has two sounds.

The first sound is . This is a voiced labial-velar approximant. It's made by rounded the lips and drawing them closely together, as well as lifting the tongue further back in the mouth, around the velum, while air flows through.

The second sound is , which is an low back unrounded vowel. It's made with a dropped jaw, tongue lowered in the mouth, with spread lips and the mouth wide open. It's one of the most common sounds in American English.

This syllable is unstressed. Although it is unusual for words in American English to have an unstressed syllable that contains an vowel (the vast majority of the time they might have an , , , or a ), since this word is a foreign word, the pronunciation of a clearer instead of has been retained.

I Thought This Was Pronounced Differently!

While trying to load up on protein-heavy grains at the supermarket you may hear other shoppers talking about

quee-nu-a, and all sorts of variations, but please use the
variation. Originally,
comes from the Quechua language. The Quechuan Wikipedia entry for this plant lists both two-syllable and three-syllables of this word. When this word is said in Spanish it often has most emphasis on the first syllable. Since the second syllable isn't strongly stressed, it's very easy for it to disappear, which results in the two-syllable version that we have in the American English loanword


Don't let pronouncing

be confusing. There's two syllables, not three in this word: /kin/ and /wa/. Additionally, when saying
remember that the first syllable gets the most stress, and the second syllable is unstressed.

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