How to Pronounce Quinoa

So you want to know how to pronounce quinoa? You’re not alone.

Most people I talk with pronounce it like “kwinn-OH-ah” or “KWINN-oh-ah.” In fact, I point out on another page 3 crazy ways to pronounce quinoa that I've heard over the years.

Is one of these pronunciations right? Are they all wrong? How would you know?

You can find a number of sites on the internet that delve into quinoa pronunciation. But how do you know they have it right?

You want to be sure that you’re sure that you’re sure… that you can say quinoa like a pro.

So let’s try to figure out the whys and wherefores behind the proper pronunciation of quinoa.

If you just want the pronunciation without any of the reasons behind it, jump down to the English pronunciation of Quinoa.

Otherwise keep reading if you want the explanation for why we English-speaking folk say quinoa the way we do.

How to pronounce quinoa: Origin of the word

The word quinoa -- the so-called mother and queen of the grains -- had to travel through two other languages to make it into the king’s English. Here’s a short history...

Quechua: “Kinwa”

As far as we know the Incas were the first people group to cultivate quinoa.

But of course they didn’t call it quinoa. They called it kinwa.

And how do you pronounce kinwa? Quite honestly I don’t know. Why?

Well you see, kinwa is actually a word in a language called Quechua.

That’s right, the Incas didn’t natively speak English of course. They spoke in Quechua.

And I have no idea how to speak that language. But I do know how to speak Spanish… un poco!

For a laugh or a groan...

Check out the 3 craziest ways to pronounce quinoa!

Spanish: “Quinua”

As the Spanish explored and settled in South America they encountered strange new words that they needed to put into their own language.

So the Quechua kinwa had to be transformed into a Spanish word. They determined that quinua would do very nicely. (Notice the "ua" at the end.)

But how would they pronounce this new word?

Well, do you know the Spanish word agua? Yeah, it means water -- think of the English word aqua. See the similarity?

Anyway, you would pronounce agua as “AH-gwah.”

Now try that kind of pronunciation with quinua. You would say “KEEN-wah.” 

Remember, Spanish Qu’s don’t sound like English Qu’s. They make more of a K sound than a KW sound. Also, the i in Spanish usually sounds more like an English ee.

Alright, so how does all of this transfer into English? Let’s find out!

How to Pronounce Quinoa… in English!

So can you guess how to pronounce quinoa as an English speaker? Drum roll please…

Yeah, it’s pretty much the same as you’d say it in Spanish. Say it like “KEEN-wah.”

Sometimes my wife and I revert to our English way of accenting the last syllable of a word. We end up saying it like “keen-WAH.” Hey, old habits die hard.

Someone in the comments below asked why the English quinoa has an "oa" at the end. It seems like it should be pronounced like "boa" or "Noah". I can sympathize.

But we know what it sounds like in Spanish. And we transfer that sound over to English.

An unsatisfying answer? Welcome to the ever-so-nuanced world of language translation!

What now?

So now you know how to pronounce quinoa (and how not to). You can confidently enter any quality grocery store and ask for it by name. Everyone will be so impressed. They'll be especially thankful that you don't say quinoa like this...

Or you can skip going the store and discover where to buy quinoa online!

Either way, you’ll be just one step away from cooking it and fixing a fine recipe for yourself and your loved ones. Why not invite them over for supper tonight?

Oh, and I have a great idea for a conversation starter at supper. You can tell them a little something about pronouncing quinoa!

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