Spanish Accents: Rules to Live by
If you are studying Spanish you will probably already know about accent marks (“tildes”). This is probably one of the most challenging parts of the language (along with verbs!). Did you know they can only be written over the five vowels? Well that’s the first step! Don’t worry too much if you didn’t because here you’ll learn a basic guide to using Spanish accent marks:
SPANISH STRESS RULES
There are two basic rules to follow when putting the stress of a word:
- For words than end in a vowel, the letter “n” or the letter “s”, the stress is on the second to last syllable.
- For words ending in all other consonants, except for “n” and “s”, the stress is on the last syllable.
It’s only when these rules are broken that we need to add an accent mark for emphasis!
Here are some examples of Spanish words with accent marks that break the first rule. You’ll notice none of the stresses fall on the second to last syllable:
(crímenes, exámenes )
These words end in “s”, so according to rule 1 the stress should fall on the second to last syllable. However they don’t, since they are meant to keep the same stress as their singular form (which is now the third to last syllable), and that’s why we add the accent mark.
This is just one exception to the rule… but there are many others!
Examples of exceptions: (camión, también, atrás, francés…)
And here are examples of words that break the second rule. These are words that end in a consonant (not “n” or “s”), but whose accent does not fall on the final syllable:
(móbil, césped, fácil, cárcel…)
On the other hand, accent marks are also used to distinguish between words that are pronounced and spelled the same way but have different meanings. These words are called homonyms. Here you have some examples:
el (masculine article: the), él (he)
esta (feminine demonstrative pronoun: this), está (third person singular – verb “to be”)
si (if), sí (yes)
Finally, Spanish accent marks are also found in all interrogative words when used in a question (also in indirect or embedded questions, but this is enough for today!). Here are some more examples:
(¿Quién? ¿Cuándo? ¿Qué?) If they are used in a question, there’s no doubt you should use an accent mark.
We could keep on explaining the different rules and exceptions, but we don’t want you to go crazy! So we will leave it for now… who knows, maybe in the next article!