A GUIDE TO ACCENT MARKS IN SPANISH
|An expanded version of this excellent explanation is now available in a print or Kindle version with more details, more examples and progressive exercises.||by|
Tom Mathews, Ph.D.
Weber State University
© October 1996
Revised November 2010
The rules presented here reflect the changes made by the twenty-two national Academias de la Lengua Española in Guadalajara, Mexico, on November 28, 2010.
A Complete Guide to Written Accent Marks in Spansih: With Exercises
|For some pointers on how to do accent marks on a computer, click here:|
Basic Rules of Thumb
|• If a word ends in a vowel, or 'n' or 's', the stress is usually on the next to the last syllable.|
• If a word ends in a consonant other than 'n' or 's', the stress is usually on the last syllable.
• If the stress in a word doesn't follow rules 1 and 2, then the syllable that is stressed needs a written accent mark over the vowel.
|• There are two kinds of syllables in Spanish: those that are stressed (tónicas) and those that are unstressed (átonas)|
|• One-syllable words will be either tónicas or átonas.|
|• In words with more that one syllable, only one can be stressed.|
Stressed vs Unstressed Syllables
|In the following paragraph all of the stressed syllables are in bold-face. Notice that sometimes the stressed syllables have an accent mark, but that usually they don't. However, an unstressed syllable will never, ever, have an accent mark. Some one-syllable words are stressed and some are not. If you want to write a word and you don't know which syllables are stressed and which ones aren't, try pronouncing the word out loud, or ask a native speaker to pronounce it for you.|
|The vowels a, e, and o are strong in Spanish. They always form their own syllable wherever they appear. The vowels u and i are weak, and only form their own syllable when they are separate from other vowels. When a weak vowel is next to a strong vowel or another weak vowel, they AUTOMATICALLY form a diphthong, that is, just one syllable.|
|In the following examples the number of syllables in each word is shown in parentheses after the word. The stressed syllables are in boldface.|
Strong vowels (a, e, o) always form their own syllables:
|Weak vowels (i, u) form a their own syllable if they are "surrounded" by consonants:|
|Otherwise, weak vowels form a diphthong with the strong vowel that is next to them:|
|One-syllable words in Spanish never have an accent mark unless they fall into the group described in Section Six. Don't get in the habit of putting accent marks on one-syllable words as some sort of ornament. Don't put an accent mark on a one-syllable word unless you know why! This rule was adopted by the Academia de la Lengua Española in 1952. There are still many native speakers (most of them either old and educated before the new rules or not well educated at all) who continue to put accent marks on many one-syllable words (particularly verbs). Don't do it! It's a nasty habit.|
|There are four categories of multisyllabic words in Spanish, as far as stress is concerned. A word's stress category has to do with which syllable is tónica.|
• Palabras llanas are stressed on the next to the last syllable (la penúltima).
• Palabras agudas are stressed on the last syllable (la última).
• Palabras esdrújulas are stressed on the third to the last syllable (la antepenúltima).
• Palabras sobresdrújulas are stressed on the fourth to the last syllable.
|All of the following words are stressed on the next to last syllable (o la penúltima sílaba).|
|Each of the following words is stressed on the last syllable (o la última sílaba).|
|All of the following words are stressed on the third to the last syllable (o la antepenúltima sílaba). Notice that esdrújulas always have a written accent mark.|
|All of the following words are stressed on the fourth to the last syllable (¡o la preantepenúltima sílaba!). Notice that sobresdrújulas always have a written accent mark.Notice also that in each of them the last two syllables are attached pronouns.|
|(el acento ortográfico or tilde)|
|• One-syllable words DO NOT have a written accent mark unless they follow the rules in the next section.|
• If a word ends in a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or n or s and it is not llana, put an accent mark over the stressed syllable.
• If a word ends in a consonant (other than n or s) and it is not aguda, put an accent mark over the stressed syllable.
• An accent mark will also be placed over a weak vowel (u or i) in order to break an automatic diphthong
|Words that end in a vowel (or "n" or "s") and are not llanas|
|Words that end in a consonant (not "n" or "s") and are not agudas|
|Breaking natural diphthongs|
|Look at the differences between the following|
|One-syllable words, when they are part of a homophone pair, are distinguished from each other by marking the one that is stressed (tónica) with an accent mark. |
To count as a homophonous monosyllabic pair, the two words must:
|NEVER PUT AN ACCENT MARK ON A ONE-SYLLABLE WORD UNLESS YOU ARE AWARE OF THE CORRESPONDING HOMOPHONE THAT DOES NOT NEED AN ACCENT MARK.|
The list of homophonous monosyllables
|I believe that this is a complete list of all of the one-syllable words that can carry an accent mark in Spanish. If you find any others, please email me at email@example.com (but I haven't added a word since 1996).|
|• Interrogative pronouns have a tilde over their stressed syllable to distinguish them from adverbial conjunctions.|
• The word aún means todavía or still, while aun means incluso or even
• In exception to the comment in Section One, that any Spanish word may have only one stressed syllable, those adverbs that end in -mente, actually have two stresses: one (unwritten) on the suffix -mente, and the original stress in the adjective from which the adverb is derived. If the adjective by itself carries a tilde, then it is maintained in the adverbial form.
|Notice that interrogatives carry accent marks even if they are in an indirect question. Observe the following|
|Paco aprendió cómo son los gatos silvestres.|
No sabemos dónde poner el sofá.
El profesor nos explicó el cómo y el porqué.
No sé quién me escribió la carta.
Adverbs that end in "-mente"
|If the adjective has an accent mark then the adverb with -mente does also|
CHANGES MADE IN 2010
|Previous to the year 2010:|
|• Demonstrative pronouns carried a tilde over their stressed syllable to distinguish them from demonstrative adjectives. These adjectives always precede nouns, the pronouns never do.|
The new rule calls for no accent mark on any demonstratives at all.
• The word sólo meant solamente, while solo meant alone (masculine singular).
Today, neither word carries an accent mark.It is true that this allows for ambiguity (as in "Juan trabaja solo en la cocina"). However, the new rule reflects an ambiguity that exists in the spoken langauge and this seems proper.
• The word o (meaning or) carried an accent mark only between numerals so that it was not confused with 0 (zero).
"Quiero cinco o seis dulces". vs "Quiero 5 ó 6 dulces".
Now, the rule is not to put an accent mark on "o".
The Academy's stated reasoning is that since computer printed text has become so comon, there is little chance that an "o" (letter) and a "0" number" will be confused.