Use of the Written Accent  

Use of the Written Accent

Spanish is a highly consistent written language. Every word that is written correctly in Spanish can be pronounced correctly, even without knowledge of its meaning, based on orthographic rules. However, it is important to remember that language is spoken first and then written. You must know how a word is pronounced in order to use or omit an accent correctly in Spanish writing. In reading, however, you merely follow the rules. Any exception to the rules will carry a written accent mark. There are no random accent marks in Spanish. The use of any and every accent mark has a justification based on the rules.

Word Pronunciation Categories

Words fall into three categories according to the way they are pronounced: agudas, graves, esdrújulas..

1. Words that are stressed on the last syllable are called agudas. If an aguda ends in a consonant other than n or s it is written without an accent mark. If an aguda ends in a vowel, or n or s it carries a written accent mark.

Unaccented agudas    Accented agudas 

tapiz                almacén 
ciudad               aquí 
profesor             canción 
papel                detrás 
reloj                está 

2. Words that are stressed on the next to the last syllable are called "graves" (or llanas in some countries). If a grave ends in a vowel or n or s it does not carry a written accent. If a grave ends in a consonant other than n or s it carries a written accent mark.

Unaccented graves     Accented graves 

payaso                ángel 
orden                 débil 
largo                 huésped 
clase                 lápiz 

3. Words that are stressed on the third to the last syllable are called "esdrújulas". All esdrújula words carry a written accent. All esdrújula words carry a written accent.

aéreo         esdrújula
artículo      estómago 
católico      magnífico

Diphthongs and Breaking a Diphthong

4. A second use of the accent is to break a diphthong. Diphthongs are formed by combining a strong vowel (a, e, o) with a weak vowel (i, u) or two weak vowels in a single syllable.


  • seis
  • hacia
  • junio
  • miedo
  • ciudad

If a strong and weak vowel appear together but do not form a syllable, the weak vowel carries a written accent to break the diphthong.


  • maíz
  • día
  • había
  • Raúl
  • río

Accents to Distinguish Functions of Homonyms

5. There is a special accent mark called the acento desinencial that is used to distinguish the function of words. It is used in cases of homonyms to distinguish the meaning, or where a pronoun has changed functions. The accent in these cases is placed over the strong vowel of the stressed syllable. Generally in the case of homonyms, the less frequently used meaning will carry the written accent.

Unaccented Word Function (Eng)  Accented Word  Function (Eng) 

aun             even (conjunction)   aún        yet (adverb)  
de              of (preposition)           subj. form of dar 
el              the (article)        él         he (pronoun)  
si              if (conjunction)         yes (interjection)
te              you (pronoun)                  tea (noun)  
tu       your (possessive pronoun)       you (personal pronoun)  
mi       my (possessive pronoun)         me (direct object) 
mas            but                   más     more (adverb) 

Change of Function of Pronouns

1. este libro (adjective) meaning "this"

éste (demonstrative pronoun) meaning "this one"

2. que (relative pronoun) as in "el libro que veo en la mesa" meaning "that"

¿qué? (interrogative pronoun) meaning "what"

3. como (relative pronoun) meaning "as" Ex. "tan grande como un elefante"

¿cómo? (interrogative pronoun) meaning "how" ¿Cómo está usted?

As a rule all interrogative pronouns carry a written accent.

The Phonetic Function of the Written Accent

The examples below show the important phonetic function of the written accent in Spanish. These words are spelled the same but are pronounced differently and have different meanings. Without the written accent mark they could be misread within a text.

Two syllable words:

Palabras Graves       Palabras Aguda
sello                 selló 
ésta                  está 
ira                   irá 
baile                 bailé 
mudo                  mudó 
cerro                 cerró 
caso                  casó 
cortes                cortés 
trago                 tragó 
lavo                  lavó

Three and four syllable words:

Palabras Esdrújulas    Palabras Graves     Palabras Agudas 
ánimo               animo               animó 
público             publico             publicó 
círculo             circulo             circuló 
cántara             cantara             cantará 
cálculo             calculo             calculó 
célebre             celebre             celebré 
práctico            practico            practicó 
término             termino             terminó 
límite              limite              limité 
depósito            deposito            depositó 
partícipe           participe           participé 

Word Inflection and Accent Marks

Changing a word from singular to plural or from masculine to feminine adds a syllable to the word. This may cause the word to lose or add an accent mark.

Singular          Plural  

lección           lecciones 
corazón           corazones 
compás            compases 
razón             razones 
portugués         portugueses 
joven             jóvenes 
orden             órdenes 
interés           intereses 
examen            exámenes 
galán             galanes 

Masculine         Feminine 
francés           francesa 
inglés            inglesa 
catalán           catalana 


Pronounce the following words and categorize them as aguda, grave or esdrújula. Add any accents according to rules 1-4 above. Be prepared to explain the reasons you wrote or did not write an accent on each word. Use a dictionary to check your answers.

abierto    bateria     despues    miercoles   platano      tambien
adios      buzon       diablo     nariz       policia      tenedor
alguien    caida       dificil    oracion     rascacielos  todavia
almacen    champu      ingles     pais        razon        unico
arbol      concierto   lastima    perdon      recamara     viaje
rancho     sandia      semaforo   septimo     reservacion

Popular Phrase: construir conjugation preterite | Free Online Spanish Lessons | Conjugated Verb: eludir - to evade, to avoid [ click for full conjugation ]