Every Spanish word has a stressed syllable (sílaba tónica). For example, the word español stresses the last syllable. Word endings and written accents (tildes) provide a predictable guide to stress syllables in Spanish, allowing you to read any word correctly.
Rules for the Spanish Written Accent
1. Words that end in a vowel, n or s stress the next-to-last syllable: clase, examen, mesas
2. Words that end in a consonant other than n or s, stress the last syllable: bondad, papel, cantar
Words that do not follow the above rules carry a written accent to show which syllable should be stressed:
café (last syllable stressed, though it ends with a vowel)
exámenes (neither the last nor the penultimate syllable is stressed)
árbol (penultimate syllable stressed, though it ends in a consonant other than n or s)
Therefore, you need two criteria to decide whether a word needs an accent or not:
1) its ending
2) which syllable is stressed
Ex. The word región needs an accent because
a) it ends with "n"
b) the penultimate syllable is not stressed
Ex. The word regiones does not need an accent because
a) it ends with "s"
b) the penultimate syllable is stressed
Other Uses of the Spanish Written Accent
1. The written accent also indicates stress on a weak vowel (i, u) that is followed or preceded by a strong vowel (a, e, o):
dí·a ra·íz a·hí
Ma·rí·a mí·o o·í·do
Ra·úl dú·o ge·o·gra·fí·a
2. A written accent is not used for one-syllable words (fe, ti, tres, Dios), except to distinguish between certain words that are otherwise spelled identically, such as:
si quiero, puedo (if I want, I can) vs. sí, claro(yes, of course);
el problema (the problem) vs. él cree (he believes);
tu país (your country) vs. tú creas (you create);
mi lectura (my reading) vs. detrás de mí (behind me);
se ven (they see themselves) vs. lo sé (I know that).
Another common group of such pairs are question words, which do not have written accents when not used as a part of a direct or indirect question:
¿cómo estás? - how are you?
como quieras - as you wish
sabe dónde está - he knows where it is
está donde te dije - it is where I told you
The Spanish categorize words into four according to the way they are pronounced. We provide lessons and quizzes focused on each group.
Agudas [ go to lesson ]
Stress in last syllable. azul - blue
Graves [ go to lesson ]
Stress in second to last syllable. silla - chair
Esdrújulas [ go to lesson ]
Stress in third to last syllable. médico - doctor
Sobreesdrújulas [ go to lesson ]
Stress in any syllable before the third to last syllable. fácilmente - easily