When to use a written accent : Basic accent rules

Rule #1:

When a word ending in a vowel, n, or s is pronounced and the stress falls on the second-to-last syllable, no written accent mark is needed. When the stress falls on any other syllable, a written accent mark is needed.

Let's look at an example: The word "examen" ends in the letter n. Therefore, the natural stress should fall on the second to last syllable.

e     xa     men

Now, watch the video and listen to the word as it is pronounced. Which syllable is stressed?

(a)   e     xa     men

(b)   e     xa     men

(c)   e     xa     men

If you chose (b) you are right! When correctly pronounced, the stress falls on the second to last syllable.

(b)   e     xa     men

Since the stress falls on the syllable indicated by the rule, no written accent is needed on the word "examen".

Note: Words with the stress on the second-to-last syllable are called graves or llanas in Spanish.

Now, let's see what happens when we make this word plural. Since the word ends in the letter s, the natural stress should fall on the second-to-last syllable.

e     xa     me     nes

Watch the video and listen to decide which syllable is actually stressed.

(a)   e   xa   me   nes

(b)   e   xa   me   nes

(c)   e   xa   me   nes

(c)   e   xa   me   nes

Letter (b) is correct. When we listen to the word, we hear that the stress actually falls on the third-to-last syllable.

e   xa   me   nes

Since the actual stress does not fall where the rule indicates, we must use a written accent mark over the stressed syllable.

e     me   nes

Words with accents on the third-to-last syllable are called esdrújulas in Spanish and always take a written accent.

Rule #2

When a word ending in a consonant other than n or s is pronounced and the stress falls on the last syllable, no written accent mark is needed. When the stress falls on any other syllable, a written accent mark is needed.

For example, the word "capital" ends in the letter l so the rule tells us that the stress should fall on the last syllable.

ca     pi     tal

Now, watch the video to decide which syllable is stressed.

(a)   ca   pi   tal

(b)  ca   pi   tal

(c)   ca   pi   tal

If you chose letter (c) you are correct!

Since the actual stress falls on the last syllable, no written accent mark is needed.

(c)   ca   pi   tal

Note: Words with accents on the last syllable are called agudas in Spanish.

Let's look at another example:

This word ends in a z so the rule tells us that the stress should be on the last syllable.

la     piz

Watch the video and listen to decide which syllable is actually stressed.

(a) la   piz

(b) la   piz

If you chose the letter (a) you are correct!

When pronounced we hear the stress actually falls on the second-to-last syllable. Since the actual stress is not on the syllable indicated by the rule, we must use a written accent mark.

  piz

DIPHTHONGS

In Spanish, all vowels are either weak or strong.

A, E, and O are strong vowels.

U and I are weak vowels.

Check out this video tip.

When two strong vowels appear together, two separate syllables are formed.

leer     ==>     le-er

Ma-teo     ==>     Ma-te-o

teatro     ==>     te-a-tro

When two weak vowels or one weak vowel and one strong vowel appear together, a diphthong is produced. A diphthong is when one syllable contains two vowels, both of which are heard.

Some examples of common words with diphthongs are:

estudiante     ==>     es-tu-dian-te

buenos     ==>     bue-nos

viernes     ==>     vier-nes

Colombia     ==>     Co-lom-bia

ciudad     ==>     ciu-dad

When two weak vowels appear together in a diphthong, the second vowel takes the stress. Therefore, if a syllable with a weak/weak diphthong needs a written accent mark (according to the accent rules), the accent mark should go over the second vowel.

For example:

cdate     ==>     c-da-te

When a weak vowel and a strong vowel appear together in a diphthong, the strong vowel takes the stress of the syllable. Therefore, if a syllable with a weak/strong diphthong needs a written accent mark (according to the accent rules), the accent mark should go over the strong vowel.

For example:

ads     ==>     a-ds

desps     ==>     des-ps

tambn     ==>     tam-bn

perdico     ==>     per-r-di-co

To break a weak/strong diphthong and make two distinct syllables, a written accent is needed over the weak vowel.

Compare the following:

Ma--a     vs.     far-ma-cia

-o     vs.     Ma-rio

in-cre-í-ble     vs.     seis