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Stress and Written Accent in Spanish

Let's talk about stress and written accent in Spanish.

In English you learn to pronounce written words with a combination of phonetics and memory.

That's because English is not really a phonetic language.

In Spanish, as in English, words have an emphasis (or stress) in certain syllables, and there are a few guidelines that teach you how to pronounce words.

This is a quick guide to stress and accent in Spanish:

Words ending in a vowel, a diphthong, or in the consonants N or S, are stressed on the next to the last syllable. E.g.:

Casa, casas, bueno, buenos, gracia, habla, hablan, entendemos

Words ending in a consonant (including Y), except N and S, are stressed on the last syllable. For instance:

Hablar, comer, vivir, usted, papel.

Words stressed contrary to the above rules bear the written accent (called in Spanish tilde... see the little mark over the highlighted syllables? That's a tilde.) over the vowel of the syllable to be stressed.

Aquí;, inglés, cil, dicil, piz, pices, lección

Classification of Spanish Words According to the Position of their Stress or Written Accent

As a point of interest, in Spanish words are classified according to the position of their accent:

Palabras Agudas: These are words which accent or stress falls on the last syllable: e.g.

corazón (heart), ladrón (thief).

Palabras Graves: These are words which accent or stress falls on the second last syllable: e.g.

Árbol (tree), cárcel (jail or gaol).

Palabras Esdrújulas: These are words which accent or stress falls on the third last syllable of a word: e.g.

Matemáticas (maths), murciélago (bat) [by the way, that's the only word in Spanish that contains the 5 vowels!].

Palabras Sobre Esdrújulas : These are words which accent or stress falls on the fourth last syllable of a word: e.g.

demuéstramelo (Show me), véndeselo (Sell it to him), difícilmente (hardly).

Other Uses of Written Accent in Spanish

A certain number of words ear the written accent to distinguish them from words like them in spelling and pronunciation, but different from them in meaning. Examples:

él - el; dé - de; más - mas; sí - si; mí - mi; sólo - solo

Consult your Spanish-Spanish dictionary to find out the differences between the above words.

The written accent is also used to distinguish the interrogative or exclamatory from the relative use of pronouns and adverbs, and demonstrative pronouns from demonstrative adjectives. See the following examples:

¿cuánto? - cuanto; ¿cuándo? - cuando; ¿cómo? - como; ¿qué? - que; ¿quién? - quien; ¿cuál? - cual; éste - este; éstos - estos

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