The rules of accent marking are not often taught in introductory Spanish, but it’s helpful to understand them, and they are actually quite straightforward. Learning the rules will help you understand why accents are present where they are and will help you remember which words have accents.
Accents in Spanish tell you which syllable of the word is stressed. So how would you know which syllable is stressed in an unaccented word? Well, there are two basic rules about where the stress goes in a word, and accents are only used when the normal rules are being broken. These two rules are:
1. The stress in a word falls on the second to last syllable if the word ends in s, n, or a vowel.
2. If the word ends in consonant other than n or s, the stress is on the last syllable.
Words that follow these rules do not take accents, and those that break the rule do. For example: (stressed syllables are underlined)
“árbol” ends in a consonant other than n or s, so the stress should be on the last syllable according to the rules above. Since the stress is actually on the first syllable, the a is marked with an accent. Otherwise it would read arbol.
“libro” ends in a vowel, so according to the rules above, the stress should be on the second to last syllable. Since it follows the rule, there is no accent.
These rules explain why some words that have an accent when singular lose the accent when made plural. This happens because making the noun plural can change the number of syllables in the word. For example:
“vacación” ends in n, so the stress should be on the second to last syllable. Since it breaks that rule, it has an accent.
“vacaciones” ends in s, so the stress should be on the second to last syllable. Since it follows the rule, there is no accent. Although it’s still cion that is being stressed, making the word plural adds an extra syllable at the end, which makes cion the second to last syllable.
Words with only one syllable don’t have accents unless the accent differentiates them from a similarly spelled unaccented word. For example:
si = if; sí = yes el = masc. def. article; él = he
tu = your; tú = you se = reflexive pronoun; sé = I know
In these examples, the presence or absence of an accent lets you know which of the two words is being referred to.
Accents are important in Spanish. They often make the difference between one word and another, so knowing if a word has an accent and where it goes is key. If you know what a word sounds like, being familiar with these rules will help you determine if the word has an accent. In addition, you’ll be able to read new words and know which of the syllables is stressed. There are a few more technicalities for accent marking, but these are the basic rules. If you’re interested in learning more specific details about when and how accents are used, let us know and we’ll teach you!
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