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School of Modern Languages & Cultures
Department of Hispanic Studies

 

Rules of accentuation

in Spanish

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Distinguishing

between stressed
and unstressed
forms of a word

 

1. Word ends in a vowel

 (a) Normal stress falls on the 2nd-to-last syllable (no written accent):

pa-ta-ta, ha-bla

 (b) Disregard n or s at the end of a word:

pa-ta-tas, ha-blan

 (c) Written accent shows stress in an abnormal position:

es-pec--cu-lo, ha-bló, ha-bla-rás

2. Word ends in a consonant

 (a) Normal stress falls on the last syllable (no written accent):

pa-pel, ha-blar

 (b) n & s at the end of a word do not count as consonants:

pa-pe-les   ha-bla-ron

 (c) Written accent shows stress in an abnormal position:

ár-bol   al--zar

3. Vowel combinations

 (a) a e o — “strong” vowels, so they remain in separate syllables:

pa-se-o, pa-se-ar, pa-se-ó

 (b) i u — “weak”, so they combine with another vowel to form a diphthong:

pa-tio, fa-tuo, pa-se-a-bais, pa-sión

 (c) Written accent on i or u shows that it is stressed, not forming a diphthong (therefore “strong”, remaining separate):

po-e--a, a-cen--a, co-me--ais

 (d) Disregard h between vowels:

prohi-bi-do  pro--be

4. Distinguishing between stressed and unstressed forms of a word

 (a) Adjective and pronoun:

 

ADJECTIVE (unstressed)

PRONOUN (stressed)

este chico

éste

mi casa

para mí

tu casa

tú bailas

 (b) Relative pronoun, conjunction, interrogative adjective/pronoun:

 

Conjunction (unstressed) ('that')

Dice que han cantado una copla

Relative pronoun (unstressed) ('that/which')

No conozco la copla que han cantado

Interrogative adjective (stressed)
('which/what')

¿Qué copla han cantado?
Dime qué copla han cantado

Interrogative pronoun (stressed)
(= 'what/who')

¿Qué han cantado?
Dime cuál han cantado
Tú sabes qué han cantado
No importa quién haya cantado

Conjunction (unstressed)
('where/like')

Se sentó donde había un poco de sombra
Cantaron como pájaros

Interrogative adverb (stressed)
('where/how')

No recuerdo dónde se sentó
No me preguntes cómo cantaron

 (c) Exclamations:

¡qué tío tan pesado!
¡cómo hablas!
¡cuánta riqueza!

 (d) Other pairs:

 

 

NO ACCENT

 

ACCENT

si

conjunction ('if')

adverb ('yes') or reflexive pronoun ('him/her/itself')

el

article ('the')

él

subject pronoun ('he/it')

mas

conjunction ('but') (= pero)

más

adverb or adjective ('more')

se

object pronoun ('to him/her/it') or reflexive pronoun ('him/her/itself')

verb, present indicative ('I know') or imperative ('be')

de

preposition ('of, from')

verb, present subjunctive ('give')

te

object pronoun ('you')

noun ('tea')

solo

adjective ('alone') (= no acompañado)

sólo

adverb ('only') (= solamente)

aun

adverb ('even') (= hasta, incluso)

aún

adverb ('still') (= todavía)

 

 

M.P. Thompson
 Updated Feb 2007

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