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School of Modern Languages & Cultures
Department of Hispanic Studies


Rules of accentuation

in Spanish

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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


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)

¿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)

Se sentó donde había un poco de sombra
Cantaron como pájaros

Interrogative adverb (stressed)

No recuerdo dónde se sentó
No me preguntes cómo cantaron

 (c) Exclamations:

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

 (d) Other pairs:







conjunction ('if')

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


article ('the')


subject pronoun ('he/it')


conjunction ('but') (= pero)


adverb or adjective ('more')


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

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


preposition ('of, from')

verb, present subjunctive ('give')


object pronoun ('you')

noun ('tea')


adjective ('alone') (= no acompañado)


adverb ('only') (= solamente)


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


adverb ('still') (= todavía)



M.P. Thompson
 Updated Feb 2007

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