Knowing where accents are used in Spanish can be difficult to understand, but hopefully these rules will help clear things up.
The accents on Spanish words, á, é, í, ó and ú may seem insignificant but they are actually a very important way of showing how a word is pronounced, as they show where the stress falls. Every Spanish word has an accent, or a syllable which is stressed, but they do not always need to be written. The rules of knowing where accents fall and why can be quite difficult for non-native speakers to understand. Hopefully these rules will help clear things up:
- If a word ends with an s or n or any of the 5 vowels, a, e, i, o or u, the stress falls on the second to last syllable of the word. The accent does not need to be marked. Most Spanish words fall into this category.
Examples: me-sa, za-pa-tos, pa-dre
- In other words, which do not end in an s, n or a vowel, and do not have any written accent, the stress falls on the last syllable of the word. This also does not need to be marked.
Examples: co-mer, pa-pel, or-de-na-dor
- If the stress of a word falls anywhere else (other than where the rules above say it should be) a written accent is used to show where it is.
Examples: di-fí-cil, ár-bol (as both of these words end in l, they would normally be in the second category, with the stress falling on the last syllable. However, as this is not the case, an accent is written to show which syllable is stressed instead.)
- This includes when the stress falls on the third to last or fourth to last syllable of a word, for example, which is common in compound words.
Examples: dí-me-lo (an imperative plus two pronouns), du-chán-do-se (present participle plus reflexive pronoun), fan-tás-ti-co.
Foreign words used in the Spanish language can be exceptions to these rules.
There are also other special cases for the use of written accents:
- Some accents are actually not used for pronunciation, but simply to differentiate them from other words which are spelt the same but have different meanings, such as:
tu (your) tú (you)
si (if) sí (yes)
este (this, adjective) éste (this one, demonstrative pronoun)
There is no difference in pronunciation, but the written accents help avoid misunderstandings in written texts. These accents are called orthographic accents.
- Vowels can be split into strong vowels (a, e and o) and weak vowels (i and u). When a weak and a strong vowel, or two weak vowels come together, it creates a one syllable sound, called a diphthong.
In the case of a strong and a weak vowel, the emphasis should fall on the strong vowel.
In the case of two weak vowels, it should be on the second vowel.
When these rules are not followed and there is emphasis on the other vowel, an accent needs to be written, for example: río, vía.
Another point to remember is that, due to the change in spelling, nouns can gain or lose accents when they change between singular and plural. The same can occur with adjectives when they change from masculine to feminine.
Examples: can-ci-ón à can-ci-on-es, inglés à inglesa
The letter ñ is a letter of the Spanish alphabet, but can be sometimes considered as an accent too. The mark above the n signifies that the letter should be pronounced like nya, as in español (pronounced espanyol).
How to write Spanish accents on your keyboard
The accents on Spanish words are an important part of the spelling, so make sure you don't forget to use them. Here are the codes that you need to press in order to type them on a non-Spanish keyboard. Simply hold down Alt and type in the required number on the number pad:
- Á Alt + 0193 á Alt + 0225
- É Alt + 0201 é Alt + 0233
- Í Alt + 0205 í Alt + 0237
- Ó Alt + 0211 ó Alt + 0243
- Ú Alt + 0218 ú Alt + 0250
- Ñ Alt + 0209 ñ Alt + 0241