For foreign speakers, figuring out where to place accent marks in Spanish can be a challenge. But if you follow these rules, you don’t have to second-guess yourself again.
Why do we place accent marks in Spanish words?
We place accent marks to indicate where the word is stressed. Without accents, te (the personal pronoun, as in “te quiero”) and té (tea) would be pronounced exactly the same.
Are there rules to place accent marks in Spanish?
Yes! Unlike what happens with gender (for example), accent marks follow strict rules. As long as you know how the word sounds, you’ll know where to place the accent.
- When the stress is on the last syllable (palabra aguda), the word must have an accent mark if it ends in a vowel, -n or -s.
e.g: Panamá (Panama), situación (situation), Japonés (Japanese).
- If the stress is on the penultimate syllable (palabra grave), and the word ends in a consonant other than -n or -s, it must have an accent.
e.g.: árbol (tree), azúcar (sugar), ángel (angel).
- If the stress is in the third from last syllable (palabra esdrújula), the word must have an accent.
e.g.: gramática (grammar), Húngaro (Hungarian), trágico (tragic).
- If the word’s stress is elsewhere (palabras sobresdrújulas), it must have an accent if it is not an adverb ending in -mente.
eg.: háblame (talk to me), cuéntamelo (tell me).
If it is an adverb ending in -mente, the accent mark is on the stress syllable of the gem word (lógica > lógicamente, fácil> fácilmente). If the gem adjective doesn’t have an accent mark, neither will the adverb (triste > tristemente, general > generalmente). When you don’t know if the adjective has an accent mark or not, remember that they follow the rules above!
- The words what (que), who (quien), when (cuando) and other interrogative pronouns have an accent when they are used in a question.
e.g.: Cuando estuve en Madrid, fui al Museo del Prado. (When I went to Madrid, I went to the Prado Museum).
¿Cuándo estuviste en Madrid? (When were you in Madrid?)
- To differentiate them from other words.
Words with one syllable sometimes have an accent to differentiate them from other words:
e.g.: más (more) and mas (but); mí (personal pronoun) and mi (possessive pronoun); sí (yes) and si (if); te (pronoun) and té (tea).
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