Accents And Emphasis

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5 – Minute Guide to Accent Marks In Spanish!


I’m sure you’ve all noticed by now those odd little letters that pop up in Spanish words… things like á and é and sometimes even í, ó and ú (but never Ý).  “How do you know when those are used? What do they mean? What’s the difference between ‘papa’ and ‘papá’?” I’m sure you have asked yourself, not necessarily in that order. Wonder no more! I shall explain… In Spanish, there are “rules of accent”, which can be generally broken down as follows:


Rule #1: If the word ends in a vowel (A,E,I,O,U) or N or S, the accent (or stress, if you prefer) falls on the NEXT TO LAST syllable.


EXAMPLES: mesa (ME -sa), calabaza (ca-la-BA -za)


Rule #2: If the word ends in any other letter, the accent (stress) falls on the LAST syllable.


EXAMPLES: nariz (na-RIZ), actividad (ac-ti-vi-DAD)


Any time a word breaks either of those two basic rules, it is rewarded for its non-conformist behavior by being given an accent mark (un acento). To reiterate, accent marks are merely what is used when the stress does not fall where the rules say it should.


EXAMPLES: ratón – Ends in N (see rule #1), but the word is pronounced ra-TON rather than RA -ton. So the accent mark is placed on the vowel.


César – Popular boy’s name. Ends in R, so according to Rule #2 the accent should be on the last syllable. Well guess what? Nope! Thus, the accent mark, creating “CE -sar” (boy’s name) rather than “ce-SAR” (a verb meaning “to cease”).
There are also some pesky rules about accents breaking up diphthongs, but don’t worry about those just yet. Another thing for another class, another time. :-)


Also, sometimes accents are used to distinguish between words that have different meanings but otherwise sound and are spelled the same: si (if) and sí (yes), for example.