Accent Rules for Spanish Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Accent Rules for Spanish

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For anyone who is learning or speaks Spanish, accents have always been an added difficulty. Thankfully, there are rules for when you should add accent marks, which look like this: á. If you learn these rules, accents will be less of a problem.

Syllables and Accents

Words are divided in syllables which are units of pronunciation which have one vowel sound. When there are several syllables, one syllable is pronounced louder, or accentuated. That syllable is called, in Spanish, the silaba tonica and the ones that aren't pronounced louder are silabas atonicas. If there is no accent mark and the syllable is accentuated, the accent is called acento voz or voiced accent, while one with an accent mark is called acento ortografico, or spelling accent.

The Four Types of Accents

  • Prosodic: More intensity on the syllable, no accent mark.
  • Graphic: More intensity on the syllable, with accent mark.
  • Diacritic: No changes in pronunciation.
  • Emphatic: Emphasizes the sound, used in questions.

Using Prosodic or Graphic accents

The first thing you need to know about prosodic and graphic accents are the types of words they are used in. There are four types, aguda, grave, esdrujula, and sobreesdrujula. The type of word tells us which syllable to accent.

  • Aguda is when the last syllable is accented.
  • Grave is when the penultimate syllable is accented.
  • Esdrujula is when the antepenultimate syllable is accented.
  • Sobreesdrujulais when the ante-antepenultimate syllable is accented.

If the word is a sobreesdrujula or an esdrujula, the accent mark is always written on the accentuated syllable.

If the word finishes with 'n', 's', or a vowel, a word that is aguda gets an accent mark. It is the opposite for the grave; if it does not end in 'n', 's', or a vowel, it gets an accent mark.

Emphatic Accent

The first word of a question usually has an emphatic accent. Monosyllables never have accent, with the exception of the diacritic accent.

Examples: ¿Cómo?¿Cuándo?

Diacritic Accent

This is used to differentiate two monosyllabic words that are spelled the same. The word that is a member of the grammatical category that is most important gets the accent mark. The list of grammatical categories in order of importance are: verb, noun, pronoun, adverb, adjective, article, conjunction, preposition, and interjection.

There are also some two syllable words that have this accent. Some examples are the words sólo and solo. Another is aún and aun.

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