Stress and Accent Marks in Spanish
If you find it difficult to guess where to put the stress in a certain Spanish word, this short article is just right for you! Learn two simple rules and read about the exceptions – this bit of Spanish turns out to be so easy when you see the explanations with your own eyes!
Stress is one of the key components of the language, because it can help to distinguish between word forms or even words!
Here’s a quick example from English:
- The police suspect her husband. – sus-pect being a verb
- Her husband is the prime suspect. – sus-pect being a noun
In Spanish, there are two basic rules describing the placement of stress in words.
In words that end in n, s, or a vowel, the stress falls on the penultimate (last but one) syllable:
- el resumen – re-su-men – overview
- martes – mar-tes – Tuesday
- el abeto – a-be-to – fir
In words that end in a consonant other than n or s, the stress falls on the ultimate (last) syllable:
- Vivir – vi-vir – to live
- La caridad – ca-ri-dad – charity
Aaaand… this is it! Unbelievable, but true – this is all you need to remember about the stresses in Spanish! Yeah, we mentioned exceptions, but you will soon see why you needn’t learn them by heart, unlike exceptions from any other rule.
There are exceptions to the two rules mentioned above. Luckily, they are oh-so-obvious, thanks to another Spanish rule.
Spanish accent marks, or tildes, appear when there is a need to put a stress on a syllable that, according to the two basic rules, should not be stressed. Tildes can only be put above vowels á, é, í, ó, ú – and they are simple accents written from upper right to lower left.
Rule #1: Exceptions
Here are some of the words that end in a vowel, n, or s, but the stress in them does not fall on the penultimate syllable:
- el cinturón – a belt
- el huracán – a hurricane
- japonés – Japanese
- quizás – maybe
- la cámara – a ward
- el cráneo – a skull
Rule #2: Exceptions
And below you will find examples of the words that end in a consonant other than n or s, but don’t have a stress on their final syllable:
- el trébol – clover
- el géiser – a geyser
- el césped – grass, lawn
- el azúcar - sugar
Whenever you see an accent mark, stick with it, and you will be okay!
Things to Remember
The most – and probably the only – difficult thing about the stress in Spanish words is the presence/absence of accent marks in different word forms. Whenever you have to pluralize a word or change its gender, pay attention to how the ending will change it. Let’s consider two examples.
Discard Accent Mark
The Spanish word cinturón has an accent mark above its final syllable that signifies that it is the one that should be stress. But what is going to happen when we pluralize the noun?
- el cinturón – los cinturones
If you are wondering where the accent mark went, remember rule #1: “In words that end in n, s, or a vowel, the stress falls on the penultimate (last but one) syllable.” According to this rule, the stress in cinturones should fall on the last but one syllable, but it is exactly the syllable that bore the accent mark, and so, we no longer need the accent.
The same is true for words like la canción (las canciones), el japonés (la japonesa), etc.
Add Accent Mark
However, the accent mark may be added, not removed. And, as you may have guessed, it should be added when the plural form or the other gender change the word in a way that implies compliance with a different rule.Let’s take a look at the Spanish word 'el examen'. Its stress falls on the penultimate syllable, just like rule #1 suggests. But if there are a lot of tests one should take, the singular changes to plural and we get 'los exámenes'. Did you get why? In case you didn’t, it happens because the plural ending adds another syllable with the final s to the end of the word, forcing it to comply with rule #1 and shift the stress to the next syllable. But if we shift the stress, we will distort the original word. And so, we add an accent mark to keep the stress in the same place where it was in the singular form. Nailed it!
There are words in Spanish that have the same pronunciation and almost identical spelling, except for one tiny accent mark! Below you will find a list you can rely on to remember the tricksters!
Let’s test if you remembered both the simple rules of Spanish stress and the exceptions to them!