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Accent marks in Spanish: the rules

Do you need help with the rules of accent marks in Spanish? Keep reading then!

Even for native Spanish speakers it’s difficult sometimes to put the correct accent mark in a word.

In fact, most of us don’t remember the rules we learned in school and we follow our intuition when we try to write properly!

And as if it wasn’t already hard enough, the Real Academia Española, the institution that regulates the correct usage of Spanish, changed the official rules in 2010.

That means something that used to be correct or acceptable before just isn’t anymore.

But don’t worry! I promise I will make it easy for you.

Are you ready? Let’s go!

Accent marks in Spanish: the rules

Accent marks aren’t much of a problem when you are just speaking, it’s true.

Once you get familiar with sounds in Spanish and the correct pronunciation of words after hearing them over and over, the message will be clear enough.

But it’s a different story when you are writing!

And while you could argue that the meaning will be inferred by context, the absence of accents marks could still lead to confusion.

Or even embarassment!

Let’s take this meme as an example. Do you know what a tilde is? That’s the proper name for ‘accent mark’. All words have stressing, but not all of them have tildes.

So why is that meme particularly funny?

The first sentence, sé la clave translates in English as ‘I know the password’. Fine, nothing wrong!

But what about the second one? Se la clavé is talking about inserting something into someone else… mmm… with a double entendre.

That’s why you need to learn the rules of accent marks in Spanish!

Spanish accent rules

If you are curious you can check out yourself the official rules of the Real Academia Española here.

But that lengthy explanation might be overly complicated for students. You just need to consider that a word can be broken up into syllables: es-pa-ñol.

Every time you hear a word, you can notice that there’s a strong syllable, the one you give extra force to pronounce it: es-pa-ñol.

That’s what we call to stress a syllable and it’s the basis for the following simple rules that will help you put accent marks in Spanish words correctly!

1) Words ending with vowel, -n or -s

StressedWith accent mark ✅Without accent mark ❌
On the last syllable, but onema-pa
lu-nes
tar-de
do-sis
ha-bla
ha-blan
es-tu-dia
es-tu-dian
jo-ven
au-to-bu-ses
Not on the last syllable but oneso-
ja-po-nés
jar-dín
es-quí
úl-ti-mo
sín-te-sis
te--fo-no
-la-ba
-ve-nes
au-to-bús

2) Words ending with consonant other than -n or -s

StressedWith accent mark ✅Without accent mark ❌
On the last syllablecon-trol
ac-triz
es-cri-tor
a-mis-tad
re-loj
ver-dad
ca-pi-tal
ce-lu-lar
Not on the last syllable-mic
cés-ped
-cil
-lar
ca-rác-ter
por--til
ál-bum
a--car
A word with accent mark in Spanish
Algunos ejemplos de tildes en español. – Foto de Luis Quintero en Pexels

3) Vowel combinations

When there are two vowels together in a word, they can form two different syllables or just one.

The vowels a, e and i are considered strong, whereas u and i, weak.

CombinationsTwo syllablesOne syllable
Strong vowels (a, e, i)o--a-no
a-ho-ra
ma-es-tro
po-e-ta
te-a-tro
Strong vowel + i, uai-re
au-la
eu-ro
pia-no
a-gua
i + uciu-dad
rui-do
cui-dar
cons-truir
triun-fo

As you can see, in every case you just need to follow the first two rules, considering the ending and which syllable is stressed.

Let’s see now what happens with verbs and adverbs!

4) Verbs and adverbs

When one or more pronouns are added to a verb in infinitive, gerund or imperative, sometimes an accent mark is added to show that the stressed syllable doesn’t change.

Add an accent mark in the following cases:

● Infinitive + two pronouns: poner – ponérselo

● Gerund + one or more pronouns: estudiando – estudiándolo

● Imperative: escribe – escríbelo (but haz – hazlo)

In adverbs formed by an adjective + -mente, if the adjective has an accent mark when alone, it has an accent mark as an adverb too:

clara – claramente / igual – igualmente / cil – cilmente / moda – modamente

And now the last rule!

5) Accent mark to distinguish the meaning: te / té

One-syllable words don’t need an accent mark. However, some of these words, although equal phonetically, don’t have the same meaning.

In this case, we use a written accent mark to distinguish them.

Without accent mark ❌With accent mark ✅
de (of)
el (the)
mi (my)
que (that)
se (reflexive pronoun)
te (objective pronoun)
si (if)
tu (your)
mas (but)
dé (give)
él (he)
mí (objective pronoun)
qué (what)
sé (know)
té (tea)
sí (yes)
tú (you)
más (more)

You can notice that there’s a difference between que and qué. When interrogative pronouns are used as part of direct or indirect questions, as well as exclamations, they always are written with an accent mark:

Este amor es azul como el mar. (= like)
¡Cómo creciste! (= How you have grown!)

Visité Córdoba cuando viajé a Argentina.
¿Cuándo vas a viajar a Asia?

El libro que estoy leyendo es muy interesante.
¿Qué libro estás leyendo?

And that’s all for today!

Do you want to learn more Spanish?

I hope you have enjoyed this article about the rules of accent marks in Spanish!

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Thank you very much and until next time,

Kevin.

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