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Many native Spanish speakers have trouble determining when accent marks (tildes) should be used and where. What are the rules for accent placement in Spanish? How do you determine whether the vowel on the accented syllable should have an accent mark or not?

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

There are three main categories of words in Spanish, according to what syllable the stress falls on: agudas, llanas o graves and esdrújulas. Let's see what these terms mean.

Words are divided in syllables. In order to know what syllable gets the tilde, you need to count the syllables. The counting starts from the last syllable towards the beginning of the word:

  1. Agudas: These are the words that have the stress on the last syllable. These words get the visual accent (tilde) when the words belonging to this category end in -s, -n, or vowel.

    café, posición, estás, etc.

  2. Llanas o graves: The words falling into this category have the stress on the penultimate syllable. These words have the tilde when don't end with -s and -n or when they end with vowel; on the opposite side of the first category I listed.

    cónsul, López, carácter, etc.

  3. Esdrújulas: These words have the stress falling on the third last and fourth last syllable. These words always have the tilde.

    práctica, próximo, jóvenes, diciéndoselo, etc.

Other rules:

  • You put tilde also on words that have hiatus formed by strong vowels (a, e, o) and weak vowels (i, u), such as:

    período, Raúl, actúan, filosofía, etc.

  • Last, but not least, you use it on words that have ambiguity or that require it in special situations:

    • tú – tu
    • él – el
    • cuándo – cuando
    • sólo – solo
    • ... etc.

Note: the examples were taken from the Italian Wikipedia page.

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Great answer, thanks! What are sobreesdrújulas and how do they fit into the picture? – jrdioko Nov 29 '11 at 18:47
Esdrújulas = third syllable. Sobreesdrújulas = fourth syllable. – Alenanno Nov 29 '11 at 18:49
@Alenanno Hay una pequeña omisión, las palabras llanas tampoco se acentúan si acaban en vocal. – Laura Nov 29 '11 at 18:55
@Laura Estaba pensando en eso antes, porque pensaba a "palabra" que también es llana y no lleva acento. :) ¡Voy a agregarlo! – Alenanno Nov 29 '11 at 18:57
A little addition: the ending "-mente" is not counted when counting syllables, and you write the accent if and where the word, without "-mente", would have it. So, for example: fácilmente, pobremente. – MikMik Dec 30 '11 at 10:31

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