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In spanish class, I have been learning rules that show when and where to put an accent on a word in Spanish. So far, the main rules are:

  1. Esdrújula- a four syllable word in which an accent would appear on the second syllable. "teléfono"

I am confused: why would "póngalo" have an accent on the o.

  1. Sobre Esdrújula- a five syllable word in which an accent would appear on the second syllable. "póngasela"

This is not consistent because "teléfonica" is 4 from the back yet reducírselo has 5 syllables yet acts esdrújula. Can this method be used to determine where all accents go on these types of words?

Are there any other way to determine where accents go?

I heard just saying the word outside was the best method. Is this true?

More examples:

"dígasela" is correct, not "digásela"

"lávatelas" is correct, not "lavátelas"

"Despiértate" is correct, not "Déspiertate"

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As @JMVanPelt has already answered, the key criterion is which syllable stressed (acento):

  1. If the antepenultimate (third from last) syllable is stressed, means "Esdrújula"
    • It has always accent (tilde)
  2. If the fourth from last syllable is stressed, means "Sobreesdrújula".
    • It has always accent (tilde) too.

In your examples:

  • "digásela" is wrong not because being "esdrújula", but because that word doesn't exist at all.
    • But if it were, it would have the graphical accent (tilde).
  • "lavátelas" is right, because it is "esdrújula" and (in Spanish from Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay) means the same as "lávatelas".
  • "déspiertate" is the same case as your first example.

On the other hand, "teléfonica" doesn't exist, it is written telefónica instead.

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  • So a word could be Esdrújula or Sobreesdrújula depending on how the accent falls, but the reason the accent falls is because of how it is said? – sbswim Apr 20 '16 at 1:02
  • I mean, you can make digásela, but it requires a voseo-speaker whose present subjunctive doesn't match the form (like Colombian or Costa Rican) who also decides to use to postposition the pronouns. The resultant ss would be reduced to s (unlike the nn in, e.g., dígannos). So basically, it's not going ever to happen, but technically, it's not impossible ;-) – user0721090601 Apr 20 '16 at 1:15
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    @sbswim: Exactly. But, more precisely than how it is said, is because of how it is pronounced. In Spanish, the tilde is written or omitted depending on where the stress falls. – Nicolás Ozimica Apr 20 '16 at 1:16
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    @sbswim tilde in Spanish refers to any diacritic mark, but especially acute accents written over vowels. The letter Á is called a con tilde. Ñ isn't called ene con tilde, though, just eñe. – user0721090601 Apr 20 '16 at 1:25
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    As an aside, the current RAE recommendation is not duplicating the e when adding a prefix. Hence, sobresdrújula better than sobreesdrújula, though both are acceptable. – Gorpik Apr 20 '16 at 7:42
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Esdrújula words are stressed in the antepenultimate syllable, independently of how many syllables the word has. Thus, it doesn't matter if the word has four or more syllables, but in which syllable, counting from the end of the word, the stress falls. Check this link, for example.

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