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Consider those two examples :

1) "cantar", which is written "canto" (present, first person) or "cantó" (simple past, third person). Is the pronunciation different in those two cases? According to one rule that I've seen, the accents in verbs conjugations is purely grammatical, and should not affect the pronunciation. However in this example I have the feeling that there is a difference in pronunciation. What is the correct rule?

2) "callarse" (the accent is on the "ar") is conjugated "cállate" (imperative, second person). Should we put the accent on the syllable "cá" as indicated by the accent or on the syllable "lla", following the standard rule and taking into account that the "á" is purely grammatical?

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    I don't know where you read that rule, but it is not a trustworthy place. The accent mark always signals the stressed syllable. The only exceptions I know of are some cases where the whole word becomes effectively unstressed, such as in some double names (e.g.: José María is usually pronounced Josemaría, stressing only the i). – Gorpik Sep 23 '16 at 9:15
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    @Gorpik and normally, outside of names, once that single stress happens, the word gets written as one. Consider arco iris and arcoíris, for instance. – user0721090601 Sep 24 '16 at 14:51
  • Thank you for the answers that entirely satisfy me -- and comfort me in what I thought was correct. As for where the "incorrect rule" can be found, there is for instance this page in French. – Antoine Sep 27 '16 at 13:38
  • You misread or misunderstood the linked French page. It correctly explains the role of accents in Spanish and nowhere states the grammatical accent is used on verbs. Perhaps you wrongly assumed a verb is not a mot (word/*palabra*). – jlliagre Sep 27 '16 at 16:33
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You should pronounce the verbs in a different way. That's why the accent is put. If you pronounce cantó without changing the way you pronounce it, it is not clear if you mean Yo canto (I sing) or ella cantó (She sang). In the second example you gave, the pronunciation changes too depending where the accent is put.

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The accent ALWAYS marks the stressed syllable in Spanish.

The second accent is more complex. Cállate comes from the imperative "calla" (stressed ca) with the second person reflexive pronoun postponed. Here (postponed words to imperatives) the rule is: if it becomes "esdrújula" (third syllable from the end) or "sobreesdrújula" (4+), accent. It mantains the original verb's stressed syllable.

Examples:

  • Mete el coche / Mételo
  • Mira esa paloma / Mírala
  • Dale eso / Dáselo
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  • If I understand properly, the "original verb's stressed syllable" is not a well defined universal concept for a given verb. Instead, it depends at least on the tense and mode of the verb (as an example, the verb "mirar" is stressed on the second syllable "rar" in the present indicative mode, but on the first syllable "mi" in the present imperative mode). – Antoine Sep 27 '16 at 13:44
  • You can tell by the accent rules. Any word in Spanish you read, you can immediately know how to say it. You used mirar in your example. If it was "llana" it should be "mírar". If you know how it's written, you can always know how to say it. – Sergio Tx Sep 27 '16 at 13:52
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The rule which you have seen is not true. Spanish uses accents to show when a word's stress/pronunciation deviates from the regular rules.

Rules of Accent Placement

  1. The acute accent (´) is used to show that the word is stressed on that syllable, rather than where it would normally fall:
    • callate [not a word] vs. cállate [be quiet, command]
  2. The acute accent (´) can also be used to clarify a word's meaning:
    • de [from, preposition] vs. dé [give, command]
    • este/a [this, adjective] vs. éste [this, pronoun] vs. esté/á [be, command]
  3. The dieresis (¨) is used to force a u to be pronounced after a g (güe, gwey; qüi, gwee):
    • verguenza [not a word] vs. vergüenza [embarrassment, noun]

Commands and Gerunds (-ing Forms)

If using a command that has a pronound (me, te, se, nos, os, le, les, lo, la, los, las), and the pronoun is attached to the end of the verb, you must put an acute accent on the normally-stressed vowel:

  • Callar : calla + te = cállate
  • Llamar + te : llamando + te = llamándote

Rules of Word Stress

Word stress is determined as follows:

  1. If the word ends in a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or n or s, the stress falls on the penultimate (second-to-last) syllable:
    • joven, hijo(s)
  2. If the word ens in any other consonant, the final (last) syllable is stressed:
    • pared, amar
  3. If the word is a noun whose singular form ends in an s or n, the plural form is stressed on the same syllable, but an accent must be used.
    • jóvenes
  4. If the word is a command or gerund with pronouns attached to it, the stress falls on the same syllable as without pronouns. (N.B. an accent must be used to show this change.)

    • Callar : calla + te = cállate
    • Llamar + te : llamando + te = llamándote.
  5. If the word carries an accent, the accent is retained in the extended forms unless the ending moves the stress to the same syllable as the accent. (N.B. in these cases the accent is dropped.)

    • varón, varones
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    "The acute accent (´) can also be used to clarify a word's meaning." Before 2010, yes. However, the accent now only distinguishes words if and only if one is unaccented (te) and the other is accented (té). Otherwise, no distinction is made. Also, there is no such thing as qüe or qüi in Spanish. – user0721090601 Sep 26 '16 at 17:48
  • @guifa Thank you for notifying me. I have corrected the example with qüe and qüi. However, I am hesitant to remove the note about clarifying a meaning. I am taking College Spanish 1 right now, and the updated textbooks still use the acute accent to clarify the meanings. Do you have a resource that I can read about it not being used after 2010? – Spencer T Sep 27 '16 at 15:52

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