Mastering Spanish accents sometimes become quite confusing, especially if you are a beginner. The good news for the learners is that Spanish accents follow rules and learning those rules can increase your chances of mastering accents and how they are used.
Ranging from Spanish accents to stress rules, this guide will be a great help to you. In this guide, you will learn all the basics of Spanish accents and how they are used.
Spanish accent marks
Let’s start with the fundamentals. Tildes (Spanish accents) can only be written over the five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). From lower left to upper right, the accent is written as: á, é, í, ó, ú.
Spanish stress rules
In Spanish, there are two basic rules that tell us where to place the stress of a word. Stress is important because it is sometimes the only way to tell two words apart. It’s the distinction between “in-sult,” as in “I couldn’t think of a good insult,” and “in-SULT,” as in “She’s going to insult me now, I just know it.”
Words ending in a vowel, n, or s
The next to last syllable is stressed in words that end in a vowel, the letter n, or the letter s. For example:
- todo (to-do) all/every
- inteligente (in-te-li-gen-te) smart
- el examen (e-xa-men) exam
- joven (jo-ven) young
- lunes (lu-nes) Monday
- los calcetines (cal-ce-ti-nes) socks
Words ending in a consonant (not n, s)
The last syllable is stressed in words that end in any other consonant (not n or s). for example:
- comer (co-mer) to eat
- la ciudad (ciu-dad) the city
- el profesor (pro-fe-sor) the professor/teacher
- el animal (a-ni-mal) the animal
- Madrid (Ma-drid) Madrid
And there you have it! Do you think you remember those two rules?
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Learn when to add Spanish accents
When the stress violates either of those two rules, we add accent marks to Spanish words.
Let’s start with a specific example: los exámenes, a word from my vocabulary test. The word ends in a “s,” so the stress should be on the next to last syllable: ex-am-en-es, according to the first rule. However, it does not.
Rather, the word retains the same stress as its singular form, on what is now the third to last syllable, so an accent mark is added: exámenes (e-xa-me-nes). That is all.
Here are some Spanish words with accent marks that violate rule #1. You will notice that none of the stresses fall on the second to last syllable, as is customary.
- la canción (can-cion) song
- también (tam-bien) also
- los crímenes (cri-me-nes) crimes
- jamás (ja-mas) never
- inglés (in-gles) English
- rápido (ra-pi-do) fast
- está (es-ta) is, the third person singular of the verb estar – to be
If you want to learn how to type Spanish accents, remember these rule breakers. It will help you type Spanish accents effortlessly.
Here are some examples of words that violate the second rule. These are words that end in a consonant (not “n” or “s”) but do not have an accent on the final syllable.
- el árbol (ar-bol) tree
- la cárcel (car-cel) jail/prison
- el césped (ces-ped) grass
- débil (de-bil) weak
Spanish Homonyms accents: Same pronunciation, different meaning
Accent marks are also used in Spanish to distinguish between words that sound (and thus spell) the same but have different meanings: homonyms. For example:
- de (preposition: of, from)
- dé (third-person singular subjunctive form of dar – to give)
- el (masculine article: the)
- él (he)
- mas (but)
- más (more)
- se (reflexive and indirect object pronoun)
- sé (I know)
- si (if)
- sí (yes)
- te (object: you)
- té: (tea)
- tu (your)
- tú (subject: you)
Accents on Question words
When used in a question, indirect question, or embedded question, all interrogative words have a Spanish accent.
- ¿Quién? (Who?)
- ¿Qué? (What? / Which?)
- ¿Dónde? (Where?)
- ¿Cuándo? (When?)
- ¿Por qué? (Why?)
- ¿Cómo? (How?)
- ¿Cuál? (Which?)
- ¿Cuánto? (How much/many?)
Regular questions are relatively simple and easy to identify, but let’s look at a few of these words in greater detail, as well as some examples of indirect and embedded questions.
Indirect and embedded questions having Spanish accents
Whenever the word “cuánto” means “how much/many,” it carries an accent:
No sé cuántos hay. (I don’t know how many there are.)
When the word “cómo” translates to “how,” it carries an accent – no matter where it appears in the sentence. (Without the accent, “como” means “like” or “as”.)
No entiendo cómo lo hace. (I don’t understand how he does it.)
Likewise, when “qué” means an interrogative “what,” it must carry an accent.
No sé qué hacer. (I don’t know what to do.)
Question words as pronouns don’t hold accents
There is no accent mark when these words are used as a pronoun rather than in a question or indirect question. For example:
- El chico que dijo eso es mentiroso. (The boy who said that is a liar.)
- Es el parque donde conocí a tu madre. (It’s the park where I met your mother.)
- No trabajo cuando estoy enferma. (I don’t work when I’m sick.)
Spanish accents are used to distinguish feminine and masculine demonstrative pronouns (this one, that one) from demonstrative adjectives (this -, that -), which are identical except for the absence of an accent mark.
Remember that pronouns replace nouns, whereas adjectives describe nouns. If you are a little rusty on grammar terminology, the example sentences below the pronoun lists will help clarify this distinction.
- éste (this)
- éstos (these)
- ése (that)
- ésos (those)
- aquél (that over there)
- aquéllos (those over there)
- ésta (this)
- éstas (these)
- ésa (that)
- ésas (those)
- aquélla (that over there)
- aquéllas (those over there)
- esto (this)
- eso (that)
- aquello (that over there)
- No quiero comprar este coche; mi novia prefiere ése. (I don’t want to buy this car; my girlfriend prefers that one.)
The first “este” is an adjective that describes “coche” and is written without an accent: Which vehicle? That vehicle. The “ése” at the end of the sentence is a demonstrative pronoun that stands in for the car. Again, the accent marks are placed on demonstrative pronouns (though not the neuter pronouns: esto, eso, aquello.)
- Se me olvidó estudiar ayer. Por eso estoy nerviosa para el examen. (I forgot to study yesterday. Because of this, I’m nervous for the exam).
- Este libro es tan interesante como ése. (This book is as interesting as that one.)
- Soy editora de estas revistas, pero no de aquél (I’m an editor of these magazines, but not those over there.)
How to type Spanish accents
Whether you use a PC or a Mac, the simplest way is to change your keyboard settings to “US – International”.
For Mac users: Select “Keyboard” from your system preferences. Then, on the top menu, select “Input Sources.” If “US – International” isn’t already on your list, click the + sign, then select “US – International” and click “Add.”
We recommend that you check the box next to “Show input menu in menu bar.” This will add a small icon to the top menu bar of the screen (by the date and time). You can use this icon to quickly switch between keyboards without having to go into your system preferences.
Another non-keyboard option is to press and hold letters to see variants with different accent marks, and then choose what you need from there. This is great for the occasional accent mark, but if you are typing in Spanish frequently, switch to a different keyboard.
For PC users: On a PC, go to the start menu and type “intl.cpl” into the search field. Click on the third tab, “Keyboards and Languages,” to open the result. Then, click “Change Keyboards,” then “Add…”, then “United States – International,” and finally “OK.”
If you intend to use the international keyboard frequently, make it your default keyboard from the drop-down menu while the keyboard menu is still open. You can also keep a small keyboard icon on the bottom menu bar of the screen. You can quickly switch between keyboards from here without having to go into keyboard settings.
To add a Spanish accent to a vowel, press the quotation key (“/ “) next to the return key, followed by the vowel. It’s really simple. To accent a capital letter, simply press the quotation key before typing the capital vowel normally, holding down the shift key, and then typing the letter.
If you want a single or double quotation mark before an unaccented vowel, press the quotation key followed by the space bar, and your vowel will be left alone. The ñ is also simple to type with the international keyboard. Press shift, followed by the (~/`) key located to the left of “1/!” and you’ll see a floating tilde: ˜. You can let go of the keys right away and then type “n” to produce a wonderful ñ.
The accents differ in Spanish-speaking countries and one has to examine the accent used by natives in order to gain practical experience.
Frequently Asked Questions about Spanish Accents
Q. What is the most common Spanish accent?
A. These are Mexican, Caribbean, Central American, Colonial, and Spanglish, with Mexican Being the most common.
Q. What is the strongest Spanish accent?
A. Spanish from Chile is famously different from the standard version.
Q. What is the hardest Spanish accent to understand?
A. Chile, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Andalusia (Spain) are a few of the places considered to speak more difficult Spanish.
Follow the Spanish accent rules to understand Spanish dialects and become a pro at typing Spanish accents. Practice typing Spanish accents and watch your overall Spanish writing improve; you will be ready to write and type Spanish accents correctly whenever you need them.