The Basic Rule
In previous lessons we have seen how to count the number of syllables in a word. We have also practiced telling which syllable of a word is stressed. With that knowledge, we can now discuss accent marks.
Remember that there is a rule in Spanish that tells what syllable of a word should ordinarily be stressed. Most words follow the rule, and so they don't need an accent mark. But some words don't follow the rule. On those words, the stressed syllable needs to be marked with an accent.
And, finally, here is the rule:
- If the last letter of the word is a vowel, n or s, then the stress is expected to be on the next-to-last syllable.
- Otherwise (that is, if the word ends in a consonant other than n or s), then the stress is expected to be on the last syllable.
Again, most words follow this rule, and thus don't need accents. But some words don't. Those words need an accent mark on the vowel of their stressed syllable.
- Note: If you have the feeling that there is something of a chicken-and-egg situation here, you may be right. If you know this rule and you also know how a word is pronounced (probably because you already speak Spanish), you can figure out whether it needs an accent mark. Similarly, if you know the rule and also know whether a word has an accent mark (perhaps because you looked it up in a dictionary), you can predict how it is pronounced. But if you don't know either how a word is pronounced or whether it has an accent mark, then you are out of luck, and probably need to consult a dictionary or a native Spanish speaker.
Consider the following words. Their stressed vowels are in blue. Can you explain why some of them have accent marks, while others do not?
- Note: Inglés means "English." Ingles means "loins." So the statement that "Juan estudia ingles" is rather amusing. However, as was pointed out at the beginning of the tutorial, almost any Spanish speaker who read such a sentence would figure out from the context what was meant and supply the missing accent mark without giving it a second thought.
If you think you're starting to understand accents, have a stab at the quiz.