Accents in Spanish. Rules

In Spanish, as in English, the word accent has more than one interpretation. To not get into too deep grammatical issues, we can include the definition of accent in any of the following classifications:

Types of Accent:

Graphic accent: it is the sign of writing or “tilde” that is placed over the vowel letters for stand out the intonation of the voice over these.

Vowels with accent

Diacritic accent: the “tilde” used in certain vowels in some words it is to differentiate the meanings of the same word, either article, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, etc..

Lexical accent: it is the articulation of the voice to emphasize a syllable from the rest.

These three types of accent in Spanish, are summarized in one only when we seek their equivalence in English, and it is the term, grammatically speaking, stress (also known as emphasis or intonation). In fact, in a simplified manner, we can consider that in English only exists, the lexical accent.

The other interpretation which has the term accent, both in Spanish and English, is associated with sociolinguistics, and it is nothing more than the different intonations characteristic of one or more persons of a same origin, regions or countries, other than our own.

In this Post, we’ll only talk about the three grammatical accents and leave the issue of socio-linguistic accent for the Posts associated with the different ways in which, the Spanish-speaking people of different countries, speak Spanish.

Our Tips associated with the accentuation in Spanish are as follows:

    • In Spanish, as in English, the words can be classified according to syllable in which have the greater phonetic emphasis. The words that carry the intonation on the last syllable, are called “agudas” (oxytones), carrying the phonetic emphasis on the penultimate syllable are called “llanas” (paroxytones) and words which carry the phonetic emphasis in the antepenultimate syllable are called “esdrújulas” (proparoxytones).
    • Unlike in English, in Spanish there are words with phonetic emphasis on the preantepenultimate syllable and they are called “sobreesdrujulas”.

  • In English, it is more important to proper intonation of the stressed syllable in the sentence than in Spanish, where most importance is the emphasis on the syllable within the word. Moreover, the importance is accentuated by the ratio between the number of words of each kind in the Spanish vocabulary. The numbers are: 78% paroxytones (llanas), 18% in oxytones (agudas) and 4% between proparoxytones (esdrújulas and sobreesdrújulas). In English, this proportion is very different because there are very few oxytones and proparoxytones. The percentages are 94% paroxytones, 4% oxytones and 2% proparoxytones.
  • In Spanish, unlike English, there are many words that the meaning changes according to changes in the location of the stressed syllable. This happen at the point that there are numerous words of three syllables that have three different meanings depending on the syllable where they have the phonetic emphasis. Here you can see some examples:

Ánimo (mood)                        Animo (animate)                 Ani (encouraged)

brico (lubricious)               Lubrico (lubricate)             Lubri (lubricates)

Cálculo (calculation)              Calculo (calculate)              Calcu (calculated)

Práctico (practical)                 Practico (practice)               Practi (practiced)

  • To a lesser degree, but equally important, is the case of two-syllable words that change their meaning by varying the stressed syllable, whether or not they have graphic accent. For example:

papa (potato)                         pa (dad)

pelo (hair)                               pe (peeled)

bebe (drink)                            be (baby)

firme (firm)                             fir ( I signed)

  • An excellent summary of the rules of accentuation in Spanish (explained in English) can be found at the following Video:
  • Finally, we want to offer you a listing of the combinations of keys to press on your keyboard in English, to get the letters with accent making use of standard ASCII characters:

ALT + 160 = á

ALT + 130 = é

ALT + 161 = í

ALT + 162 = ó

ALT + 163 = ú

ALT + 164 = ñ

ALT + 165 = Ñ

ALT + 0193 = Á

ALT + 0201 = É

ALT + 0205 = Í

ALT + 0211 = Ó

ALT + 0218 = Ú

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Written By Alberto Otano

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