Tips and tricks for conquering Spanish accent marks

I remember once that someone told me about his experience with learning Spanish. Having as a native language one that had no graphic accents, this concept was a bit hard for him to grasp. They simply seemed like something impossible to learn. Not even all of his teachers knew how to make accent marks a bit more tangible. The answer that he would always get was: you have to learn word spelling by heart, which to be honest, is not too easy. So, I came in and explained some tips and tricks for successfully dealing with Spanish accent marks and it seems like the mystery is no longer there. Here they are.

The first step to learning about Spanish accents is to know what letters can receive a graphic mark. Fortunately, only vowels can receive a graphic accent, so only five “problems” to worry about (á, é, í, ó, ú). So far it seems to be easy, right? Well, keep paying attention and take notes because it is about to get a bit more serious. Not too complicated though, so do not get scared and give up.

Let’s get started with the accent rules, but before that, it is important to say a few words about stressing syllables. A crucial role is knowing how words are stressed in Spanish. Usually you learn pronunciation by heart. If something is stressed oddly, then it might mean that it needs an accent.

Rule #1: For words which end in either a vowel, the letter “n,” or the letter “s,” the stress is usually put on the next to last syllable.

Rule #2: For words which end in a consonant, except for the letter “n” or the letter “s”, the stress is usually put on the last syllable.

These rules seem to be simple, so when does the part with actually using graphic accents come? Well, like in all cases, rules are made to be broken and so every rule has its own exception. As a consequence, we need to mark those exceptions with an accent mark. It seems simple, right? Well, let’s take a look.

Examples: Rule #1 : normal: vasos (va-sos), trampa (tram-pa).

exception: exámenes (ex-á-me-nes), también (tam-bién).

Rule #2 : normal: felicidad (fe-li-ci-dad), postal (pos-tal).

                     exception: árbol (ár-bol), cárcel (cár-cel).

Rule #3: when a weak vowel is heard harder than a strong vowel, then a graphic accent is put on the weak vowel. For this rule, you will have to know which are the strong and the weak vowels. Let’s start with the strong ones. There are 3 strong: a, e, o. Basically, since there are only five vowels, we are left with two weak ones: i, u. Here is an example of an exception: país. Since the letter i, a weak vowel is stressed instead of the letter a, we used a graphic mark.

Unfortunately these are not the only accent rules. However, it is better to take them one by one and keep the others for a future post than have to deal with everything all at once.

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