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Overview

What are all those little "accents" for? Tildes (written accent marks) let the reader know where to place the intonation when a rule is broken. Without the tilde, we would just have to guess like we do in English:

I love that record vs. He loves to record music.

There are lots of heteronyms in English and the rules for pronunciation are a little vague. But not in Spanish! Knowing the four categories of words makes positioning the tilde super easy. There are only 2 rules!

  1. Esdrújulas and sobresdrújulas always have a tilde on the syllable with the most stress.
  2. Agudas and graves have a tilde when they violate the intonation rules (see pronunciation - intonation):

a. If the stress is on the last syllable (aguda) and the word ends in vowel, 'n', or 's', it must have a tilde (Pana, ratón, cortés)

b. If the stress in on the penultimate syllable (grave) and the word ends in a consonant other than 'n' or 's', it must have a tilde (árbol, acar, ángel)

Now, if you´ve ever taken a language course before, you know there are always (dreaded word) exceptions to the rules. Spanish has fewer exceptions than a lot of languages (English), but here is a list of the few that do exist. These are all here because the tilde differentiates two words that are spelled and pronounced the same way, but mean different things. It´s all obvious in context, but when writing things out, it´s nice to have the extra little signal up there.

Possessive adjectives Personal pronouns
mi (my) mí (me)
tu (your) tú (you)

Examples:

  • Mi amor me dió la rosa a . tienes un gato. Es tu gato.
  • My love gave the rose to me. You have a cat. It is your cat.*

All interrogative (question) words have a written accent to signal that someone is asking a question and not just making a statement.

¿Cómo? How/What?
¿Cuál(es)? Which (ones)?
¿Cuándo? When?
¿Cuánto(s)/a(s)? How much/many?
¿Dónde? Where?
¿Qué? What?
¿Quién? Who/whom?
¿Por qué? Why?
  1. There are also several other words that "just have" accents to differentiate them. The tilde makes a big difference when written, but in speech, although they share the same sounds, the one with the tilde is pronounced with more stress.
él (he) el (the) Él le gusta el queso. He likes the cheese.
té (tea) te (you - direct object) Te recomiendo que bebas el té. I recommend that you drink the tea.
sí (yes) si (if) Sí, quiero ir al cafe si tienen la pizza. Yes, I want to go to the cafe if they have pizza.
más (more) mas (but) Quiero más chocolate, mas es mala idea. I want more chocolate, but it´s a bad idea.
aún (still, yet) aun (even) Aun después de una cita buena, aún él no me ha llamado. Even after a good date, he still has not called me.
cómo (how/what) como (like, as) ¿Cómo se llama él? ¿Es alto como Pablo? What is his name? Is he tall like Pablo?
sólo (only) solo (alone) Iré sólo si tú vas también; no quiero ir solo. I will go only if you go; I don't want to go alone.

Exercises

Write out the following words, circle the stress in each word, and categorize each word as Aguda, Grave, Esdrújula, or Sobresdrújula.

  1. calle
  2. color
  3. avión
  4. rápido
  5. lección
  6. americanos
  7. hablan
  8. feliz
  9. fácilmente
  10. árbol

The stressed syllable in each word is bold. Write out each word and put an accent in the words that need it.

  • Hint: Classify each word first, then see if it violates its rules. If it does, it needs an accent.
  1. papa
  2. pajaro
  3. segun
  4. raton
  5. mujer
  6. animal
  7. platos
  8. hipopotamo
  9. joven
  10. antiguo
  11. pelicula
  12. arbol
  13. papa
  14. pescado
  15. azucar
  16. credito
  17. esta
  18. esta
  19. termino
  20. director

Answers

Part 1

  1. calle - grave
  2. color - aguda
  3. avión - aguda
  4. pido - esdrújula
  5. lección - aguda
  6. americanos - grave
  7. hablan - grave
  8. feliz - aguda
  9. cilmente - sobresdrújula
  10. árbol - grave

Part 2

  1. papa
  2. pájaro
  3. según
  4. ratón
  5. mujer
  6. animal
  7. platos
  8. hipopótamo
  9. joven
  10. antiguo
  11. película
  12. árbol
  13. papá
  14. pescado
  15. azúcar
  16. crédito
  17. esta
  18. está
  19. término
  20. director
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