Spanish Syllables and Syllabification Rules

Overview

Knowing how to separate a word into syllables can help you pronounce and spell Spanish words correctly, as well as help you decide if a word needs a written accent or not.

General Syllabification Rules

The fancy word for dividing a word into syllables is syllabification. Here are some general rules for Spanish syllabification.

Consonant Plus Vowel

Whenever possible, you should break up words so that each syllable contains a consonant followed by a vowel. A consonant between two vowels belongs to the syllable with the second vowel. The goal is to end each syllable with a vowel.

WordSyllabification
sábana
 
sá-ba-na
gato
 
ga-to
casa
 
ca-sa
mano
 
ma-no
oro
 
o-ro
mesa
 
me-sa

Two Consecutive Consonants

Two consecutive consonants will generally belong to separate syllables. However, if the second consonant is a r or l, the consonant pair is not separated into different syllables.

Words that begin with prefixes often violate the above rules. For example the syllabification of enloquecer  is en-lo-que-cer.

WordSyllabification
cuando
 
cuan-do
alcanzar
 
al-can-zar
costa
 
cos-ta
sombrillo
 
som-bri-llo
clave
 
cla-ve
trabajo
 
tra-ba-jo
aplicar
 
a-pli-car
frequente
 
fre-quen-te
hecho
 
he-cho
amarillo
 
a-ma-ri-llo
carro
 
ca-rro
merengue
 
me-ren-gue
  • In Puerto Rico and most of Spain, the consonant cluster tl is divided into separate syllables. For example, the syllabification of atlántico  is at-lán-ti-co.
  • In most of Latin America, especially Mexico and other countries with words of Nahuatl origin, as well as the Canary Islands of Spain, the consonant cluster tl is not divided into separate syllables. For example, the syllabification of atlántico  is a-tlán-ti-co and the syllabification of tlacuache  (possum) is tla-cua-che.

Three Consecutive Consonants

When three consonants appear together, the first one will generally belong to a separate syllable.

WordSyllabification
inglés
 
in-glés
compresar
 
com-pre-sar
panfleto
 
pan-fle-to
ombligo
 
om-bli-go
constante
 
con-stan-te

Strong and Weak Vowels

Spanish has both strong vowels (a, e, o) and weak vowels (i, u). Here are some rules on how the combinations of these vowels are divided into syllables.

  • Two weak vowels together form a diphthong and are not separated into different syllables. Example: fui 
  • A weak vowel and a strong vowel together form a diphthong and are not separated into different syllables. Example: Juan 
  • Two strong vowels together form a hiatus and are separated into different syllables. Example: Leo 

A tilde placed over a letter changes the above pronunciation rules, and the accented letter must be separated from any surrounding vowels. Example: mío 

WordSyllabification
toalla
 
to-a-lla
feo
 
fe-o
iguana
 
i-gua-na
reina
 
rei-na
tío
 
tí-o
ciudad
 
ciu-dad
creer
 
cre-er

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