Syllables : how to divide a word in Spanish (by Lazarus)

Syllables : how to divide a word in Spanish (by Lazarus)

These rules are all used to separate syllables and decide how to stress. Notice that sometimes some words are pronounced differently in some regions, but these rules apply nevertheless.



  • A diphthong is a single syllable having two vowels. It must be an unstressed closed vowel (i, u) and an open vowel (a, e, o), or two closed vowels. The possible combinations are ai, ei, oi, au, eu, ou, ia, ie, io, ua, ue, uo, iu and ui. There is always more stress on the open vowel, or if there are two closed ones, the second one. Diphthongs with two closed vowels are often pronounced separately, but orthographically they are considered as one syllable. A h between vowels doesn't make any difference.
  • Two open vowels (e.g. ae, oa) are always two syllables (hiatus). The same happens with an open vowel and a stressed closed one (e.g. ía, eí), but here the closed vowel must have an accent. A h between vowels doesn't make any difference.
  • A triphthong is a syllable with three vowels, and the middle one must be always an open one (a, e, o), and the closed ones (i, u) must be unstressed (otherwise, it will be a vowel plus a diphthong). A h between vowels doesn't make any difference.
  • The u in the digraph qu or the digraph gu before -e or -i are not regarded as vowels. If you want the u to be pronounced with g and before -e or -i, you must use the diaeresis: güe.
  • The letter h is completely ignored when determining syllables, so remove it temporarily before counting - it will be easier. The x is treated exactly as ks.


1) The digraphs ch, ll, rr, qu and gu (before e and i) form a single syllable. However, the rr is split if it is clear from its etymology, as in inter-relacionado.

2) A consonant between vowels belongs to the same syllable as the second vowel, and never the first (e.g. a-ma, o-ro)

3) Certain consonants (b, c, d, f, g, k, p, t) followed by r or l always go together (e.g. tra-ba-jo, a-pli-car). The exceptions to this rule are words with prefixes, such as At-lán-ti-co, sub-li-mi-nal, which are also pronounced separately. Also, the sequences tl and dl are separated or not depending on the country, but they are generally split.

4) Any other two consecutive consonants not mentioned so far, will belong to two different syllables (e.g. ac-ción), unless they are at the beginning of a word (e.g. psi-có-lo-go)

5) When three consonants appear together, the last one will belong to a different syllable, unless it is an r or an s (e.g. ins-truir).


1) Never split a syllable at the end of a line.

2) It is advisable never to hyphenate between two consecutive vowels.

3) It is advisable not to to leave a single vowel alone (after hyphenation).

4) Words with prefixes and suffixes are normally separated from the word, if the rest of the word has a meaning of its own (e.g. sub - terráneo).

5) Use common sense to avoid ugly combinations, like cál-culo (2nd part means "ass").

6) Foreign words are divided according to their native rules, and if these are unknown, do not hyphenate.

Notice that the digraph rr becomes r after hyphenation (e.g. arropar: a-ropar)

updated MAY 19, 2013
edited by martha-sd
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