Spanish Accent Marks – Learn the Rules and Practice!

Welcome to our grammar lesson about Spanish Accent Marks (also called “tildes” in Spanish).

Accent marks are these little marks we see on some Spanish words: ´

Only vowels can accent marks. When they do, they look like this: á, é, í, ó, ú (or, when capitalized: Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú)

In this lesson, we will learn the rules to decide if a word should have an accent mark just by hearing it. Then we will practice those rules with a few words.

We have also included a Quiz and an Exercise to practice even more.


Important! The rules we are going to learn don’t apply to question words such as “qué”, “dónde”, etc.

They don’t apply to monosyllables either (words with only one syllable).

But don’t worry! Towards the end of the lesson, we have included two special sections about those types of words.


Introduction – Strong and Weak Vowels

There are two types of vowels in Spanish: strong and weak. This is important for accent marks, as we will see.

Strong vowels are “a, e, o” and weak vowels are “i, u” :

Strong vowels "a, e, o" and weak vowels "i, u".

This division is important for Accent Rules we will learn next.

Rules for Accent Marks: 3 Steps

If we hear a word and want to know if it should be written with an accent mark, we need to follow 3 steps: 

Step 1 – Number the word’s syllables

We need to count the syllables and number them from right to left.

Counting syllables is pretty easy. However, it can get tricky when two vowels appear together (or with only a letter “h” in between). The following box explains what to do in that case:

Numbering syllables when 2 vowels appear together (or with only a letter “h” in between):

Here are the different possibilities:

If the two vowels are weak, then they belong to the same syllable.

If the two vowels are strong, then they belong to different syllables.

If one of the vowels is weak and the other is strong, then we need to consider the following:

  • If the stress of the whole word falls on the weak vowel, then they belong to different syllables and, more importantly… the weak vowel must have an accent mark! So we can write the accent mark and SKIP THE REST OF THE PROCESS! 🙂
  • If the stress of the whole word falls on the strong vowel, they belong to the same syllable.


Step 2 – Identify the stressed syllable

After numbering the syllables, hear the word again and pay attention to its melody. Try to identify the vowel that sounds stressed and the syllable it belongs to.


Step 3 – Apply the proper rule and decide

This is the final step.

We need to apply a different rule depending on where the stressed vowel is:

If the stressed vowel belongs to syllable 1…

… then the stressed vowel needs an accent mark only if the word ends in “n”, “s”, or vowel.

If the stressed vowel belongs to syllable 2…

… then the stressed vowel needs an accent mark only if the word ends in any letter that is NOT “n”, “s” or vowel.

If the stressed vowel belongs to syllable 3 or higher…

… then the stressed vowel ALWAYS needs an accent mark.


Example words

Now it’s time to put the rules into practice. This is the fun part! 🙂

Here is a list of 6 words. Some are correctly written, but others need an accent mark:

  • arroz
  • Fernandez
  • mesa
  • vivia
  • despues
  • simpatico

For each word, we will follow the rules and decide if it should have an accent mark.

Of course, in order to do this we need to hear them, so we provide an audio for each word. We have exaggerated the pronunciation to clearly notice the stressed vowel.

Let’s do it!

arroz

Step 1: Number the syllables

– The word has 2 syllables.

arroz
21

Step 2: Identify the syllable that sounds stressed

We hear the word and realize the word is stressed on syllable 1.

Step 3: Apply the proper rule and decide

– We apply the rule for words stressed on syllable one.

– The word ends in the letter “z”.

– That means it shouldn’t have an accent mark.

Solution: arroz


Fernandez

Step 1: Number the syllables

– The word has 3 syllables.

Fernandez
321

Step 2: Identify the syllable that sounds stressed

We hear the word and realize the word is stressed on syllable 2.

Step 3: Apply the proper rule and decide

– We apply the rule for words stressed on syllable 2.

– The word ends in a “z”.

– That means it must have an accent mark on the stressed vowel, “a”.

Solution: Fernández


mesa

Step 1: Number the syllables

– The word has 2 syllables.

mesa
21

Step 2: Identify the syllable that sounds stressed

We hear the word and realize the word is stressed on syllable 2.

Step 3: Apply the proper rule and decide

– We apply the rule for words stressed on syllable 2.

– The word ends in a vowel.

– That means it shouldn’t have an accent mark.

Solution: mesa


vivia

Step 1: Number the syllables

– There are two vowels together, so we need to think for a moment:

– One of two vowels is weak, the other is strong.

– We hear the word, and realize the stress of the whole word falls on the weak vowel, “i”.

In that case, we can skip the rest of the process: There needs to be an accent mark on the “i”.

Solution:  vivía


despues

Step 1: Number the syllables

– There are two vowels together, so we need to think for a moment:

– One of two vowels is weak, the other is strong.

– We hear the word, and realize the stress of the whole word doesn’t fall on the weak vowel.

– That means: “pues” is just one syllable, not two.

– We can now confidently number the syllables:

despues
21

Step 2: Identify the syllable that sounds stressed

We hear the word again and realize the word is stressed on syllable 1, more specifically on the “e” of the syllable “pues”.

Step 3: Apply the proper rule and decide

– We apply the rule for words stressed on syllable 1.

– The word ends in the letter “s”.

– That means it must have an accent mark on the stressed vowel, “e”.

Solution:  después


simpatico

Step 1: Number the syllables

– The word has 4 syllables.

simpatico
4321

Step 2: Identify the syllable that sounds stressed

We hear the word and realize the word is stressed on syllable 3.

Step 3: Apply the proper rule and decide

– We apply the rule for words stressed on syllable 3: they all have must have an accent mark on the stressed vowel (in this case, the “a”).

Solution: simpático

Practice

Quiz

Let’s now practice accent marks with a few more words.

Take this short Quiz to check if you understood the rules!:

Exercise

Even more words! Try to decide if the following words should have an accent mark. Then check the solutions.

The stressed vowel is highlighted in black:

detras
sorpresa
triangulo
serpiente
magnifico
lio
reo
traidor

Israel
ahinco
comi
habil
reunion
angel
Dario
salud

Solutions

detrás
sorpresa
triángulo
serpiente
magnífico
lío
reo
traidor

Israel
ahínco
comí
hábil
reunión
ángel
Darío
salud

Accents on Monosyllables

Monosyllables (one-syllable words) in general don’t have accent marks.

However, there are exceptions to this rule.

Some monosyllables can have different meanings depending on the specific sentence. We write these monosyllables with or without an accent mark depending on their meaning in that sentence:

With accent markWithout accent mark
form of verb "give"de"of"
él"he"el"the"
más"more"mas"but"
"me"mi"my"
form of verb "to be" and "to know"sepersonal pronoun
"yes" / "himself" / "herself"si"if"
"tea"tepersonal pronoun
"you"tu"your"

Accents on Question Words

Question words such as “¿qué?” or “¿dónde?” must have an accent mark when they have an interrogative role.

Here is the list of all question words:

  • dónde (where)
  • adónde (to where)
  • cómo (how)
  • cuál (which one)
  • cuáles (which ones)
  • cuándo (when)
  • cuánto/a/s (how much, how many)
  • qué (what)
  • quién (who, singular)
  • quiénes (who, plural)

Let’s take “dónde” and “qué”, and read some examples where they either have or don’t have an accent mark, depending on their specific role in the sentence.

dónde

¿Dónde estás?
Where are you? (interrogative role)

No sé dónde tengo mis gafas.
I don’t know where I have my glasses. (although there are no question marks, the role is still interrogative, because someone is wondering where the glasses are)

Esta es el sitio donde pongo mis gafas.
This is the place where I put my glasses. (no interrogative role, here “donde” is a relative pronoun, a mere connector between “sitio” and “puse”)

qué

¿Qué quieres?
What do you want? (interrogative role)

Me pregunta qué quiero.
He asks me what I want. (although there are no question marks, the role is still interrogative)

Esta es la casa que he comprado.
This is the house that I’ve bought. (no interrogative role)

Typing accent marks on keyboards (PC and Mac)

If you have a PC or Mac without a Spanish keyboard and you need help typing accented vowels, try this methods:

For PC

First press Ctrl + ‘
Then press the key of the vowel you want to type

The vowel should appear with an accent mark. However, this method might not work if you have an older PC.

For Mac

First press Alt + e
Release them
Then press the key of the vowel you want to type

The vowel should appear with an accent mark.