Spanish Accent Marks (Tildes) – Rules and Words for Practice

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

Every word in Spanish has a melody to it. An element that plays a key role in that melody is the accent, accent mark or “tilde” we see on top of a vowel in some Spanish words.

Only vowels can have accents in Spanish, and when they have it, they look like this: á, é, í, ó, ú. Or, when they are capitalized, like this: Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú

In this lesson, we will learn the rules to decide if a word should have an accent mark after hearing that word. We will then put the rules into practice with a few words.

We will also learn how to type accent marks on keyboards for PC and Mac.

At the end of the lesson there is a Quiz with some more words for practice, so that you can test your ability.


Important: The main 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 consisting on just one syllable). But don’t worry! We have included two special sections towards the end of the lesson about accent marks on those specific types of words.


Introduction to Strong and Weak Vowels in Spanish

In order to understand the rules about Spanish accent marks, it is important to know that there are two types of vowels in Spanish: strong and weak.

The strong vowels are “a, e, o” and the weak vowels are “i, u” :

A graphic with two circles, one for strong vowels "a, e, o" and one for weak vowels "i,u"

With that in mind, now we can explain the rules.

Rules for Spanish Accent Marks: the 3 Steps

If we hear a Spanish word and we 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 word’s syllables and number them from right to left.

Counting syllables is pretty easy. However, it can get tricky when two vowels appear together. The following box explains what to do in that case:

Numbering syllables when 2 vowels appear together

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 keep thinking:

  • If the stress of the whole word falls on the weak vowel, then they belong to different syllables and, more importantly, then the weak vowel must have an accent mark! So we can write the accent mark and SKIP THE REST OF THE PROCESS! 🙂
  • Otherwise, 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. After identifying the vowel that sounds stressed, we need to apply a rule, depending on what syllable that vowel belongs to.

If the stressed vowel belongs to syllable 1:

In this case, the stressed vowel must have an accent mark only if the word ends in “n”, “s”, or vowel.

If the stressed vowel belongs to syllable 2:

In this case, the stressed vowel must have an accent mark only if the word DOESN’T end in “n”, “s” or vowel.

If the stressed vowel belongs to syllable 3 or higher:

In this case, the stressed vowel ALWAYS must have an accent mark.


Accents on capitalized vowels

Remember, capitalized vowels can have accent marks, the capitalization makes no difference at all.

For example, if the word “árbol” is capitalized, it reads “Árbol”. The accent mark is still there.

Practice Accent Marks with Words

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

Here is a list of several words. Some of the are correctly written, but others should have accents:

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

For each word, we will follow the steps to decide if they should have an accent mark. Of course, in order to do this we need to hear them, so we have provided an audio with the sound of each word, with an exaggerated pronunciation so you can hear the stressed vowel clearly.

Let’s do it!

despues

Step 1: Number the syllables

– There are two vowels together, so we need to focus there 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 number the syllables confidently:

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”.

Verdict:  después

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.

Verdict: arroz

vivia

Step 1: Number the syllables

– There are two vowels together, so we need to focus there 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”.

Verdict:  vivía

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 the word doesn’t need any accent mark.

Verdict: mesa

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”.

Verdict: Fernández

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”).

Verdict: simpático

Spanish Accents on Monosyllables

Monosyllables (one-syllable words) in general don’t have accent marks. However, there are exceptions to this rule. 

The reason is some monosyllables can have different meanings depending on the context. They are written with or without an accent mark depending on their specific meaning in that sentence. 

Here is a table containing some monosyllables, their meaning when they have an accent mark and their meaning when they don’t:

Without accent markWith accent mark
de"of"form of verb "give"
el"the"él"he"
mas"but"más"more"
mi"my""me"
sepersonal pronounform of verb "to be" and "to know"
si"if""yes" / "himself"
tepersonal pronoun"tea"
tu"your""you"

Spanish Accents on Question Words

Words such as “¿qué?” or “¿dónde?” must have an accent mark when they are working as question words. 

However, don’t forget that these words sometimes work as relative pronouns or connectors with no interrogative role. In that case, they don’t have an accent mark. 

Here is the list of 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 as examples the words “dónde” and “qué”, and give you some sentences in which they either have or don’t have an accent mark, depending on the specific role they play.

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

Qué

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

Me preguntó qué sabía.
He asked me what I knew. (although there are no question marks, the role is still interrogative, because someone is wondering)

Esta es la casa que he comprado.
This is the house that I’ve bought. (no interrogative role, here “que” is a relative pronoun, mere connector of the words “casa” and “he comprado”)

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.

Practice Spanish Accent Marks: A Quiz

Take this short Quiz to test your knowledge about accent marks with some more example words!:

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