Unlike in English, there are written accents or tildes in Spanish that are placed on some words and not others.
Spelling properly in Spanish requires Spanish language learners to learn the rules that determine when to place these accents and when not to do so.
In some instances even, a given word may have a different meaning if it has an accent or not.
Therefore, it is important to learn when and where to place accents in Spanish.
Before we can begin to tackle accent placement and usage in Spanish we must learn about the two types of syllables within a word: tónicas and átonas.
Silabas tónicas are those syllables that carry the stress or strength of the word when pronouncing it. Which basically means that you pronounce it longer and louder than the other syllables of the word.
Silabas átonas on the other hand, are simply all other syllables that do not carry the emphasis or strength of the word.
So for instance, in the word casa, the silaba tónica is 'ca' while the silaba átona is 'sa'.
Silabas tónicas may or may not have an accent but all accents are placed in silabas tónicas, and they are critical to understanding and learning how to properly place written accents on words in Spanish.
The other fundamental concept that you need to know in order to learn about written accents in Spanish is the word categories based on where the silaba tónica is in a given word:
- Aguda words: When the sílaba tónica is on the last syllable. i.e. azul
- Llana words: When the sílaba tónica is on the next to last syllable. i.e. casa
- Esdrújula words: When the sílaba tónica is on the third to last syllable. i.e. pájaro
- Sobresdrújula words: When the sílaba tónica is on the forth to last or higher syllable. i.e. básicamente
Now that we have learned about the different categories of words, we are ready to learn the rules on when to place accents on words:
- Aguda words: When the word ends in a vowel, ‘n’ or ‘s’. i.e. avión
- Llana words: When the word does not ends in a vowel, ‘n’ or ‘s’. i.e. lápiz
- Esdrújula words: Always have an accent. i.e. pájaro
- Sobresdrújula words: Always have an accent (with exceptions) i.e. básicamente
Alright! Now that you have learned about some of these basic concepts on Spanish written accents, you may be wondering how to navigate these rules and apply them properly in practice.
I have created a simple guide below that will help you how to properly place accents on words in Spanish in an easy to follow step by step process. I hope this helps!
If you would like to learn more about Spanish accents please check out Down to Earth Spanish's course on Spanish accents, which goes into a lot more detail on all the rules and exceptions about Spanish written accents. I have also created an article on how to properly pronounce Spanish words that I hope you will find helpful.