STRESS Apart from a very few cases where the diaresis (e.g. ü) is used, there is only one written accent in Spanish (á) and this is used in the following circumstances:


  • to show that a word does not follow the rules of natural stress;
  • to differentiate between words which are spelt the same;
  • in interrogatives and exclamations.



Rules of natural stress (Spanish Language)


If a word ends in an -n, -s or a vowel, the stress naturally falls on the penultimate (last but one) syllable:


palabra                                   word

juguetes                                  toys

compran                                 they buy


If a word ends in any other sound, the stress naturally falls on the last syllable:


pared                                      wall

feliz                                        happy


Words that follow these rules of natural stress do not require a written accent (or stress mark), but if the word is pronounced in a way that does not follow these natural rules then a stress mark must be put on the vowel in the stressed syllable:


lápiz                                       pencil

inglés                                     English


Some words require a stress mark in the singular but not in the plural, since by making the word plural it now ends in an -s, resulting in the natural stress now falling on the appropriate syllable:


inglés – ingleses


The situation outlined above is fairly straightforward, but when two or more vowels occur together in a word you will need to understand the rules about diphthongs in order to work out the stress.

Vowels are divided into strong and weak vowels – a, e and o are ‘strong’ vowels and u and i are ‘weak’ vowels. When a weak vowel occurs together with another vowel, they form a diphthong, which counts as only one syllable. If the weak vowel is next to a strong vowel, the stress falls on the strong vowel:


piedra (stone) – two syllables pie-dra


If both vowels are weak, the stress falls on the second vowel in the diph-thong:


viuda (widow)


If, however, two strong vowels occur together they form two separate syllables:


ateo (atheist) – three syllables a-te-o


Differentiating between words


Sometimes stress marks are used to differentiate between two words that are spelt and pronounced in exactly the same way:


el (the)                                    él (he)

si (if)                                      sí (yes)

tu (your)                                 tú (you)



Interrogatives and exclamations When certain words are used as interrogatives (questions) or exclamations they require a stress mark, whereas they do not require a stress mark in other circumstances:


¿Qué?                                     What?

¿Dónde?                                 Where?

¿Cuándo?                               When?

¿Cómo?                                  How?

¿Quién?                                  Who?

¡Qué hermoso!                       How lovely!