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:
compran they buy
If a word ends in any other sound, the stress naturally falls on the last syllable:
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:
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:
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 hermoso! How lovely!