How To Master Spanish Accent Marks – StoryLearning (2024)

Learning a foreign language can be a challenging task. The good news is that when you learn Spanish, you don't need to worry about learning a new alphabet like with Mandarin or Arabic (unless you count the famous letter Ñ!).

However, there’s one key element in Spanish that you're probably struggling to wrap your head around: Spanish accent marks!

In this article, you'll unravel accent marks’ hidden secrets with all the rules you need so you don’t miss the mark ever again!

Pro Tip

By the way, if you want to learn Spanish fast and have fun while doing it, my top recommendation isSpanish Uncoveredwhich teaches you through StoryLearning®.

With Spanish Uncovered you’ll use my unique StoryLearning® method to learn Spanish naturally through story… not rules. It’s as fun as it is effective.

If you’re ready to get started,click here for a 7-day FREE trial.

If you're a Spanish enthusiast and are eager to learn about this topic in context, you can check out this awesome video by our teacher Beatriz.

Table of Contents

What Are Spanish Accent Marks?

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I'm sure you've seen tildes before, possibly while reading when looking up a word in the dictionary, or maybe when watching a video from our YouTube Channel.

Tildes or acentos are a small symbol that appears on top of a vowel (Á, É, Í, Ó, Ú) These Spanish accent marks help us understand how a word is stressed.

This is a hidden advantage for Spanish learners if you get past the rules to learn how to write them. On the contrary, English learners don’t have that little hint, so they need to learn through hearing and repetition.

But how do you know when to write these accent marks in Spanish? Well, first you need to understand the difference between tildes and stress.

All Spanish words have what’s called a sílaba tónica (stressed syllable), which exists regardless of whether a word has a written mark or not. This special syllable is the one we pronounce the strongest, so it becomes more prominent when we say it.

Sometimes, you see an accent mark on top of a vowel from that stressed syllable. The accent mark can't appear anywhere else, because it's directly related to stress.

Why Are Spanish Accent Marks Important?

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Spanish Accent marks allow us to know which of the two or more syllables that a word has is the strongest.

This helps us use that word in everyday conversation and not only in written contexts; it also helps us to know how that word is properly spelled if we do want to express ourselves in writing.

But the main perk tildes have is that they show us how to pronounce words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Here are three example words that will help you understand:

  • Practico (I practice)
  • Practi (He/She practiced)
  • Práctico (practical)

As you can see, one word can have three separate meanings according to where the tilde is located. So its placement is key to understanding the message and to successful communication.

In short, written accent marks are essential to understanding when a word doesn’t follow the standard rules of word stress.

In general, most Spanish words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable and end in an N, an S or a vowel. With this in mind, you'll be able to recognise the stress patterns of Spanish and when they change.

How To Type Spanish Accent Marks

There are many ways of typing accent marks, but they vary depending on your operating system (Windows versus Mac) and on whether your keyboard has a number pad (usually, laptops don’t have this feature anymore, but many keyboards still do).

First up, since 2011, you can access the accent options by holding down the letter key longer than what you’d normally do. While doing so, a menu will pop up with many accent options. To choose the correct one, you have to press the corresponding number:

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This is the easiest way of accessing accent marks because you can also choose option 5, the diéresis, which is the other Spanish accent (over the letter ü).

This is a shortcut for PC, but the same idea applies to devices like iPads and iPhones: all you need to do is slide your finger over the desired accent and then stop pressing the screen.

If you have an older PC which doesn’t include this feature, you'll have to press the “Option” key + the letter “e” + the letter you want to carry the accent mark.

For example, in order to write á, you’ll need to press Option + e and then a. If you want an accent on a capital letter like Á, you can press Option + e and then Shift + a.

If you want to access all the accent marks and other diacritics at once, including the symbols ñ, ¡ and ¿, you can use the Character Viewer, which is a panel with many different characters, including emojis!

You can find it in the Edit menu in a section called “Emojis & Symbols”. There, you can double click the symbol you want and it will appear where your mouse is placed.

However, if you're online using Google Drive, for example, you'll find this panel on Insert + Special Characters. A cool thing to do is to create a favourites list on your computer’s Character Viewer, so that you’ll be able to access accent marks in many different apps.

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Finally, you can just set up a digital Spanish keyboard on your Mac! This is great for people who use Spanish on a daily basis and wish to incorporate its accents and symbols.

All you need to do is go to Apple Menu → System Settings → Keyboards → + → Spanish. Once you do this, a keyboard layout will appear with the changes made.

Now you only have to press the apostrophe key (‘) and then press the vowel you wish to use. Simple as that! The same thing applies to capital letters.

What Are The Codes For Spanish Accents?

You also have several options to type accent marks. First of all, you can use alt codes, which require a keyboard with the number pad located to the right (if you don’t have this feature, skip this paragraph).

The command is really simple: you just need to press Alt + the code that corresponds to what you are looking for (some letters have two alt codes you can choose from, and either is fine). Here’s the full list of acute accent marks:

Spanish characterAlt code
á160 | 0225
é130 | 0223
í161 | 0237
ó162 | 0243
ú163 | 0250

If you don’t have this type of numerical keypad, you can try out these codes anyway to see if they still work on your computer.

Other alternatives are using the Shift key instead of Alt or you can activate the number lock and use Shift (you can do this by pressing “fn” and a key called “num lock”).

However, if that doesn’t work either, some word processors include keyboard shortcuts that appear when holding down Alt and pressing the letter you want to carry an accent mark.

For capital letters, you just have to press Shift before the letter. Keep in mind that not all computers allow this shortcut.

Finally, you can also add an international keyboard, as you can for Mac (this will definitely allow the Alt commands from the previous paragraph).

To set this keyboard up, go to the Control panel → Change input method → Languages → United States International (Default).

Now, let’s take a look at what the different rules of stress are in Spanish.

What Are The Three Accent Rules In Spanish?

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Spanish words are divided into categories according to which syllable is stressed. How do we divide words into categories? Well, there are several rules, but here are the two most important ones you'll need to know:

  • Within a syllable, the first and final consonant of a word have to be next to one vowel or more: al-ma (soul), al-go-dón (cotton), pa-re-des (walls)
  • When a consonant is placed between two vowels, it must stick to the vowel that comes after it and not the one that appears before: u-va (grave), a-mor (love)

Now that you know a little bit more about how to divide syllables in Spanish, here are the three categories a word can be in: llana/grave, aguda or esdrújula.

1. Palabras Llanas

This first category is also known as palabras graves. The trait that makes a word fall into this category is that it's stressed on the second-to-last syllable.

This is the case of about 80% of Spanish words! Simply put, if a word doesn’t feature a written accent and ends in an N, an S or a vowel, that means it is llana or grave, like in these examples:

  • Lar-go (long)
  • Car-pe-ta (folder)
  • Mar-tes (Tuesday)
  • Vo-lu-men (volume)

However, when a word that’s llana or grave DOESN’T end in an N, an S or a vowel, the stressed syllable should carry a written accent or tilde:

  • Di--cil (difficult)
  • -piz (pencil)
  • Ár-bol (tree)
  • Cés-ped (grass)

2. Palabras Agudas

Words that are agudas are stressed on the last syllable and account for about 16% of Spanish words. In this case, if a word doesn’t have an accent and doesn’t end in an N, an S or a vowel either, you’ll know it’s aguda.

Here are some examples:

  • A-mor (love)
  • Co-me-dor (dining hall)
  • A-bril (April)
  • Cha-val (boy)

If an aguda word does end in an N, an S or a vowel, you need to add a written accent mark, like so:

  • Can-ción (song)
  • Co-mió (ate)
  • A-trás (behind)
  • Por-tu-gués (Portuguese)

Fun Fact

All verbs in their bare form that have more than one syllable are palabras agudas.

3. Palabras Esdrújulas

Finally, we have the easiest category of all, one that covers less than 4% of Spanish words. Esdrújulas always have a written mark on the third-to-last syllable, so it doesn’t matter in which letter they end.

  • Cláu-su-la (clause)
  • -me-ro (number)
  • -gri-mas (tears)
  • E-co--mi-co (inexpensive)

There’s actually another accent group I haven’t told you about. They're called palabras sobreesdrújulas and they are extremely rare. That's because the stressed syllable is before the third-to-last one and it always has a written mark on it:

  • É-ti-ca-men-te (ethically)
  • -mo-da-men-te (comfortably)
  • Ex-plí-ca-me-lo (Explain this to me)
  • Trá-gue-se-las (Swallow them)

Here's you a chart that helps you identify each category when reading:

Does it have a written accent?Does it end in an N/S/vowel?Then, it is…

Common Tilde Exceptions

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Now that you have covered the basics of Spanish accent marks, I’m going to teach you some key exceptions you should keep in mind if you truly want to master tildes.

First of all, words with only one syllable (called monosílabos in Spanish) don’t usually feature a tilde, unless that word can have two possible meanings, such as:

  • Él (personal pronoun “he”) – El (definite article “the”)
  • (possessive pronoun “me”) – Mi (possessive article “my”)
  • (first-person singular of “to know”) – Se (pronoun)
  • (yes) – Si (if)

Second of all, question words like quién, qué, cuándo, dónde, por qué, cómo and cuánto carry a tilde when we use them in a direct question or exclamation (that is, when we actually see the symbols ¿? and ¡!), as you can see in these examples:

  • ¿Cuándo nos veremos de nuevo? (When will we see each other again?).
  • ¡Cómo llora ese bebé! (Look how that baby cries!).
  • ¿Cuánto cuesta este pantalón? (How much do these trousers cost?).

This also happens when we want to ask indirect questions (without the question marks), like this:

  • No sé a qué hora llega (I don’t know at what time he arrives).
  • Ella sabe dónde está tu hijo (She knows where your son is).
  • Carla no vio quién la empujó (Carla didn’t see who pushed her).

Some words feature something called a diphthong or a hiatus. A diphthong is when there are two joined vowels in the same syllable. In general, a diphthong happens when there’s an open vowel (A, E and O) next to a closed vowel (I and U), like in the words sauna or aire.

However, sometimes that closed vowel can be stressed, like in the words día, maíz and quería. In these cases, we use an accent mark to highlight this vowel separation in two syllables. This separation is what we call a hiatus, like a gap between the vowels.

Finally, some Spanish adverbs ending in –mente have accent marks. When the adjective from which that adverb is from already has a tilde, like fácil or difícil, that accent mark gets transferred to the adverb and stays the same: fácilmente, difícilmente.

Make You Mark With The Tilde

Are you ready to make your mark in Spanish with these tildes?

The best way to do so is to follow the rules of StoryLearning and read a lot in Spanish. As you read at your level, you'll see the accent marks over and over again. So Spanish word stress and spelling will soon become second nature.

Also, if you're looking for a fresh method to learn Spanish, I recommend you check out Spanish Uncovered, a series of courses with gripping narratives and useful vocabulary to get you fluent fast through stories, not rules.

How To Master Spanish Accent Marks – StoryLearning (2024)
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