Accents marks are a very important part of Spanish punctuation and pronunciation and there are some very easy rules to explain how and why they are used.
Accent marks (´) are used in Spanish for two different purposes. Firstly, they can indicate where the stress/emphasis falls on a word when it is pronounced. For example: if I say “Hablo” (without an accent on the final “O”) it means “I speak” and if I say “Habló” with an accent, and therefore stress, on the final “O” it changes the meaning to past tense and means “He/She spoke”. Secondly, accent marks are used in Spanish to help differentiate between two words that are identically spelt and pronounced, such as “Té/Te” which means “Tea” (the drink) when there is an accent on the final “E” and “To you” when there is no accent present.
In Spanish we use “Acute Accents” which are short diagonal lines, rising from the lower left to the upper right, placed on top of the letter. The only letters they mark are the vowels (á, é, í, ó, ú).
To understand accents properly we should first be clear on what exactly a syllable is and know how to distinguish the different syllables in words. Words can have one syllable (for example: sol, mar, luz), two syllables (for example: casa, pero, hola), three syllables (for example: comida, rapido, sonido), or more. Only one of the syllables in a word is stressed. For example, in the word “CAsa” (house) the first syllable has the stress, whereas in the word “coMER” (to eat) the second syllable is stressed.
Now, let´s practice counting syllables in a word. You will need to know how to do this in order to be able to understand the rules of the accents which we will see in the next few lessons. We will look at some words which contain two, three or more syllables. First I will say the word in a normal way and afterwards I will separate the syllables clearly.
If you would like to see the meaning of any words you are unsure of please see the lesson notes.
Listen and decide how many syllables each word has:
Casa (2 syllables) ca-sa
Amigo (3 syllables) a-mi-go
Aburrido (4 syllables) a-bu-rri-do
Tengo: (2 syllables) ten-go
Camino (3 syllables): ca-mi-no
Estudiar (3 syllables): es-tu-diar
Interesante (5 syllables): in-te-re-san-te
Listo (2 syllables): lis-to
Rápido (3 syllables): rá-pi-do
So-fá (2 syllables): so-fá