Spanish Word Stress
By Spanish word stress we mean syllable stress – which syllable in a word is stressed or emphasised.
This is an important part of Spanish pronunciation.
Spanish words are stressed in different ways depending on a number of rules, all of which are covered here in this free online Spanish lesson.
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Normal Rules on Word Stress in Spanish
Normally, the following rules apply:
Word Stress is either on the last or second to last syllable
1. Stress is on the last syllable
For most words in Spanish the stress falls on the LAST SYLLABLE.
This 'Word Stress on the last syllable' applies to words ending in a consonant other than an -n or -s.
Note the importance of the letters -n or -s
Examples of this form of Spanish word stress are:
toser, pronounced tosER - which means to cough in Spanish.
temblar, pronounced temblAR - which means to shiver in Spanish
la salud, pronounced saLUD - which means health in Spanish.
el reloj, pronounced reLOCH (like a Scottish loch e.g. Loch Ness) - watch, clock.
So in summary all words ending consonants except those ending in -n or -s have the stress on the last syllable. All the rest of the letters - i.e all vowels and -n and -s follow the second rule...
2. Stress on the second-to-last syllable
In the other major group the word stress is on the second-to-last syllable
. This applies to:
- - Words ending in a vowel.
- - Words ending in a -n or -s.
So in summary the letters are a-e-i-o-u-n-s
where the stress is on the second-to-last syllable. Some books describe this as the last-syllable-but-one. Same thing.
Because they follow the rule, no accent is written to stress the syllable in the word.
Examples of this form of Spanish Word Stress.
el beso, pronounced BEso, which is kiss in Spanish
la casa, pronounced CAsa, which is house in Spanish
la cita, pronounced SEEta in Latin America or Southern Spain, and pronounced THEEta in the rest of Spain. La cita is appointment in Spanish (like a doctor's appointment)
el ojo. pronounced Ocho (the 'ch' being like the Scottish loch again) which is eye in Spanish
Where pronunciation is different an accent is used:
último which is last in Spanish.
In this case the word does not follow the normal Spanish Word Stress rules because the stress is not on the second to last syllable, but the third to last.
Accents indicate where the Word Stress occurs in the Spanish word in 'no-normal' situations
Where the words follow normal rules accents are not needed.
Accents are used when the stress falls on a 'non-normal' place. The accent tells you which vowel is stressed.
- The accent on the vowels - á, é, í, ó, ú - is used to indicate that stress is placed on those syllables, in cases where these rules do not apply.
- Note that the same syllable is generally stressed in the feminine and plural forms of the word, as in the singular.
- In the feminine form of adjectives and nouns whose masculine ends in an accented vowel followed by an -s or an -n the feminine form drops the accent.
an Englishman in Spanish is un inglés
with the accent over the 'i'.
The feminine form is una inglesa, which drops the accent.
An accent in the singular does not necessarily mean an accent in the plural
This is best illustrated with some examples.
- young in Spanish is joven
- ...because it ends in -n, you stress the second to last syllable. This is in accordance with the rule - so no accent is needed on the first syllable. Joven is a 2 syllable word.
- the plural of young in Spanish is jóvenes
- ...this now is a 3 syllable word. Because it ends in 's' the Spanish word stress rule is to stress the second to last syllable. But in doing so this will change the pronunciation of the word, so an accent is inserted to keep the pronunciation consistent with the singular.
It becomes jóvenes
in the plural.
- another example is ración.
- Because it ends in 'n' the normal rule is to stress the second to last syllable, but in this case it breaks that rule. So in the singular an accent is added.
- in the plural racciones.
- The word is now a 3-syllable word. Because the word ends in 's', the rule is to stress the second to last syllable. Because the pronunciation is consistent with how the word should sound, there is no need to keep the accent so it is dropped.
Spanish Word Stress with plural forms
In some cases, the word stress changes place in the plural form of the singular word.
Dipthongs in Spanish (two vowels together)
- I and u are known as weak vowels.
- a, e and o are strong vowels.
- When dipthongs include:
- a strong and a weak vowel, the accent is on the strong vowel.
- two weak vowels, the accent is on the second vowel.
Two strong vowels are still two strong vowels in terms of Spanish Word Stress
Note: Two strong vowels together are pronounced separately (and not considered a dipthong).
Here are the Spanish names for the practice of placing the accent
There are 3 places that the accent
can be placed in a word to ensure it is written grammatically correctly.
A word with the accent on the third to last syllable (or the antepenultimate
syllable) is called una palabra esdrújula
The word esdrújula is itself an esdrújula.
A word with the accent on the second to last syllable (or the penultimate
syllable) is called una palabra grave
is pronounced gr-AA-ve
is una palabra grave
A word with the accent on the last syllable (or the ultimate
syllable) is called una palabra aguda
aguda means sharp.
ejemploTodas las palabras terminadas en -ción o -sión son palabras agudas.
- all words ending in -ción
are palabras agudas.
To assist you further with Spanish pronounciation, click on the following limk:
Spanish Pronunciation lesson to help with Spanish Word Stress.
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Spanish Word Stress