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Stressing the Right Syllable in Spanish Words

In Spanish, one syllable is stressed in every word. Stress is the emphasis that you put on a syllable as you speak it. One syllable always gets more emphasis than the others. With single-syllable words, you don't have to worry about it, but many words have more than one syllable, and that’s when the situation becomes, ahem, stressful.

Looking for stress, normally

Can you believe that you’re looking for stress? In Spanish, the right stress at the right time is a good thing, and fortunately, stress in Spanish is easy to control. If you have no written accent, you have two possibilities:

  • The word is stressed on the next-to-last syllable if the word ends in a vowel, an n, or an s. Here are some examples:

    • camas (kah-mahs) (beds)

    • mariposas (mah-ree-poh-sahs) (butterflies)

    • pollo (poh-yoh) (chicken)

  • The word is stressed on the last syllable when it ends in a consonant that is not an n or s. Look at these examples:

    • cantar (kahn-tahr) (to sing)

    • feliz (feh-lees) (happy)

If a word is not stressed in either of these two ways, the word will have an accent mark on it to indicate where you should place the stress.

Looking for accented vowels

One good thing about having the accent mark on a vowel is that you can tell immediately where the stress is, just by looking at the word.

The accent mark does not affect how the vowel is pronounced, just which syllable is stressed.

Here are some examples of words with accent marks on a vowel:

  • balcón (bahl-kohn) (balcony)

  • carácter (kah-rahk-tehr) (character, personality)

  • fotógrafo (foh-toh-grah-foh) (photographer)

  • pájaro (pah-Hah-roh) (bird)

Understanding accents on diphthongs

An accent in a diphthong shows you which vowel to stress. Take a look at these examples:

  • ¡Adiós! (ah-deeohs) (Goodbye!)

  • ¡Buenos días! (bvooeh-nohs deeahs) (Good morning!)

  • ¿Decía? (deh-seeah) (You were saying?)

  • tía (teeah) (aunt)

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