Stress in Spanish

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Stress in Spanish is functional: to change the placement of stress changes the meaning of a sentence or phrase: for example, célebre ('famous'), celebre ('[that] he/she celebrates'), and celebré ('I celebrated') contrast by stress. There is some variance between dialects; a speaker from Argentina will pronounce boina ('beret') as [ˈ] while a speaker from Colombia will pronounce it as [boˈina].


Spanish has only two degrees of stress. In traditional transcription, primary stress is marked with a ’ over the vowel. Unstressed parts of a word are emphasized by placing ˘ over the vowel if a mark is needed, or it is left unmarked.


Stress usually occurs in three positions in Spanish: on the final syllable (oxytone), the penultimate syllable (paroxytone), and the antepenultimate syllable (proparoxytone). (In very rare cases, it can come on the fourth last syllable in compound words.) Vowel-final words and those ending in -s or -n are usually stressed on the penultimate syllable.[1] That accounts for around 80% of Spanish vocabulary.[2]

Creating contrasts[edit]

All Spanish words have at least one stress when they are used in isolation. The word para [pá-ra] can be a verb (the singular pronoun form of "stop") or a preposition (in order to, for). When words are used the stress can be dropped depending on the part of speech. "para el coche" can mean "stop the car" if the stress remains. If the stress is removed, it means "for the car."

In English to create contrasts can be made by shortening sounds, changing the volume of the word, or moving the pitch of the phrase. For example: "This is her car." emphasizes the owner of the car. If the stress is changed to say "This is her car.", the emphasis is on showing what objects belong to a specific person. In Spanish, the stress is almost always changed by reordering the words. Using the same example "Este coche es suyo" emphasizes the owner and "Éste es su coche" emphasizes the object.

Word stress categories[edit]

All Spanish words can be classified into one of four groups based on the position of their stress. If the last syllable is stressed it falls into the "aguda" category. Aguda words generally end in a consonant other than "n" or "s" or are the product of a conjugated verb that ends in an accented, stressed vowel. If the stress falls on the second to last syllable, it is classified as a "llana or "grave"." Llanas typically are words that end in "n," "s," or a vowel. Any exceptions have a written accent. If the stress is placed on the third last or the fourth to last syllable, they are categorized as "esdrújulas" or "sobresdrújulas", respectively. In either of the last two categories, the stressed syllable must be accented to break the rules of the first two categories. No single Spanish word is classified as a sobresdrújula, only compound words like "diciéndonosla" (telling it to us).


  1. ^ David Eddington -Spanish phonology and morphology: experimental and quantitative ... 2004 p120 "...vowel-final words and those ending in -s are stressed on the penultimate syllable, one would expect the test words to be given penultimate stress.... One evidence that quantity sensitivity is relevant in Spanish is cited by Harris (1983, 1992)."
  2. ^ R. Malatesha Joshi, P. G. Aaron Handbook Of Orthography And Literacy - 2006 - p157 "The normative pattern of accentuation in Spanish is, according to Quilis (1981, pp. 333-336), with the stress on the penultimate syllable. Of words, 79.5% are paroxytone: these words are stressed on the next-to-the-last syllable."
  • Dalbor, John B. Spanish Pronunciation: Theory and Practice. Fort Worth: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1997. Print.

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