Spanish Accent Mark on the Second to Last Syllable?

Words that are stressed on the second-to-last-syllable that need accent mark.

Known in Spanish as palabras graves o palabras llanas con acento o tilde.

There are two types of palabras graves:

  1. With accent mark 
  2. Without accent mark

We will focus on words that are stressed on the second-to-last-syllable (palabras graves) and need an accent mark.

Palabras graves with accent mark:

Álbum, azúcar, césped, cónsul, débil, difícil, fácil.

  1. Stress falls on the second-to-last-syllable
  2. Word ends in any other letter but a vowel, “n” or “s”

Ágil, césped, dátil, lápiz, móvil, táctil.

Tip

Palabras graves with accent mark: 

And here are some palabras graves with accent mark:

Ágil, álbum, ángel, árbol, azúcar, bursátil, cadáver, cáncer, carácter, cárcel, césped, cóctel, cómic, cóndor, cónsul, dátil, débil, difícil, dólar, éter, fácil, fértil, flúor, fósil, frágil, fútbol, hábil, hámster, inverosímil, ítem, lápiz, látex, líder, mármol, memorándum, módem, móvil, néctar, Óscar, portátil, póster, récord, revólver, rímel, táctil, tóner, tórax, tráiler, trébol, túnel, útil, versátil.

In order to know if your palabra grave o llana needs an accent mark, check if it meets these two requirements:

  1. Second-to-last-syllable stress
  2. Does not end in n, s or vowel

If your palabra grave ends in ns or vowel, it doesn’t need an accent mark. Although there are two important exceptions to this grammar rule.*

Tip

Palabras graves that don’t need accent mark:

Here are some palabras graves that don’t need accent mark:

Abuela, administrativo, adulto, agua, alfombra, antes, banco, botana, cable, cama, caja, cuchara, cuenta, domingo, empresa, figura, gato, jueves, libro, lunes, martes, mesa, muestra, ojos, para, pelo, perfume, perro, piedra, pintura, pluma, resumen, ropa, saludo, silla, teclado, temperatura, universo, vaso, viernes, vuelo, zapato.

But know, let’s go back to those two exceptions to this grammar rule:

Two vowels together

*When an “a”, “e” or “o” vowel is next to an “i” or “u” vowel, and “i” or “u” belongs to a separate syllable (due to pronunciation), we need to write an accent mark over “i” or “u” vowel. This accent mark splits the two vowels in two syllables. Sometimes, the split will create a palabra grave, because the stress falls on the second-to-last-syllable. And that’s how we break the rule!

Tip

Palabras graves due to accent mark separation:

Examples of palabras graves due to accent mark separation:

ci/ru/gí/a

dí/as

dú/o

e/co/lo/gí/a

grú/a

Here are some palabras graves due to accent mark separation:

Alegría, biografía, cafeína, caída, categoría, cirugía, contenía, días, dúo, ecología, energía, grúa, haría, lucía, maestría, melodía, ortografía, países, podría, policía, raíces, reúne, río, sonríe, tío, todavía, trío, vacío, venía.

But there are some words with stress on the second-to-last-syllable that have these other vowels next to each other:

ae, ao, ea, eo, oa, oe, aa, ee, ii, oo, uu.

If you encounter these palabras graves, you don’t need to worry about writing an accent mark.

Here’s a short list with palabras graves with two vowels that don’t need accent mark:

  • ma/es/tra
  • fa/e/na
  • a/or/ta
  • ca/ca/o
  • a/je/tre/a/do
  • al/de/a
  • a/te/o
  • blo/que/o
  • bar/ba/co/a
  • bo/a
  • O/es/te
  • po/e/ma

And second exception to palabras graves grammar rule:

Question words!

Yes, when we convert some words into question words, we need to use an accent mark to differentiate their meaning. And when we do that, some of these words become palabras graves, because their stress falls on the-second-to-last-syllable. It is important to clarify that question words in Spanish can be part of a question or a statement.

Here’s a list of the most common question words that become palabras graves:

Có/mo
¿Cómo te sientes?
No sé cómo voy a terminar de empacar.

Cuán/do
¿Cuándo se mudan?
No hay para cuándo deje de llover.

Cuán/to
¿Cuánto dinero ahorraste?
Me dijeron cuánto tardarían, pero no lo recuerdo.

Dón/de
¿En dónde vas a trabajar?
No sé dónde está.

I know, this is not an easy thing to learn. I still remember practicing writing accents for months when I was in third grade. But for a strange reason I loved doing it, and still do. If you have any questions or need any help with your Spanish accent marks, don’t hesitate to send me your questions below.

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