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The rules for Spanish word stress are fairly straightforward, but the terminology can be a bit confusing. Spanish words are divided into four categories according to which syllable is stressed when speaking – and this is the tricky part – whether or not there is a written accent.
1. Palabras agudas
Stress is on the final syllable:
As explained in the lesson on accents, words that end in n, s, or a vowel are stressed on the penultimate accent. The words perdón and jesús need the stress on the final syllable, thus the accent is required to indicate that they don’t follow the "stress on the penultimate syllable" rule.
2. Palabras graves / Palabras llanas
Stress is on the penultimate (second from last) syllable:
Palabras graves are the opposite of palabras agudas: they need an accent when they end in a consonant other than n or s.
3. Palabras esdrújulas
Stress is on the antepenultimate (third from last) syllable. Note that these words always have an accent because they do not follow the normal rules of word stress.
4. Palabras sobresdrújulas
Stress is on the fourth or fifth from last syllable. These are usually compound words formed by attaching pronouns to a verb form. Again, they always have an accent.
Adjectives that have accents (graves or esdrújulas) turn into adverbs that are sobresdrújulas:
- dócil dócilmente
- rápido rápidamente
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