Spanish Grammar: Stress and Intonation Systems

Spanish Grammar: Stress and Intonation Systems

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Spanish Grammar: Stress and Intonation Systems
la gramática española: los sistemas del estrés y la entonación

  • Rules that determine how to emphasize certain syllables.
  • Determine how to pronounce and enunciate words.


Imagine intonation like an envelope which transmits the meaning of something when it is spoken. You can say something, but HOW you say it can change the meaning! (like sarcasm…)

Intonation refers to the pitch of the voice (tone).
Stress refers to the emphasis of the voice (force).

The combination of these two systems adds feelings and emotions to what we say.

We can hear things like:

Questions or statements
Emphasis on a certain word
Agreement or disagreement
Joking around or seriousness
Certainty or uncertainty

In Spanish, there are a few rules we can use to help us pronounce words correctly.

First: If a Spanish word has NO accent mark, the EMPHASIS in the word lands on the second-to-last syllable (penultimate syllable).

el LI-bro / The book
la SI-lla / The chair
la CLA-se / The class
la pro-fe-SOR-a / The professor (fem.)
la es-CUE-la / The school
la com-pu-ta-DOR-a / The computer

Second: If a Spanish word DOES have an accent mark, the first rule is thrown out and the EMPHASIS lands ON the accent mark in the word.

¿-mo, es-? / How are you?
MIÉR-co-les / Wednesday
-ba-do / Saturday
die-ci-SEÍS / Sixteen


¿Qué día es hoy?
What day is today?

¿Dónde está la biblioteca?
Where is the library?

¿Quién es él?
Who is he?

¿Cómo se llama usted?
What is your name?

¿Cuándo es su cumpleaños?
When is your birthday?

¿Por qué está triste?
Why are you sad?

¿Cuántas sillas hay en el cuarto?
How many chairs are in the room?

¿Cuál es su apellido?
What is your last name?