In this lesson we’ll talk about Spanish words that have the accent on the second-to last syllable. We call these words palabras graves. In a previous lesson, we talked about palabras agudas, which are words with the accent on the last syllable.
Before we talk about palabras graves, let’s briefly discuss the meaning of the word “accent” in Spanish.
When we pronounce words in Spanish, the accent is the emphasis we give to a particular syllable of a word. We create that emphasis by giving the syllable a greater intensity, a longer duration, or a higher pitch. With that in mind, let’s review the way we categorize words in Spanish, according to their accent:
Now we can focus on palabras graves, which are also known as palabras llanas. Let’s look at a couple of words:
Palabras como "lápiz" o "cereza" son palabras graves.
Words like "lápiz" [pencil] or "cereza" [cherry] are paroxytone words.
The word lápiz has two syllables (lá | piz) and the accent goes on the second-to-last syllable “lá.” Similarly, the word cereza has three syllables (ce | re | za) and the accent also goes on the second-to-last syllable “re.”
We note that the word lápiz has a graphic accent (tilde) on the “á,” while the “e” in the second-to-last syllable of cereza doesn’t have that accent.
Why not? It’s because paroxytone words need that graphic accent ONLY if they DO NOT end with “n,” “s,” or a vowel: Cereza ends in a vowel, so we don’t need the tilde.
y luego pasa en botella, donde se añade azúcar y eh... levadura.
and then goes into the bottle, where sugar is added and um... yeast.
The word azúcar has three syllables (a | zú | car) and the accent goes on the second-to-last syllable “zú”. Since this word doesn’t end in “n,” “s” or a vowel, we need to put a tilde on the vowel of the second-to-last syllable.
La vida de músico es muy difícil, Kevin, es muy sacrificada.
The musician's life is very difficult, Kevin, it's very demanding.
Caption 16, Los Años Maravillosos - Capítulo 3 - Part 8
Likewise, the word difícil (di | fí | cil) has the accent on the second-to-last syllable “fí” and we need to put the graphic accent on the “í” since this word ends in a consonant (“l”), which is neither an “n,” an “s” nor a vowel.
There are, however, many palabras graves in Spanish that don’t need a graphic accent. Let’s take a look:
El lunes, por ejemplo, fui a trabajar.
On Monday for example, I went to work.
Both lunes ( lu | nes) and ejemplo (e | jem | plo) have the accent on the second-to-last syllable. However, since lunes ends in “s” and ejemplo ends in a vowel, neither word needs the tilde.
One last thing: There are many words that are agudas in the singular and graves in the plural. Take a look at the following list (stressed syllable are in boldface):
That's it for now. If you feel like practicing a little bit more, take one of our videos and try to find all the paroxytone words with and without a tilde. And of course, don’t forget to send your feedback and suggestions.