Dividing Spanish Words at the End of a Line

Rules of Syllabification

sea of books for article on spanish syllabification
Un mar de libros. (A sea of books.). Photo by Richie Rich; licensed via Creative Commons.

The basic rule of hyphenation in Spanish when it involves word division at the end of a line is that the divided word in a new line typically begins with one consonant unit or a strong vowel. This can yield different results than in English, so if you're using word-processing software designed for English, you should either turn off the word-division feature or divide words manually when you're writing in Spanish.

The following rules of hyphenation apply to most words you're likely to use:

No Syllable Starts With More Than One Consonant Unit

A "consonant unit" for the purposes of word division is either a single consonant (as in English, typically any letter other than a, e, i, o and u) or one of the following combinations, which (except in rare exceptions) are not separated:

  • bl
  • br
  • ch
  • cl
  • cr
  • dr
  • fl
  • fr
  • gl
  • gr
  • ll
  • pl
  • pr
  • qu
  • rr
  • tr

Additionally, divided words don't end in a consonant if a vowel (a, e, i, o or u) follows.

Note how these rules apply to the following words: ga-to, si-la-bi-fi-ca-ción, pe-rro, in-cre-í-ble, par-te, glo-sa-rio, chis-te, ca-lle, tri-ple, flo-ri-da, com-pra-do, por-que, ex-pli-car, in-no-va-ción, in-gles, fe-cha.

Diphthongs Aren't Divided

As a practical matter, the diphthong rule means that a u or an i is not separated from an adjacent vowel unless the u or i is accented and is next to a "strong" vowel (a, e or o).

Other adjacent vowels can be separated.

See how this rule applies in the following words: fui-mos, bue-no, ciu-dad, cre-er, puer-to, fe-os, fe-as, plei-to, des-pier-ta, ha-bí-an, rí-os, u-to-pí-as.

Single Letters Avoided

Unless you're dealing with very narrow columns of type, you should not leave a single letter standing by itself on one line.

Thus, while you may divide ríos, you should avoid dividing río.

Keep Prefixes Intact

You may break the first rule above to keep a prefix intact. Thus, sub-ur-bio, not su-bur-bio, and des-or-den, not de-sor-den.

The RR Exception

When a prefix ending in a vowel precedes a word that begins with an r, the r typically doubled, as in prorrumpir and contrarrevolución. When such words are divided after the prefix, the rr on the following line reverts to a single r. For example, if prorrumpir is divided after the prefix, it becomes pro-rumpir, not pro-rrumpir, and if contrarrevolución is divided, it becomes contra-revolución.