What do you think the biggest mistake is that people make when writing in Spanish? For native Spanish speakers, it’s accent marks. And for people learning the language, it’s also Spanish accent marks.
So if they are so difficult, what can you do? Well, the truth is that the rules are actually fairly simple! There are only a few rules for Spanish accent marks and it’s not as difficult to type Spanish accent marks on the computer as you might think.
By the end of this article, you’ll know all the rules of á é í ó ú and you’ll be able to quickly type Spanish accents on the computer with no problem at all.
What Are Accent Marks?
An accent mark in Spanish is a symbol used to stress a syllable or syllables in a word, changing its pronunciation and making it sound louder or longer depending on the Spanish grammar rule.
Spanish accent marks are also known as tilde and they can only be written on the vowels. So, the accent marks will look like these: á é í ó ú.
Like in Spanish, most romantic languages use accent marks, for different purposes in every language, though.
In this article, we’ll also go over the accented character ü, although it’s used differently than the others.
Accent marks in Spanish serve three different purposes, but since you really want to master Spanish orthography rules, we’ll go into a little bit more in detail.
When Do You Use Accent Marks?
We can break down accent marks into three different categories:
- The first is Spanish words that break the stress rules.
- The second is words that break diphthongs, and
- The third is for words that change in meaning. This last one we can separate into different categories, as well.
So the best way to master Spanish accent marks is by learning the rules one at a time:
Breaking Stress Rules
The Spanish language has very simple rules when it comes to stress pronunciation. We’re going to go over the stress rules and, along the way, you’ll see that we always add accent marks to the words that break these rules.
These are words that have the last syllable as the stressed syllable. This means that the last part of the word is always emphasized. Here are some examples of words that are aguda and don’t have any written accent marks:
- Actor – Actor
- Ciudad – City
- Nariz – Nose
- Reptil – Reptile
- Robot – Robot
So all of the above words have a stress on the last syllable when pronounced – ac.TOR, ciu.DAD, etc. The rule for palabras agudas is that if the word ends in any letter except n, s, or a vowel, it’s naturally aguda.
Therefore, words that are pronounced aguda, but end in the letters n, s, or a vowel need an accent mark because they are breaking the rule. Here are some examples:
- Mamá – Mom
- Perú – Peru
- Además – Additionally
- Estrés – Stress
- Inglés – English
- También – Also
- Versión – Version
All of these words are pronounced as aguda words, but since they don’t follow the rules, the syllable must carry an accent mark: ma.MA, a.de.MAS, in.GLES, tam.BIEN.
That’s why Spanish accents are so important: they tell us how to pronounce words.
Breaking a diphthong
Rule number two. Words that break a diphthong get an accent mark over the stressed syllable. What’s a diphthong, you ask?
Diphthongs are when two vowels merge together to make one sound. In Spanish, the weak vowels i and u, form diphthongs when they’re touching the strong vowels a, e, o or when the two weak vowels are together. For example, the “ai” in aire is a diphthong. The two weak vowels “iu” in “Ciudad” also form one.
But when a word has two of these letters next to each other and they make two separate syllables, then you get an accented letter where the stress falls. Let’s look at some examples:
- Caído – Fallen
- Sandía – Watermelon
- Frío – Cold
- Grúa – Tow Truck
Once again, these Spanish accents tell us how to pronounce the word correctly. Two great examples to see the importance of this concept are the names María and Mario. María has three syllables: ma.RÍ.a, while Mario has two: ma.RIO.
As we mentioned, the third and final usage of accent marks is for words that would have a different meaning without the accent. But, there are lots of cases of this, so let’s look at them one by one:
You might remember that Spanish question words always have an accent mark. In a question, the following words all have accented letters where the stress falls:
- Por qué
- Cuál / Cuáles
- Cuántos / Cuántas
In Spanish you always start a question with ¿ – then the question word that follows needs an accent mark.
These are words that have the same pronunciation but are spelled differently because they have different meanings. This is very common with “grammar” words that have another meaning. Let’s look at a quick list:
- Se (reflexive pronoun) / Sé (1st person present tense of saber)
- De (preposition) / Dé (subjunctive of dar)
- Si (if) / Sí (yes)
- Te (pronoun) / Té (tea)
- Tu (your) / Tú (you – Spanish subject pronoun)
These ones can be a bit more difficult to remember since you just have to memorize which of these Spanish words have accent marks. The good thing is there aren’t too many of these examples. But just know that you aren’t alone, as it’s common even for a native Spanish speaker to make these mistakes.
This part can be a bit more complicated. The rules for Spanish accent marks also apply to indirect questions, not just direct ones. This means you must be able to distinguish between question words as connectors and question words as adverbial interrogatives (the indirect ones).
It sounds a lot more difficult than it actually is:
- No sé cómo está. – I don’t know how he is.
- Hace falta decirles cuándo tienen que llegar. – We have to tell them when to arrive.
- Mi madre no sabe dónde aparcar en mi barrio. – My mom doesn’t know where to park in my neighborhood.
In these cases, these function as indirect questions because you’re describing that more information is necessary, just without using a question mark.
The good news is that it’s no longer necessary to put accents on demonstrative pronouns. So now, both demonstrative pronouns and demonstrative adjectives are accent-less.
You might find some old-fashioned sources (or old writings) using accent marks on the pronouns, so you could see something like: “Este libro es interesante, pero éste no lo es” (This book is interesting, but this one isn’t).
So the truth is that you don’t need to use accented characters for these, but it’s a good idea to be aware of the change as you learn Spanish.
Not only do we have á é í ó ú in Spanish, but there’s also an extra type of accent mark on the letter u.
Since the letters qu- and gu- often go together, Spanish developed a great little system to tell you whether you should pronounce the U or not: the diéresis, also known unofficially as the two-little-dots-on-top.
With the ü, we know we should pronounce the U. So for example, in the word “vergüenza”, it should be pronounced like “gwensa”, not “gensa”. On the other hand, the word “guerra” is pronounced “ger–” instead of “gwer-”.
Lucky for you, there aren’t many words that fit into this category, but this one is equally as important.
How to type Spanish accent marks
Now any English speaker who’s ever tried to type Spanish accent marks on the computer knows that it can be a bit of a pain sometimes. However, typing Spanish accents isn’t as difficult as it first seems, you just need to know the tricks on how to do it. So here’s what you can do:
The best thing to do for Mac users is to add an “international keyboard” to your keyboard settings. You just have to go into your system settings, click on “Keyboard”, then add one that’s called “US – International”. Alternatively, you can just add a Spanish keyboard.
A good idea is to make sure you can see the input settings on your menu, this way you’ll be able to change back and forth easily.
For a PC, it’s a similar process. Click on the Windows button, then type “Keyboard” to go to the settings. Then, you can change your keyboard layout to “US – International”, just like with macs. Again, you could add the Spanish keyboard if you wanted.
Ok, now that you have the international keyboard configured up, all you have to do is simply press the “apostrophe” key (the one next to the enter key), then the vowel. So for example, you type “´ + i” to get í. In fact, this will work with both international and Spanish keyboards.
It’s pretty easy to change back and forth between regional language options on your keyboard, so you should have no problems getting everything to work out.
Ok, so let’s say you don’t want to change the keyboard settings on your computer. In this case, you can use the number pad, but you’d have to type several numbers to type Spanish accents. So for example, you could type the alt key + 0225 to get “á”.
If you only have to type Spanish accent marks on very rare occasions, this could be a viable option and you wouldn’t have to get used to new keyboard settings. Though it can be pretty tedious if you have to write anything of any significant length.
That’s it! You’re now officially a master of Spanish accent marks. You’ve learned everything there is to know about these special characters.
The best part about Spanish accent marks is that they are actually really helpful! Think about it, once you’ve learned the rules, you know how to pronounce every single word in the Spanish language. That’s it – no more surprises!
After you get used to the rules, you’re going to start wishing English had accent marks. Why do we say “I like to recórd music videos”, but “I have a récord player”? Sure, you have to learn a couple of rules, but at least you always know how to pronounce any word you read in Spanish (and the rules make sense, too!).
Now that you’re a pro, you’re probably itching to start practicing in real life! So go ahead and sign up for a free private class or a 7-day free trial of our group classes so you can practice what you learned.
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