An accent mark, also known as a diacritic or diacritical mark (tilde or acento in Spanish), is a small marking or decoration on a letter to differentiate it from another letter or to denote some piece of information about the sound that the letter represents, such as tone, stress or emphasis.
Spanish letters with diacritical marks
Spanish uses seven letters that have one of three possible diacritical marks. They are:
- á é í ó ú ñ ü
- Á É Í Ó Ú Ñ Ü
The three diacritical marks are:
- The accent mark (tilde or acento in Spanish)
- The dieresis (diéresis in Spanish)
- The tilde (tilde or tilde de ñ in Spanish)
The accent mark is a small diagonal stroke that rises from left to right and that is placed directly above a vowel. The accent mark has two distinct uses in Spanish:
- It shows which syllable of a word has the primary stress when the word does not match the default rules for the position of the primary stress: for example está = "he/she/it is // you (formal singular) are".
- It distinguishes two different words that would otherwise be spelled the same way: for example tú = you (subject pronoun) and tu = your (possessive adjective)
Marking the stressed syllable in Spanish
Spanish words that have more than one syllable always indicate unambiguously which syllable has the primary stress.
- Words whose spelling ends in one of the vowels a, e, i, o or u or that end in one of the consonants s or n have the primary stress on the second-to-last syllable.
- Words whose spelling ends in any consonant letter except for s or n have the primary stress on the last syllable.
- Any word that does not match the preceding two rules is spelled with an accent mark over the vowel of the stressed syllable.
The dieresis is used on the letter Ü/ü to show that it is pronounced as /w/ when it appears after the letter g and before one of the letters e or i. Without the dieresis in the same context the letter U/u is silent and serves to indicate that the letter g has the hard pronunciation of gato rather than the sound of the letter j.
The tilde is used on the letter Ñ/ñ to spell the palatal nasal consonant /ñ/, which sounds similar to the pronunciation of the letters ny in the English word canyon. The letter N/n spells the dental/alveolar nasal consonant /n/.
Historically, it was permissible to leave the accents off of capital letters. Currently most stylists agree that accents should always be present whether a letter is capitalized or not.