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1.7: La acentuación y las tildes / Stress and Written Accents

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    Todas las palabras tienen una sílaba que se pronuncia con más intensidad y duración. Esta se llama la sílaba tónica o acentuada: In every word, one syllable is pronounced with more intensity and for a slightly longer time. This is called the stressed syllable:

    El español escrito permite predecir cuál es la sílaba tónica con base en la terminación de las palabras y las tildes (o acento gráfico). Así, por ejemplo, mientras en inglés escrito no es posible saber cuál es la sílaba tónica de la palabra address* fuera de contexto, en español está clara la diferencia entre termino (I finish), terminó (it finished) y término (term).

    * Pista: Se pronuncia diferente como sustantivo (noun, "the address") que como verbo (verb, "to address").

    Written Spanish allows the reader to predict which syllable is stressed based on the word endings and the written accents (tildes). In this way, for example, while in written English it is not possible to know which syllable is stressed in the word "address"* out of context, Spanish makes clear the difference between termino (I finish), terminó (it finished), and término (term).

    * Hint: it is pronounced differently as a noun ("the address") and as a verb ("to address").

    Tildes: Overview

    Most of the time, the stressed syllable in Spanish is either the last or next-to-last (penultimate) syllable. When the stressed syllable is NOT what one would expect based on those norms, we use the written accent to show this. When do we most often see written accents?

    • If the stressed syllable is neither the last nor the next-to-last syllable
    • To distinguish between common homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings). For example, "si" (if) versus "sí" (yes), or "el" (the) versus "él" (he), or "qué" (what) versus "que" (that).
    • To make it clearer the difference between words that are very close to being homophones, often verb conjugations, like "compró" (he/she bought, stressed syllable is the last one) versus "compro" (I buy, stressed syllable is the penultimate one). Note that the using or not using a tilde changes both the tense (past v. present) and person (he/she v. I) - things can get confusing very quickly if tildes are not used appropriately! This can also matter for words other than verbs, like "papa" (potato) compared to "papá" (dad). 

    Why are tildes important?

    • They help your reader distinguish between homophones or close homophones and more readily understand your writing
    • They help you pronounce new words accurately when reading them for the first time
    • They show that you took care with your writing. Would you want to send a potential boss a cover letter with a lot of typos in it?

    How to type tildes on a computer:

    The method may vary slightly by operating system and software app. Here is a useful guide from SpanishDict that outlines various options. You can always search online for more information on your system if needed.

    Tildes: More detail and practice

    Explicación y práctica

    Práctica interactiva en otros sitios

    This page titled 1.7: La acentuación y las tildes / Stress and Written Accents is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Enrique Yepes.