The diacritical accent in Spanish is one of the most curious exceptions of accentuation in our language. As our students already know, the use of the graphic accent helps us to know how to pronounce words.

However, its importance goes beyond the merely phonetic. Sometimes, the tilde marks a morphological difference: it tells us if two words with the same spelling are nouns, pronouns, adverbs, verbs, prepositions… This is the diacritical accent in Spanish.

The Diacritical Accent in Spanish: Monosyllables

In Spanish, as a general rule, monosyllabic words (they have only one syllable) are not stressed. However, you have probably come across such words with a tilde. This is due to the use of the diacritical accent in Spanish. Below, we are going to look at a list of monosyllable pairs that have the same spelling, but have different meanings:

  • De (prepositions) – (verb dar): Quiero que le a su jefe un mensaje de mi parte.
  • Mi (possessive) – (pronoun): Mi dinero es para .
  • El (article) – Él (pronoun): El curso de conversación es el mejor para él.
  • Tu (possessive) – (pronoun): Tu mayor enemigo eres tú.
  • Se (pronoun) – (verb ser and saber): que se puede aprender español: listo y busca un profesor por Skype.
  • Si (conjunction) – (adverb and pronoun): , por supuesto, si tu hermano quiere triunfar, debe confiar en mismo.
  • Te (pronoun) – (noun): Te invito a una taza de .
  • Mas (conjunction) – Más (adverb): Puedes beber un poquito más, mas no demasiado.

A hybrid case in this category of words is the pair of adverbs aun – aún. When unstressed, aun is monosyllabic and means ‘even’, ‘until’. On the other hand, aún has two syllables and is synonymous with todavía: Aun viviendo en España durante cinco años, aún no habla bien español.



Accentuation in Interrogatives and Exclamatives

Likewise, the diacritical accent in Spanish helps us to differentiate between interrogative or exclamative pronouns and other types of words.

  • Que (conjunction and relative pronoun) – Qué: ¡Qué cochazo que tiene mi vecino!
  • Quien (relative) – Quién: ¿Quién es la persona en quien más confías?
  • Donde (adverb) – Dónde: ¿Dónde está el restaurante donde nos conocimos?
  • Cual (relative, adverb) – Cuál: ¿Cuál es el país en el cual te gustaría vivir?
  • Cuanto (adverb, pronoun) – Cuánto: ¡Cuánto valiente en cuanto la vitoria está asegurada!
  • Como (conjunction, adverb) – Cómo: ¿Cómo puedo hablar como un nativo?
  • Cuando (conjunction, adverb) – Cuándo: ¿Cuándo te viene bien que quedemos? Iré cuando me digas.

Apparently, it is easy for students to know when to stress these words; they just need to look for the question and exclamation marks. However, there are also indirect interrogative and exclamative sentences. In these cases, these words should be also stressed: no sé dónde ir ni qué hacer.

Old cases of the diacritical accent in Spanish

The diacritical accent in Spanish has undergone some modifications in the 2010 orthographic reform, elaborated by the Real Academia de la Lengua.

According to this reform, demonstrative pronouns (este, ese, aquel) should not have an accent to differentiate them from demonstrative adjectives: Quiero este libro, no aquel.

In addition, the adverb solo is no longer used with a tilde to avoid confusion with the adjective solo: ¡Dejadme en paz! Solo necesito estar solo.

Finally, the conjunction o should no longer be written with a graphic accent when separating numbers: Seremos 8 o 9 para cenar.

As we can see, the diacritical accent in Spanish is an indispensable tool to avoid confusion in our language. If you want to learn more spelling rules, be sure to read our weekly articles on our blog. And if you want to brush up on grammar, take a look at the grammar resources on our website.