The importance of written accents in Spanish
As a Spanish student, it is important to recognise the importance of the "tilde" (i.e., the written accent ´) that we see written above the vowel in some words. Not only do these accents tell you where the word must be stressed when it is pronounced, but in some cases, the presence or absence of a written accent can change the meaning of a word.
Let's see some of the most common cases:
- él (personal pronoun) vs el (definite article)
He wants the black car.
- té (noun) vs te (indirect object pronoun)
The waiter is serving you a [cup of] tea with milk.
- porque (because) vs por qué (why)
No entiendo por qué no me hablas.
I don't understand why you are not talking to me.
No te hablo porque eres muy egoista.
I am not talking to you because you are very selfish.
- sí (yes) vs si (if)
Sí, debo ir al médico pronto.
Yes I must go to the doctor soon.
Si voy al médico pronto tendré las medicinas necesarias.
If I go to the doctor soon I will have the necessary medicine.
- como (conjunction) vs cómo (interrogative adverb)
En el colegio puedo vestir como yo quiera.
I can dress as I like at school.
¿Cómo debes vestir en el colegio?
How must you dress at school?
- que (conjunction) vs qué (interrogative pronoun)
Me alegra que os hayáis casado por fin.
I am glad that you finally married.
¿Qué vas a cenar esta noche?
What are you having for dinner this evening?
- cuando (conjunction) vs cuándo (interrogative adverb)
Cuando sea mayor quiero ser ingeniero.
When I am older I want to be an engineer.
¿Cuándo despegará el avión?
When will the plane take off?
- does solo have a written accent?
Depending on when you learnt Spanish, you may have been taught that the word solo needs a written accent (sólo) when it means "only" (adverb). Be aware that the Real Academia Española changed that rule in 2010 so that no accent is needed anymore for the word solo no matter what the function of the word.
Me siento muy solo sin ti.
I feel very lonely without you.
Solo quiero un café.
I only want a coffee.
Often we find a conjugated verb in two different tenses with the same spelling but because they are pronounced differently, one has a written accent and the other doesn't. Have a look and listen to some examples:
- hablo (present tense) vs habló (preterite tense)
- hablara (imperfect subjunctive) vs hablará (simple future tense)
CASES WITH DEMONSTRATIVES AND VERBS
- esta (demonstrative adjective) vs está (verb estar in the present)
This girl is tired.
- este (demonstrative adjective) vs esté (verb estar in the present subjunctive)
I don't want this boy to be sad.