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When and why is this symbol ´ used in Spanish words? E.g. producción, qué, cuánto, vivís, país.

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The (´) symbol is called tilde or acento in Spanish (more specifically: acento gráfico and acento ortográfico), and the Ortografía 2010 written by the RAE says the following about its uses in chapter 3.3:

  • Its main use is to specify which syllable of the word is the one stressed. You can see here the accentuation rules for Spanish. So, we can tell apart ánimo, animo and animó. This is called "tilde prosódica" ("prosodic accent").
  • It is also used to tell apart words that are written the same but have different functions. So we know that de and are not the same. This is called "tilde diacrítica" ("diacritical accent").
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    No me deja editar porque es muy pequeño el cambio, pero "has" en "[...]are written the same but has different[...]" debería ser "have" – Brian H. Sep 26 '17 at 11:57
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    From the discussion in ¿Es correcto llamar “acento” a una tilde?, it may be worth indicating that we tend to use acento ortográfico, since acento can be used in other contexts. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Sep 26 '17 at 12:07
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    @fedorqui Added to the answer: "acento gráfico" and "acento ortográfico". – Charlie Sep 26 '17 at 12:42
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That's an acute accent and is used to mark the stressed vowel.

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