Can Spanish accent marks be dropped in a context where they cannot be displayed? I'm developing a computer program that generates labels for a display that only supports the English alphabet. Are there any other considerations or processing I could do to make the labels more readable? E.g. for German I replace umlaut characters like 'ü' with 'ue'.


  • 2
    Remember that Spanish also makes use of { ñ , Ñ and ü } Sep 4, 2012 at 21:50

2 Answers 2


I suppose it depends on what you mean by "can." Spanish written without accent marks is virtually 100% comprehensible to a literate fluent or native speaker, because, at least in my case, I don't use the accent marks as a guide to tell me what pronunciation to use. In English, a mispeled word here and there doesn't damage comprehension, likewise in Spanish, a literate person is likely to read "como estas" and be able to grasp right away whether the person means "like these" or "how are you?"

In that sense, yes, you most definitely can.

As always, I can't speak to whether it's officially acceptable per the RAE because I have very little familiarity with that ruleset.

  • Thanks, in this case I literally have NO WAY to include any characters outside the lowercase English language alphabet plus 0-9 and the dash sign (-). I don't know anything about Spanish and I'm just trying to see if there's anything I can do to make the label more readable. It sounds like the answer is no.
    – Paul
    Sep 3, 2012 at 18:51
  • Stephane, thanks for the correction -- I don't know how that one slipped by me.
    – Frank
    Sep 4, 2012 at 14:13
  • With regard to Ñ, there are two common practices: to render it as "NY" sort of like the English "canyon", or to use the combination "NH" which is what Portuguese does. Sep 8, 2012 at 14:30
  • Also the french way "GN" like in "Cognac". Besides, since X is a rare letter in spanish, I know about software that uses it for Ñ as well as for X itself.
    – Envite
    Jul 25, 2014 at 14:18
  • @Envite, I have never seen X instead of Ñ. And if I read it, I would be quite confused. IMO it is not a good idea; I think best option would be use a simple N, maybe excepting cases where there is another word with N (caña/cana, peña/pena), where GN, NY or NH can be a nice choice. Jul 28, 2014 at 12:24

Common practice is to omit the accents on vowels in all caps situations (in scrolling signs) when space is at an absolute premium, even the Ü gets it elided sometimes (you'll see ARGUELLES and ARGÜELLES for in Madrid transit signage). The Ñ normally gets rendered with the right vertical line slightly lowered to make space, or the entire N made smaller with a flat vertical bar for the tilde. Ocassionally you might see !? instead of ¡¿ on some systems.

I agree with Walter Mitty's comment that, region-depending, ny and nh are combinations you'll see to replace ñ. Those closer to Portugal or Brazil will tend towards nh, all others towards ny.

However, unfortunately, you've said you're stuck with lowercase. While the text will be readable, it's going to look horribly, horribly unprofessional to not use accents and I can't discourage you enough from doing it. I get that you're stuck with what you have, but if you're looking to make this work for multiple languages, I'd highly recommend investing in a system that can handle more characters.

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