87

English

I notice that native Spanish speakers often leave off accents in writing. Outside the context of edited material, it almost seems like accent pedantry is the sign of someone who has learned Spanish as a second language or has their spell-checker properly configured.

Do native Spanish speakers appreciate properly-placed accents in writing or does it not matter much? (Which is to say, should I spend my time looking up accents or am I wasting my time?)


Español

Me doy cuenta de que los hablantes nativos de español a menudo se dejan los acentos al escribir. Fuera del contexto de material editado, casi parece que la pedantería para poner acentos es el signo de uno que ha aprendido español como segundo idioma o tiene su corrector ortográfico configurado correctamente.

¿Aprecian los hablantes nativos de español los acentos correctamente colocados al escribir o no importa mucho? (Quiero decir, ¿debería emplear tiempo buscando acentos o estoy perdiendo el tiempo?

  • 16
    es kmo lo mas importante! xk sin los acentos, nadie puede entender lo k dices xk la escritura de los nativos siempre es correcta. – Flimzy Nov 15 '11 at 22:50
  • Please take care, in spanish "acento" is a general word. All words have accent. But not all words have "acento diacrítico" or "tilde" that is the sign that you use for remark the accent. – MacGyver Jun 1 '12 at 23:30
  • Nowadays tildes can be seen more often in informal chats thanks to the autocorrect function – Rol Dec 16 '15 at 17:55
  • Aunque genera ciertas confusiones, no cuesta mucho comprender textos sin tildes. Tampoco que cambies g por j, o qu por k, etc. Ya ha habido una propuesta de reforma en ese sentido. El problema es que con ese enfoque «económico» comienzas por comerte las tildes y acabas escribiendo "Orrible kalamidad del kasteyano, jeneralmente, son las tildes o asentos. Esta sankadiya kotidiana desaparese kon la rreforma: aremos komo el ingles, ke a triunfado unibersalmente sin tildes". N.B.; léase el pdf enlazado en voz alta. – Fran Sep 28 '18 at 19:59

13 Answers 13

78

Accents are important anywhere you want to use formal language, look professional, etc. Places where using "correct" Spanish is important. Writing an article for publication, a letter to a superior, in exams.

Despite what other people say in their answers, leaving out accents doesn't result in sore eyes, confused readers, hard to read text. If you're writing to somebody who you know likes everything proper you should expect this to irritate them. Generally people that don't like slang also won't like omitted accents.

I would compare it exactly to writing English in all lower case and omitting apostrophes.

Almost all of my friends from Spanish speaking countries never use accents when writing on the Internet, in emails, Facebook, instant messaging, SMS.

It's a matter of style. When you want to be formal, stick to the official orthography, with all the accents, punctuation, and capitalization used as the RAE advises. If you don't you will be interpreted as at least lazy and unprofessional, but perhaps worse.

If you are a young person chatting via keyboard to other young people, you don't have to be formal, just like in English. Your friends might even find it a bit stilted if you're too formal.

In fact in instant messaging and SMS I find my Spanish speaking friends go much further and use lots of special slang spellings I don't know at all - just like people do in English.

It's probably a good idea to be consistent though. It will be less pleasant for some people to read if you phase in and out of accent usage in a single piece of writing. In this case it will seem a lot more like spelling mistakes like mixing up "to" and "too" or "their" and "there" and "they're" in English. Context will show which word you mean but your wrong spellings will throw the reader off.

I do note however that when Spanish is written in all capitals that the accents will fairly often be omitted even in places where you might expect more formality and even though the RAE says the accents should always be used even in all capitals.

In short: You might make a faux pas if you leave them out, but you'll never make a faux pas if you put them in. Other than the cool kids sometimes thinking you're not cool (-;

  • 1
    Good answer. It is true that accents should be used even when all letters are capital. Although this rule is often contested by native speakers. When I was in school my literature and philosophy teachers always took a point off when an accent was not there. For us while reading a book or article accents are very important and demonstrate the dominion of the author in Spanish. Personally, when I don't see them it burns my eyes, but I guess that's product of my spanish literature nazi teacher... – Joze Nov 16 '11 at 13:11
  • 4
    Not using accents and proper punctuation make texts more difficult to read, because you have to keep trying to deduce what the writer meant. Not writing the accent in "camion" probably has no effect in the understandability of the text, but when the accent changes the meaning, omitting it makes you have to read twice or more to understand the meaning. – MikMik Dec 27 '11 at 9:34
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    Diacritics are not grammar. – hippietrail Dec 31 '11 at 19:05
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    @hippietrail: I get your point. But we shouldn't forget that the correctness of Spanish grammar and orthography is prescribed by a central authority, whereas English is not. Regarding "importance", that's fine, but importance for whom or what? Importance for being understood, for being correct, for keeping up the appearance, etc.? My point is that Spanish has an absolute concept of right vs. wrong, and it is important to be right rather than wrong. – CesarGon Apr 16 '12 at 14:32
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    As an example of how they DO matter, consider the following sentence: "Espero que su teléfono no haya cambiado porque se que se cambio de casa." In this case the two occurrences of the word "se" have different meanings that cannot be seen without the accent, the first one is "I know" and the second one is a pronoun, the sentence means "I hope his phone number hasn't changed because I know he moved." The correct way of spelling it would be "Espero que su teléfono no haya cambiado porque sé que se cambio de casa." – Sergio Romero May 2 '12 at 14:48
40

In my opinion, the accents are very important to ease the readability of your text. Since Spanish is a inflectional language, we make from a single root many words (e.g. verbal conjugation) whose only difference is the syllable having the stress:

El camino  →  (the road)
Él cami  →  (he walked)
Yo camino  →  (I walk)

Also another example being we have the diacritic accent (éste vs este):

Toda la culpa la tiene éste.
Toda la culpa la tiene este hombre.

  • 1
    The Real Academia Española recognizes that there are occasions when accents may be omitted. See my answer for more information. (Although I do agree that they are important.) – Richard Nov 15 '11 at 23:31
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    Another example is: el ejército (the army), yo ejercito (I exercise), él ejercitó (he exercised). – dusan Nov 16 '11 at 0:14
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    Yeah but with context you know exactly what the person is saying. – Timothy Martens Jan 10 '12 at 18:44
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    @SergioRomero: I don't understand then why you don't consider it's important to also write English properly in comments to this question. For instance, every properly written sentence in English must include a verb. Or maybe it's just a case that when asked some people feel writing properly is important, but in practice often write casually rather than properly. – hippietrail May 2 '12 at 15:40
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    @hippietrail: You've just proven my point. As English is my second language I'm sure I make grammar mistakes often, but at the very least I always make sure that every single word is spelled properly. Accents in Spanish are a matter of spelling. – Sergio Romero May 2 '12 at 15:45
23

You should absolutely use them - it's not a matter of pedantry. Otherwise you'll be forcing people to correct intonation in their minds - making any lengthy enough text a headache.

  • 1
    how important are capital letters and punctuation marks in english. although im pretty sure everybody understand me its a headache dont you agree – Ra_ Jan 12 '17 at 11:14
15

Accents are essential when there is a possibility of confusion.

The Real Academia Española recognizes that there are occasions when accents may be omitted. The words éste or aquél, for example, don't require an accent when there is no risk of confusing the word with the adjective.

By comparison, o should have an accent when it comes between numerals, in order to help distinguish it from the number zero: 5 ó 6. (Note: this "rule" very recently changed so that o does not require the accent.)

My general rule: they are often not required, but always a good idea.

  • 1
    ¡Hola, Richard! It's good to see a familiar face. Did you mean to leave off the accents in the two examples you gave? It sounds like contradictory advice. (And s/consfusing/confusing/. ;-) – Jon Ericson Nov 15 '11 at 23:52
  • @JonEricson Hey! Yeah, the way it was written made it sound like those were examples. Thanks for pointing that out. I've updated it to make more sense. ;) – Richard Nov 16 '11 at 12:19
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    The thing is the accent can be omitted only on SOME words. But most accented words REQUIRE it to distinguish themselves from other words. For instance with past tense and present tense or with homonyms. :-) – Joze Nov 16 '11 at 12:24
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    There's an error in your answer: since the last edition of the Ortografía de la Lengua Española, the letter "o" doesn't have an accent when it comes between numerals: Supresión de la tilde diacrítica en la conjunción disyuntiva o escrita entre cifras – Gonzalo Medina Nov 20 '11 at 0:48
  • @GonzaloMedina Nice find! I've updated my answer to note that new, and very recent change – Richard Nov 21 '11 at 13:40
11

You definitely should. An accent can really make a difference when trying to understand a text. We, native speakers, can usually fully understand something without any accent, but it's much easier to read with them.

Also, to write spanish as the RAE says, you have to use them.

8

Although it is possible to understand a text without accents, it would hurt your eyes.

In addition to this, some words change their meaning if you miss one accent (más/mas, él/el, té/te...).

  • Or "arteria/artería" – user14029 Nov 19 '16 at 13:48
8

Imagine you are writing about this situation:

There are some guys hitting another one, while others are looking at it. You see it from far away and shout:

¡Animales!

Meaning "beasts", for doing what they are doing.

Imagine you add an accent to the word and write:

¡Anímales!

Meaning "encourage them"!

The exact same little word will mean something completely different just because of an accent.

We could think on many other examples with fábrica / fabrica (fabricar), máquina / maquina (maquinar), etc.

  • 1
    Although, to be fair, if you're giving the command to vos intead of , it'd still be ¡Animales! (animá + les = animáles, and being llana ending in -s doesn't take an accent even though the base verb had it— this was a chance in the 2010 orthography) – user0721090601 Oct 10 '15 at 3:16
  • @guifa fair enough. Then we should restrict my example to places where we use and not vos. – fedorqui Oct 10 '15 at 9:40
8

To a true Mexican, a properly placed accent shows respect for the purity of the written language as the accent is most often used in proper names and I am sure that you yourself would not much appreciate a mispronunciation of your name. For example, the letter "i" in my name is not dotted, it carries an accent over the i and I always make use of the accent when using my signature. In English, a 3 syllable word usually carries the accent over the first syllable, but in Mexican Spanish, the accent is usually over the 2nd syllable in a 3 syllable name and over the 1st in a 2 syllable name. So YES, it is a way of showing respect for one's heritage and is extremely important for a purist of the correct pronunciation of one's name.


My name in the spelling and culture of Mexico is García. Here on the Tex/Mex border we are proud of our heritage and continue to speak Mexican Spanish fluently on a daily basis throughout the Rio Grande Valley.

  • What is your name, if you don't mind sharing that personal detail? Since you're using it as an example, and all... :) – Flimzy Nov 16 '11 at 6:16
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    I agree with Roman, in México, there are surnames with accent like: González, Pérez, Martínez, Jiménez, Gómez, Vázquez, Hernández, García. And while sometimes skipping the accent will be acceptable, using it will always be considered polite. – Omar Salinas Nov 23 '11 at 18:37
  • I think it's important that if you're including some accents you should include all accents. Leaving some out willy-nilly seems worse to me than leaving them all out. For instance if you wrote most accents but left out those in some peoples' names that would indeed look rude to me. – hippietrail May 2 '12 at 15:43
6

Yes. A lot of people appreciate it. Sometimes, if writing a quick message or SMS they are left off. There is not accent pedantry, most times they are useful and help the reader to go through your text faster.

4

It's not thaaaat important, people would still understand what you're trying to write if you miss some accents.

However, if you miss one, it will look like a stain in the paper.

Of course there are some words that DO NEED the accent because it changes the complete meaning of the word.. like "mas" and "más" or "él" and "el"

  • Or tú and tu. :) – Alenanno Nov 15 '11 at 23:00
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    I disagree. I think they are thaaaaaaaaat important. Reading a piece of text with no proper accents is a pain. You have to read the lines 2, sometimes 3 times, to make sense of what the person is trying to communicate. – Icarus Dec 20 '11 at 20:13
  • It is very important – Krauss Jan 12 '17 at 8:28
4

As a native speaker, I would say you should try to write them everywhere, unless you are in a particular situation when writing with perfect orthography is difficult or impossible (e.g., writing an urgent sms). In general I have found that many spanish native speakers find annoying reading spanish text without correct accents.

  • :) I am far for being an authority, but questions about human language are often subtle, and cannot be answered as a math question. As a native, (granted, not in every case) often you just know the answer because you and the people in your environment have dealt with that kind of situations most of your life. In this concrete question, I know that many native spanish speakers feel annoyed when reading something without accents. But I partially agree with you, maybe this answer was too informal, though probably not incorrect. Cheers ! – Sergio May 31 '12 at 20:12
4

Definamos una "isografía" (1) como dos palabras o grupo de palabras o parte de palabras que se escriben igual, salvo por algún acento, pero cuyo significado es distinto y a veces incluso opuesto.

Aunque el español es una lengua muy viva y muy rica en palabras, lo cierto es que también nos faltan algunas. Aquí van unos ejemplos:

como = comme, en francés = like, en inglés

cómo = comment, en francés = how, en inglés

que = que, en francés = that, en inglés

qué = quel/quelle, qu´est-ce-que, en francés = what , en inglés

si = si, en francés = if, en inglés

sí = oui, en francés = yes , en inglés

se = on, en francés = we , en inglés

sé = je sais, en francés = i know, en inglés

Hay muchos más ejemplos y en todos los casos, tanto en el inglés, como en el francés existen en esas dos bellas lenguas dos palabras distintas pero una sola en español, distinguibles sólo por llevar acento o no llevarlo.

(1): Puede ser un neologismo, pero no me importa. Hay que saber crear neologismos si estos son lógicos, fundamentados y a la vez equilibrados y que no desentonen.

0

It depends on the setting.

I agree with you that often, taking a lot of care with spelling and accents can make a foreigner stick out like a sore thumb. I for one have found myself in that situation. But I was already pretty noticeable to begin with; and writing with careful spelling and accents never brought any negative repercussions. If I had slummed and written more sloppily, it wouldn't have made any difference on my ability to integrate into the local community.

That said, there are settings where careful spelling and properly placed accents are important and much appreciated, and this site falls into that category.

I would recommend to all Spanish learners that they develop good spelling and accenting habits right from the start, and continue in this way. I would recommend that to any child or teenager who is a native speaker as well; but for someone learning Spanish as a second language, it's especially worthwhile, for several reasons:

  • Your writing will be better understood and more influential/more entertaining
  • It will help you understand and appreciate better the language, including relationships among words, meanings, grammar, etymology. In short, it will help you build your knowledge of the language and your respect for and attachment to the language and the people who speak it.
  • It will thus help you progress better in your learning.
  • It will help you pronounce Spanish correctly and beautifully, which will help you communicate succesfully, and connect with people better.
  • You will be showing respect for another group's language and culture.
  • It will speed some realizations that will help you understand English better, too.

That is not to say that if you forget some accents or place some in funny places, you'll be despised! I'm just saying that your spelling efforts will bring you extra respect (i.e. brownie points).

In short, I definitely don't see learning to place accents correctly as a waste of time.


Update 10/2/19: It may be easier to learn to write accents correctly if you install a Spanish spellchecker in your word processor and your browser.

protected by Joze Dec 9 '11 at 10:23

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