Why Spanish writing looks so different: Accents, tildes, and punctuation

Many beginning Spanish students are surprised to see many new markings when they read Spanish. Spanish does have some markings that do not exist in English, but they are not too complicated to master.

Upside-down punctuation marks ¡ and ¿ are used at the beginning of a phrase to signal a question or an exclamation. Normal punctuation is also used at the end of a phrase, as in English.

  • ¿Como te llamas?
  • ¡Muybien!

The wavy line in the letter ñ is called a tilde. The ñ is pronounced like the ny in the word canyon.

An accent mark is a tilted line (´). It is only placed over vowels.
Sometimes, it is just part of the spelling of the word, and is used to distinguish it from another common word that does not use an accent.

  • tú with an accent is the subject pronoun "you"; tu without an accent is the object pronoun "your"
  • qué with a accent is the question word "who", que without an accent is the relative pronoun "which".

In other cases, the accent signals which syllable in the word receives the stress.
  • El lápiz (LAH-piz, pencil)
  • El bolígrafo (el bo-LEE-gra-fo, pen)

[If there is no accent, follow these rules to determine which syllable is stressed:
1. If the word ends in a vowel, n, or s, stress the second-to-last syllable.
2. If the word ends in any other letters, stress the last syllable.
See lesson 37 for more information on word stress.]

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