How important are accents in written Spanish?

78

8

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?

Jon Ericson

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 1 179

Nowadays tildes can be seen more often in informal chats thanks to the autocorrect functionRol 2015-12-16T17:55:30.917

2@Flimzy Entendí todo lo que dijiste, falta xk. ¿Qué significa xk?Peter Olson 2011-11-16T13:23:43.917

7x = por (como en multiplicacion), k = ke, xk = por quevartec 2011-11-16T13:36:55.530

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.Leandro Tupone 2012-06-01T23:30:57.440

1

I'm adding the tag "diacritics" because it's a much better term than "accents". Firstly it will cover ñ and ü as well as á é í ó and ú and even archaic ones like ç. Secondly it is unambiguous because "accent" also has the more common meaning of "way of speaking particular to a certain region".

hippietrail 2011-11-20T08:30:19.777

15es kmo lo mas importante! xk sin los acentos, nadie puede entender lo k dices xk la escritura de los nativos siempre es correcta.Flimzy 2011-11-15T22:50:47.693

Answers

73

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 (-;

hippietrail

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 3 572

1@SergioRomero. Shouldn't it be 'cambió'? ;-)Diego Sánchez 2015-02-24T22:27:59.547

@DiegoSánchez Me declaro culpable - Guilty as charged :)Sergio Romero 2015-03-04T14:59:55.063

3Not 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 2011-12-27T09:34:35.177

@MikMik: Yes just the same as writing "i" for "I" or mixing up "its" and "it's" in English.hippietrail 2011-12-27T12:44:37.290

1@hippietrail: -1 It's not a matter of style. Not using the necessary diacritics, or misusing them, is wrong grammar. As simple as that.CesarGon 2011-12-31T17:47:05.367

2Diacritics are not grammar.hippietrail 2011-12-31T19:05:19.363

1Good 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 2011-11-16T13:11:53.260

For people fluent in Spanish, it's probably true that unaccented text isn't much harder to read. However, when I read unaccented text as a beginner, I'd often have to make a second pass over a phrase in order to resolve ambiguities.Michael Wolf 2012-01-21T02:33:43.097

I'm just writing this even a year after because I downvoted the question. Even when I agree with some of the arguments, it's an incomplete answer in a very important sense noted by other users: sometimes accents change the meaning of entire phrases, therefore they're really important for readability. That, along with the use of commas, is not only very important in Spanish but, at the same time, very easyly forgotten by other languages speakers. It's a very common mistake so, honestly, I feel it's even irresponsible to not add it to a so much upvoted answer of a prot. q.Nox 2017-02-14T11:37:48.067

@hippietrail: fair enough; wrong orthography then. But still wrong.CesarGon 2012-04-16T00:55:07.927

@CesarGon: Of course. Just like many people would consider the final sentences of your previous two comments wrong English grammar for starting with a conjunction or preposition and lacking a verb. But in reality we really write like that all the time and it doesn't seriously impede anybody's reading. And after all the OP wasn't asking about grammatical or orthographical correctness but "importance". And I think the answers here cover all the aspects of importance, which of course include but are not limited to correctness.hippietrail 2012-04-16T04:56:41.833

3@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 2012-04-16T14:32:58.757

2As 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 2012-05-02T14:48:59.630

I try to use accents everywhere, even in not formal contexts eheh. :)Alenanno 2011-11-20T11:16:17.163

@Alenanno: Yep you can never go wrong by using them but you can go wrong by not using them. I might add something like that in my answer. Depending on my mood there's been plenty of time I'm typing in chat to a native speaker and I'm using the accents but they are not! (-:hippietrail 2011-11-20T11:25:10.910

@SergioRomero. Good example. At first I thought it didn't matter too much for comprehension, but my brain totally froze on that first se.John Powell aka Barça 2014-08-11T21:52:56.000

34

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.

Nicolás

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 5 397

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 2011-11-15T23:31:19.007

7Another example is: el ejército (the army), yo ejercito (I exercise), él ejercitó (he exercised).dusan 2011-11-16T00:14:36.667

More examples: Termino (I finish), terminó (he/she(it finished), término (term). Liquido (I liquidate?), liquidó (he/she/it liquidated??), líquido (liquid)Carlos Ferreyra 2015-11-06T13:42:15.247

4Yeah but with context you know exactly what the person is saying.Timothy Martens 2012-01-10T18:44:35.313

Even more importantly. It is a matter of writing properly.Sergio Romero 2012-05-02T14:29:02.867

@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 2012-05-02T15:40:19.520

1@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 2012-05-02T15:45:12.087

@SergioRomero: In this way it could be quite comparable to the many Spanish speakers that feel compelled to write English in all capital letters at least in electronic communication. I suppose they do it when they write Spanish too. Fortunately nobody seems to do that here though (-: (PS it should be "You have just proven my point" or "You just proved my point".)hippietrail 2012-05-02T15:52:40.567

22

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.

vemv

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 897

how important are capital letters and punctuation marks in english. although im pretty sure everybody understand me its a headache dont you agreeRa_ 2017-01-12T11:14:33.147

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.

Richard

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 1 568

¡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 2011-11-15T23:52:13.787

@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 2011-11-16T12:19:02.523

2The 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 2011-11-16T12:24:14.690

2

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/arch8100821B76809110C12571B80038BA4A/$File/CuestionesparaelFAQdeconsultas.htm#novOrto6)

Gonzalo Medina 2011-11-20T00:48:30.130

@GonzaloMedina Nice find! I've updated my answer to note that new, and very recent changeRichard 2011-11-21T13:40:00.497

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.

gumbo

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 111

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...).

J. Calleja

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 965

Or "arteria/artería" – None – 2016-11-19T13:48:19.347

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.

fedorqui

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 17 822

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)guifa 2015-10-10T03:16:54.613

@guifa fair enough. Then we should restrict my example to places where we use and not vos.fedorqui 2015-10-10T09:40:08.207

7

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.

Roman LittleStork

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 383

What is your name, if you don't mind sharing that personal detail? Since you're using it as an example, and all... :)Flimzy 2011-11-16T06:16:13.850

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 2012-05-02T15:43:20.033

1I 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 2011-11-23T18:37:08.290

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.

Serabe

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 908

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.

user55514

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 228

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.

Sergio

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 381

:) 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 2012-05-31T20:12:35.523

3

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"

pleasedontbelong

Posted 2011-11-15T22:30:18.397

Reputation: 447

4I 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 2011-12-20T20:13:50.037

It is very importantKrauss 2017-01-12T08:28:24.930

Or tú and tu. :)Alenanno 2011-11-15T23:00:56.963