Language Guide
Pronunciation and Spelling
Written Accent Marks (Tildes)

Written Accent Marks (Tildes)

Quick Answer

Tildes , or written accents, are used for many different purposes in Spanish. Among other things, they are used to mark word stress, differentiate the present tense from the past tense, and show whether something is a question, exclamation, or statement.

Looking for how to type Spanish accents and punctuation on your keyboard? Check out our article here.

Tildes and Word Stress

The syllables of a word that are pronounced with the most emphasis, or stress, are called the stressed syllables. Some words may have more than one stressed syllable, though many have just one. If a Spanish word has a tilde, the word stress falls on whatever syllable has the tilde.

Take a look at these examples of Spanish words with tildes and their pronunciation.

SpanishPronunciation
tefono
 
teh-LEH-foh-noh
árbol
 
AHR-bohl
colibrí
 
koh-lee-BREE
cómpramelo
 
COHM-prah-meh-loh

If you see a tilde on a Spanish word, it's important to stress the syllable with the tilde. This is often the difference between pronouncing a word like teléfono with great Spanish pronunciation (teh-LEH-foh-noh), instead of English-like pronunciation (TEH-leh-foh-noh).

Hungry for more? Check out our articles on Spanish word stress and Spanish syllabification.

Tildes and Tenses

Accents are also quite useful for telling what tense a Spanish verb is in. For example, the third person singular (él, ella), and second person formal singular (usted) preterite forms of regular Spanish -ar verbs end in an o with a tilde. The first person singular (yo) present forms of regular Spanish -ar verbs end in an o without a tilde.

That one little tilde can change both the tense and subject of a sentence. For example:

With a tildeMandó una carta.He/She sent a letter.
Without a tildeMando una carta.I send a letter.

Check out our articles on the present and the preterite tenses for more.

Tildes, Adjectives, and Pronouns

Tildes are also used for marking the difference between certain possessive adjectives and personal pronouns. Check out a few examples of these below.

Possessive AdjectivesPersonal Pronouns
mi  (my)  (me)
tu  (your)  (you)
Mi amor me dio la rosa a .
My love gave me a rose.
 
tienes un gato. Es tu gato.
You have a cat. It is your cat.
 

Tildes and Sentence Types

A tilde on words like qué and cómo can be used to show that someone is asking a question or making an exclamation. The lack of a tilde on such words is often used to show that something is a statement or command. Check out examples of these differences with the words qué and que in the table below.

Type of SentenceSpanishEnglish
Question
¿Qué es eso?
 
What is that?
Exclamation
¡Qué te vaya bien!
 
Have a good time!
Command
Que pase.
 
Come in.
Statement
Esa no es la camisa que me gusta
 
That's not the shirt I like.

You can learn more about these differences in our articles on que commands and exclamations.

Tildes and Word Pairs

There are many pairs of words in Spanish whose only spelling difference is the presence or absence of a tilde. Here are just a few.

Word with a TildeWord without TildeExampleEnglish
él  (he)el  (the)
A él le gusta el queso.
 
He likes the cheese.
  (tea)te  (you)
Te recomiendo que pruebas el té.
 
I recommend that you try the tea.
  (yes)si  (if)
Sí, quiero ir al restaurante, pero sólo si tienen pizza.
 
Yes, I want to go to the restaurant but only if they have pizza.
más  (more)mas  (but)
Quiero más chocolate, mas es mala idea.
 
I want more chocolate, but it's a bad idea.
cómo  (how/what)como  (like, as)
¿Cómo se llama él? ¿Es alto como Pablo?
 
What is his name? Is he tall like Pablo?
sólo  (only)solo  (alone)
Iré sólo si tú vas también; no quiero ir solo.
 
I will go only if you go; I don't want to go alone.

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