interrogatives and accent marks

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Does anyone have a sensible reason for the fact that interrogatives always have an accent mark? I will be explaining it to my students this week and I hate to say, "that's just the way it is."
example: ¿Qué necesita? ¿Cuáles galletas quieres'

6596 views
updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by Redimida

18 Answers

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Easy to explain:

They mean different things, they sound differently, and they are intonated differently, so if we don't put the accents, we don't know how to read them or understand them correctly... unless we guess right:

que = that
qué = what

como = like
cómo = how

Imagino qué quiere. - I guess what he wants
Imagino que quiere. - I guess that he wants (to)

¿Qué necesita? - What do you need?
¿Que necesita? - (Are you telling me) that you need?

¿Que galletas quiere? - What biscuits do you want?
¿Que galletas quiere? - (Are you telling me) that biscuits you want? (this sounds like Yoda)

¿Te ha dicho qué quiere tu vecino? - Has he told you what does your neighbour want?
¿Te ha dicho que quiere tu vecino? - Has he told you that he wants your neighbour?

¿Sabes cómo abrir eso? - Do you know how to open this?
¿Sabes como abrir eso? - Do you know like open this? (''')

updated FEB 4, 2012
posted by lazarus1907
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James (who tends toward Latin-American Spanish) gave this advice about cuál vs. qué, which is the most concise explanation I've ever seen.

[url=http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A389425&page=1&commentId=1710195%3AComment%3A389695&x=1#1710195Comment389695]http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A389425&page=1&commentId=1710195%3AComment%3A389695&x=1#1710195Comment389695[/url]

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by Natasha
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Redimida said:

At the langauage school that I attended in Guadalajara I learned that "¿Cuál'" means which one and "¿Cuáles'" means which ones; implying multiple options. The example, ¿Cuáles galletas quieres? i got directly out of the text book. So my question is: is it a difference in local usage? I would love a Mexican opinion on this.

Heidita said:

¿Cuáles galletas quieres'Esto en España no lo usaríamos. Se diría:¿Qué galletas quieres?

Yes, it is perfectly correct. But it is so unusual in Spain, the first time I saw this I thought it was a mistake.

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by 00494d19
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Thank you, Lazarus. Nicely laid out and very helpful.
At the langauage school that I attended in Guadalajara I learned that "¿Cuál'" means which one and "¿Cuáles'" means which ones; implying multiple options. The example, ¿Cuáles galletas quieres? i got directly out of the text book. So my question is: is it a difference in local usage? I would love a Mexican opinion on this.

Heidita said:

¿Cuáles galletas quieres'Esto en España no lo usaríamos. Se diría:¿Qué galletas quieres?

>

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by Redimida
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Thanks, Lazarus, that is super helpful!!

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by Natasha
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For a more simplistic explanation: one of the reason for the written accent is for definition- él vs el, qué vs que, cómo vs como, sí vs si, etc.These interrogative words carry the tilde for definition while their counterparts the relative pronouns do not. The upside question mark also functions as to alert the reader that the pitch level will be going up in a "yes or no question" (¿Tienes azúcar? Sí, lo tengo.) while in an "information question" the pitch level wil go down (¿Qué desea Ud? Pues, hoy voy a probar el pescado.).

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by ltigo
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Natasha said:

Heidita, how would you translate "El que lo sepa que lo diga."?

If you know, tell us.

completely different structure in English.

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by 00494d19
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Heidita, how would you translate "El que lo sepa que lo diga."'

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by Natasha
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¿Cuáles galletas quieres'

Esto en España no lo usaríamos. Se diría:

¿Qué galletas quieres'

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by 00494d19
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samdie said:

>

updated NOV 19, 2008
posted by 00494d19
0
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Redimida,
I would say that one of the reasons for having an accent mark is because it makes part of the question form. You can tell you students that interrogatives have an accent mark because if they don't have it they won't be questions. Also remember that questions have another prosody. That's how people who speak Spanish know they are being asked a question. The marked accent is heard by the listener, so he/she knows that it's a question. I hope it helps.

Redimida said:

True, they do use the accent mark in other places. What I am really looking for is an explaination for my students of why. Why do these pronouns have an accent mark when there is no phonetical reason for it?

Natasha said:

Redimida, it occured to me that you might not be aware that such pronouns carry the accent when they are still considered to have an interrogative quality, even though they are not in a simple direct question. For example, see the sentence that AiFoS just wrote using cuándo:[url=http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A697508&page=1&commentId=1710195%3AComment%3A697751&x=1#1710195Comment697751]http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A697...[/url]

>

updated NOV 18, 2008
posted by Monica-Flores
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Redimida said:

True, they do use the accent mark in other places. What I am really looking for is an explaination for my students of why. Why do these pronouns have an accent mark when there is no phonetical reason for it?
Because in written Spanish they feel a need to make clear a distinction between interrogative/relative pronouns. In spoken Spanish the distinction can be made with intonation but when writing some orthographic device is needed.

updated NOV 18, 2008
posted by samdie
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Natasha said:

The Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas has a lot about cuál vs. cual, etc. I suppose the basic answer is that having the accent mark makes Spanish easier to read, because in print we don´t have the verbal cues to tell us how the word is being used.
In this context oral/aural cues would be better.

updated NOV 18, 2008
posted by samdie
0
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True, they do use the accent mark in other places. What I am really looking for is an explaination for my students of why. Why do these pronouns have an accent mark when there is no phonetical reason for it?

Natasha said:

Redimida, it occured to me that you might not be aware that such pronouns carry the accent when they are still considered to have an interrogative quality, even though they are not in a simple direct question. For example, see the sentence that AiFoS just wrote using cuándo:[url=http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A697508&page=1&commentId=1710195%3AComment%3A697751&x=1#1710195Comment697751]http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A697...[/url]

>

updated NOV 18, 2008
posted by Redimida
0
votes

Redimida, it occured to me that you might not be aware that such pronouns carry the accent when they are still considered to have an interrogative quality, even though they are not in a simple direct question. For example, see the sentence that AiFoS just wrote using cuándo:

[url=http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A697508&page=1&commentId=1710195%3AComment%3A697751&x=1#1710195Comment697751]http://my.spanishdict.com/forum/topic/show'id=1710195%3ATopic%3A697508&page=1&commentId=1710195%3AComment%3A697751&x=1#1710195Comment697751[/url]

updated NOV 18, 2008
posted by Natasha