Spanish: A Language with carácter (Part 3)

Welcome to the third and last part of this blog post, where we are getting to know better the special marks that make Spanish stand out from other languages.

The acento agudo (acute accent) will be reappearing to explain its second most important use, as well as the opening question/exclamation marks. We are almost done!


Acento agudo (´) and the diacritic use

After learning about the general rules of accentuation in Spanish from my last blog, one could draw a logical conclusion: in no way a monosyllabic word should bear a tilde, as a it doesn’t have any final or penultimate syllable.

Or is it?

The short answer is, of course, it hasn’t. The problem is, there are numerous monosyllabic words with different meanings and grammatical nature. For example, the conjunction mas (‘but’) has a twin in the adverb mas (‘more’). Then, how are readers supposed to tell which word is which? Coming to help us is the acute accent.

In the case beforehand, the adverb carries the diacritical accent and becomes más, like in “Quiero comprar más empanadas” (I want to buy more empanadas), while the conjunction remains unchanged, as in “Lo vi, mas no lo saludé” (I saw him, but I didn’t say hello). The unintended effect of this is a little rise in intonation on the adverb within the whole sentence.

Other of the many examples of diacritical accents on monosyllabic words in Spanish are the following:

  • (affirmative adverb): yes; si (conjunction at the beginning of conditional clauses or indirect questions): if, whether; and si (musical note): B
  • (noun): tea; te (object pronoun): you, as in te amo ‘I love you
  • (prepositional pronoun): me, as in a mí (to me), por mí (because of me)…; mi (possessive adjective): my; and mi (musical note): E

Once again, the little oblique line serves a greater purpose than imagined.


Opening question (¿) and exclamation (¡) marks

Also called inverted marks, this descending characters has been in use since before the 19th century to build questions and exclamations in la lengua de Cervantes.

What started as a suggestion from the Real Academia during the mid-18th century became a true staple of Spanish, as no other language has a grammatical norm like this one to effectively differentiate long affirmative/negative sentences from long questions or emotional declarations.

That’s why phrases such as “Qué dices a tu favor?” (What can you say in your favor?) or “Qué sorpresa!” (What a surprise!) are to be seen as carelessly written without the ¿ and ¡ at the beginning:

¿Qué dices a tu favor?

¡Qué sorpresa!


And with that we finish our journey through the most important characters in the Spanish language. In case you want to add them into any text using your computer, I leave here the ASCII codes for making them appear, uppercase as well as lowercase:

Ñ: Alt+0209

ñ: Alt+0241

Ü: Alt+0220

ü: Alt+129

Á: Alt+181

á: Alt+160

É: Alt+144

é: Alt+130

Í: Alt+214

í: Alt+161

Ó: Alt+0211

ó: Alt+162

Ú: Alt+233

ú: Alt+163

¿: Alt+0191

¡: Alt+173

Leave your thoughts in the comment section regarding the importance of special characters in your own languages.