Unit 0 - Introduction
Lesson 0.5 - Typing with Accent Marks

Accent marks are important in Spanish. Learn the various methods you can use to input them as needed in the exercises.

The ancient and the modern: The Templo Mayor ruins and the modern museum just off the Zócalo.

An Unfamiliar Problem

In English, we don't have to worry about accent marks in our spelling of words. Sure, there are a few exceptions in the case of words borrowed from other languages, like exposé and soufflé. But in general, we don't use them.

As a result, most English speakers have no idea how to type accented characters on their keyboards. That is understandable because it can be tricky, and the method for typing them can depend on what kind of computer you have.

At VerbMaestro, we have an easier way for you to deal with the issue. Read on for the details.

The Importance of Accents in Spanish

You may be wondering why you can't just ignore the accent marks and spell the Spanish words without them. The problem is that the accent marks in Spanish words often change the entire meaning of the word, especially for verb forms.

As an example, consider these forms of the word visitar Play Audio , which means to visit.

Verb Form Pronunciation Meaning
Play Audio
vee-SEE-toe I visit.
Play Audio
vee-see-TOE He visited.
Play Audio
vee-see-TAY I visited.
Play Audio
vee-SEE-tay Visit. (A command)

You can see that the first two examples are identical except for the accent mark over the final letter. Without the accent, you could not tell the correct meaning or the correct pronunciation. The last two examples have the same problem.

In each case where the correct spelling of a word includes an accent mark, it is important that you learn to type the word with the appropriate diacritical mark.

An Example Exercise

The English sentence Yesterday I visited my grandmother can be translated in Spanish as Ayer visité a mi abuela. Play Audio If you are not yet familiar with the preterite tense used here, don't worry. We'll get to that in a later unit.

Our exercises require you to supply the correct verb form by typing it in the blank.

But how can you type in the accent required in this answer? Well...

Method 1: Use the Buttons

Remember, for this answer, you will be typing visité in the box.

Try it out. Click the input box below and begin typing the answer until you get to the accented final letter. So in the answer box, type "visit".

Don't worry about the word visitar that already appears in the box. That is just a hint to make sure you know which verb infinitive is being requested. It will disappear when you begin typing.

Now you need to type in the accented letter "é". For accented letters, we provide several methods to input them. The first is the most obvious...

Under the answer box you will see small buttons for each of the possible accented letters. Click the "é" button.

Now your answer should be complete in the answer box. If you press Enter, you will see a confirmation message.

Method 2: Use the VerbMaestro keyboard shortcut

While the small buttons work fine, it can often be a bother to switch from the keyboard to your mouse to click on them, so here is a quick alternative that doesn't require your hands to leave the keyboard...

Here is the same exercise again. As before, type the beginning of our answer into the answer box below: "visit".

Now type a period "." and see what happens.

You will see that most of the accented letter buttons have turned blue. If you now type a normal letter "e", it will appear as an accented "é" in your answer.

So the period key toggles this special accent-mode on and off. A similar option exists for typing "ü". If you type a comma, you will see that "u" can now by typed to input "ü".

Actually there are several keys that toggle these features on and off. You can use period or single quote for á,é,í,ó,ú,ñ. Use comma, double quote, semicolon or colon for ü. Use whichever pair of keys is easiest for you to remember.

Method 3: For mobile devices and tablets

If you are accessing the site from a mobile phone or tablet, your keyboard may not show the period or comma keys without switching to the symbol layout.

That can make using Method 2 a bother. In that case, I recommend using the built-in feature of your keyboard to access the accented letters.

On most mobile devices, if you hold down a key on your keyboard for a moment, you should see a small menu of choices for that letter including various accents. If that doesn't work on your device, you may want to see if an alternate keyboard is available in the app store.

It's important in this case to note the difference between the acute accent and grave accent. You want the one the rises from left to right.

For most users, the period and comma shortcuts are the quickest way to type accents when needed.

Depending on your computer and operating system, there may be other methods too. Find what works best for you.

Diacritical Marks in Spanish

Feel free to skip this section if you would like. I'll cover the names and purpose of each mark, but you can certainly master their use without knowing any of this!

There are seven uses of diacritical marks in Spanish:

á, é, í, ó, ú :

Notice that the accent mark in each case rises from left to right. These are called "acute accents". Each of the five vowels can carry this mark, and it means that the marked syllable has the strongest stress in the pronunciation of the word. (Words with no accent mark follow specific rules about which syllable is stressed. Any word that deviates from those rules will feature an accent mark.)

ü :

This mark is called a diaeresis and it is identical in appearance to the German umlaut. Its purpose is to force the pronunciation of the "u" sound in places where it would otherwise be ignored because of Spanish pronunciation rules. For example pingüino (penguin) is pronounced "peen-GWEEN-oh" Play Audio instead of "peen-GEEN-oh".

ñ :

This is considered a separate letter in the Spanish alphabet. The N with a tilde over it is pronounced as if it were followed by a letter Y. For example, niña is pronounced "NEE-nya". Play Audio

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Additional Study Resources

Everything you would ever want to know about accent marks in Spanish.