Accentuating Clarity: The Importance of using proper Accents in Spanish Writing

Accentuating Clarity The Importance of using proper Accents in Spanish Writing

One of the more difficult aspects when translating a written document into Spanish, particularly as a native English speaker, is determining the proper placement of accents. The English language does not employ accents, and as such this can be a new and difficult concept to properly master.

When translating a document from English into Spanish, it is important to write correctly in order to be taken seriously, and for your message to be understood in the way in which it was intended. This includes the proper use of accents, which will always fall on a vowel, and will help determine the proper pronunciation and meaning of a given word.

In this article we will discuss the following points:

  • Why using proper accents is important in Spanish language orthography
  • Basic grammatical rules surrounding the proper use of accents in written Spanish
  • Why using a professional Spanish translation and copy editing service is imperative

Why Using Proper Accents is Important in Spanish Language Orthography

Knowing when to use the proper accent marks when writing text in Spanish is important for several reasons. Firstly, you want your document to appear polished and professional, and that means everything in its right place – including accents.

Secondly, you want your message to be understood quickly and easily, without the reader having to strain to find meaning in what they are reading. Even if you are certain a Spanish reader will be able to understand a document lacking in accents in the end, omitting them can cause undue lexical stress which greatly affects reading ease and visual recognition of words. This can, in the end, affect the impression the reader ultimately has of your document, and can cause confusion about meanings.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, using or not using accents can significantly alter the meaning of a word. This can cause confusion or lead to the misinterpretation of your message. Take for example the very simple and commonly used word mas in Spanish. Without the accent this word means ‘but’, with the accent, más, however, means ‘more’. While context could potentially lead the reader to understand which mas is meant, there is still a chance of uncertainty. The same goes for the word si or sí, which means ‘yes’ or ‘if’ respectively. In an important document, “if” is a long way off from a wholehearted “yes”.

Yet another example that highlights to what extent an accent can alter the meaning of a words is when you compare the words animales meaning ‘animals’ and anímales meaning ‘animate yourselves’. Imagine you were attempting to condemn poor behaviour by referring to a group of people as animals, but instead appeared to be encouraging their behaviour by calling for the group to ‘animate themselves’.

To make sure that your message is understood correctly by the intended Spanish speaking audience, it is important to show that you are considerate of the reader and respectful of the Spanish language, which includes using all pertinent accents correctly.

Basic Grammatical Rule Surrounding the Proper Use of Accents in Written Spanish

Accents in Spanish are used for one purpose: to determine where the stress of a word will fall. There are two basic rules outlining where the emphasis should typically be in any given word, and if the stress on that word should fall outside of those two specific parameters, it is important to place an accent so the reader or speaker knows where to add the appropriate stress.

As we discussed previously, emphasizing a different part of a word can alter its meaning dramatically. This happens in English as well – take for example the English words produce or to produce- one is a noun referring to vegetables, and the other a verb that means to make something. In English the meaning of these words are differentiated by altering the stressed syllable of the word. It is perhaps even more confusing in English, as we don’t have an accent mark to guide us.

The two basic rules for determining where to emphasize a words are as follows:

  1. For words that end in either a vowel, an N or an S, the stress will automatically fall on the second to last syllable.
  2. For words ending in a consonant other than N or S, the rule states that the stress should fall on the last syllable.

There are several other minor rules determining use of accents, for example, interrogative words such as who, what, when, where and how all have accents:  quién, qué, cuándo, dónde and cómo. When these question words are instead used as pronouns, then the accent is dropped.

Why Using a Professional Spanish Translation and Copy Editing Service is Imperative

Even if you are a native Spanish speaker, or speak a high level of Spanish, it can be difficult to know how important accents are. Many Spanish speakers omit accents in causal circumstances such as when writing text messages, Facebook messages or casual emails. However, this can come off as exceedingly casual and colloquial. Additionally, it can be awkward to easily and efficiently change an English keyboard language to be able to type correctly with accents.

When making the decision to translate your texts or documents from English to Spanish, it is incredibly important to entrust your translation to a Spanish translation and copy editing professional, such as the Spanish language experts at Spanish with Style. This way you can be certain that your document is professional and accurate, and that your message is being delivered in the clear and concise manner in which it was intended.

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