All things considered, Spanish is fairly easy to learn.
It’s a pretty straightforward language.
It sounds just like it looks. Remember “sounding words out” when you were learning to read English? That works for Spanish, too.
If you think about it, there’s nothing tricky here.
Those accent marks. You might wonder what’s up with those symbols above certain letters—especially that little squiggle over the n! (It’s called a tilde—but we’ll talk more about that in a minute.)
The good news is that all of those accent marks are very easy to understand and simple to use.
But let’s face it: Most of our written correspondence these days happens online. And that means we should learn to type Spanish accent marks, too.
Don’t get lazy and skip over them—they’re there for a reason and missing a mark can completely change what you’re saying.
Let’s take a moment to examine what Spanish accent marks are and learn how to type them. It’s not as complicated as you might think!
Why Does Spanish Use Accent Marks?
Accents are used in Spanish for two reasons—and neither of them is to confuse you!
Actually, they do a super job of clarifying the language. They do that by showing where a word is emphasized or showing the difference between identically spelled words.
Standard word stress without an accent mark is simple and falls into one of two categories:
1. If a word ends in n, s or any of the five vowels, put the emphasis on the second to last syllable of the word. Zapatos (shoes) is a good example of this rule.
2. When a word doesn’t end in n, s or any of the five vowels, place the emphasis on the last syllable of the word as in leer (to read).
If the emphasis is anywhere else in a word, you use an accent symbol to indicate it. For example, tía (aunt) and tío (uncle) put the stress on the first syllables, so they get an accent mark.
Other cases that involve using accents include question words, which are:
¿Por qué? (Why?)
¿Cuánto? (How much?/How many?)
A rule to remember with question words: Use the accent when the word asks a question but when it’s making a statement, leave the accent mark out.
¿Por qué estás comiendo pastel? (Why are you eating cake?)
¡Porque es mi cumpleaños! (Because it’s my birthday!)
¿Dónde es la reunión? (Where’s the meeting?)
En donde fue la semana pasada. (It’s where it was last week.)
What Spanish Accents Are There?
All vowels—a, e, i, o and u—have the ability in Spanish to become a little bit “extra”—that is, to be accented.
With accents, the vowels become á, é, í, ó and ú. Aren’t they fancy?
Next, we have the n that becomes ñ. The n with a tilde over it became part of the Spanish written alphabet in the 12th century. Even today, it’s one of the most distinctive features of written Spanish!
Words containing the ñ have the characteristic of one letter sounding like two. What I mean is, the ñ sounds like the English pronunciation of “ny” which means it’s a two-for-one letter! Mono (monkey) becomes moño (topknot or hair bun) with the addition of the tilde, and you definitely don’t want to leave out the tilde in año (year), as that makes an entirely different and wholly inappropriate word to use in polite company. One little mark makes a big difference!
The ü, a u with diaeresis—the two dots above the u—is rare but does make an appearance, so it’s necessary to be aware of its existence. It sounds similar to the English w when it’s used in a word.
My favorite word containing a ü is bilingüe (bilingual)—but that’s not surprising, is it? I imagine a lot of us love that word!
You can get a better sense of these accents and their pronunciations by watching subtitled videos and paying close attention to how accented words are spoken out loud. Lucky for you, FluentU is a great place to do this… and more!
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
How to Type Spanish Accents and Add Stress to Words Without Stressing Out
Type Spanish Accents Using Your Computer Keyboard
Now that we’ve covered all the Spanish accent marks, we can focus on how to type them correctly—and with minimal fuss!
There are several options for placing accents in your Spanish writing if you’re using a computer keyboard.
The cryptic codes table is a bit clunky but it gets the job done. It’s been the go-to solution for writing Spanish accents marks for so long that many know the combinations by heart!
Use the numeric keyboard side of your keyboard to make the magic happen. For Windows computers, just press the ALT key plus the corresponding number to get the individual accented letters:
á — Alt + 0225
é — Alt + 0233
í — Alt + 0237
ó — Alt + 0243
ú — Alt + 0250
ñ — Alt + 0241
ü — Alt + 0252
For Macs, use these codes, instead:
á — Opt + e, then a
é — Opt + e, then e
í — Opt + e, then i
ó — Opt + e, then o
ú — Opt + e, then u
It’s possible to take a shortcut to get Spanish accents without a Spanish keyboard and without memorizing a code. Use TypeIt to type short Spanish passages, then cut and paste what you’ve written into your document, file or letter.
The text field at this resource lets you write as usual and simply tap appropriate Spanish accented letters as you need them. They appear in whatever you’re writing instantly—it doesn’t get much easier than this!
If you’re planning to write in Spanish a lot, it’s worth taking the time to set up an international keyboard. Configuring your regular keyboard to the international keyboard is a breeze.
For Windows, go to the control panel. Hit “Change Input Method” and click on the “Languages” option. Then choose “United States International” as your default language. Click OK and you’re all set!
If you use a Mac, there’s a super video tutorial to walk you through the process.
Basically, go to the Menu>System Preference>Language and Region>Keyboard Preferences>Spanish. Click on “Add” and you should be ready to type!
Using the international keyboard is a snap once you get the hang of what’s referred to as the “right-Alt method,” which sounds considerably more involved than it actually is.
The key to the right of the space bar on your keyboard is the right Alt key. When you want to type a Spanish accented letter, hold down the right Alt key as you type the vowel. For example, holding down the right Alt key and hitting the letter “u” produces ü.
This approach works on most keyboards and once you’ve gotten used to doing it, the whole endeavor becomes second nature!
Adding a Spanish Keyboard to Your Phone
Most of us don’t leave home without our phones. And if you’re a Spanish language learner, you know that your phone is a valuable resource. It’s a great spot for vocabulary building with translation apps, squeezing in some listening practice by watching movies or to power up writing practice with chat and text conversations.
So if you’re going to be chatting or texting in Spanish you’ll need to know how to make the accent marks appear.
On iOS Devices
Fortunately, accessing a foreign language keyboard on your iPhone isn’t difficult!
Go to Settings>General>Keyboard. Tap on “Keyboards.”
Choose to add the Spanish keyboard from the list of available keyboards and you’re in business! Every accent mark (punctuation points, too) will appear on the keyboard.
To switch between the English and Spanish, tap the globe icon and you’ll see the list of keyboards you’ve accessed on your phone.
For Android Devices
If you’re an Android user it’s just as easy to pull up a Spanish keyboard on your phone.
Go to Settings>Languages. Depending on your device, you may need to disable the “use system languages” switch but once you do that you’ll have the option of inputting the other languages that appear on your screen.
Hit the switch beside Spanish to add it then return to the home screen.
To access the Spanish keyboard, swipe to the side on the space key. Swipe the other way to go back to English.
Spanish accent marks may look confusing at first but Spanish is a clear-cut language.
Remember, it’s a language that’s spoken by over 500 million people worldwide! Most of them have mastered accent marks—and you can, too!
Believe me, once you understand the rules about accents you’ll have no problem using every one of them! I speak from experience—don’t let the accent marks intimidate you.
Configure your keyboards and write with ease.
We all realize that becoming fluent in a language requires practicing all skills. So write in Spanish, then read what’s on the screen. Listen and practice correct pronunciation—so you’ll be speaking like a true Spaniard in no time!
Have fun and good luck!