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Diacritical Mark

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Keyboard shows the ñ.

The ñ is the the 15th letter of the Spanish alphabet.

Photo by Eli Duke used under terms of Creative Commons license.

Definition: A mark that is placed on a letter to indicate that it has a different pronunciation than it would otherwise, or to indicate that the word has a different meaning than it would otherwise.

English uses diacritical marks almost solely in words of foreign origin, and they are often omitted. Examples of English words using diacritical marks are "façade" (which uses a cedilla), "résumé" (two accent marks), "naïve" (umlaut) and "piñata" (tilde).

Spanish uses three types of diacritical marks:

  • The tilde is used to distinguish n from ñ. In a technical sense, this might not be considered a diacritical mark, since n and ñ are separate letters of the alphabet.
  • Accent marks are used as an aid in pronunciation and also to distinguish some sets of words that are otherwise spelled alike and pronounced alike but have different meanings or different grammatical usages.
  • The umlaut, often called a dieresis, which is placed over the u when it is pronounced after a g in the combinations güe and güi. Umlauts are rarer than the other types of diacritical marks.

Also known as: "Diacritic" in English, diacrítico in Spanish. Note that in Spanish, the word tilde can be used to refer to accent marks on vowels as well as the mark of the ñ.

Examples: Many Spanish words such as árbol use accents to put the stress on the correct syllable. Accents are frequently used with some words such as qué and cuál when they are used in questions. There are also a few pairs of completely different words such as se (a reflexive pronoun) and (a conjugated form of either saber or ser) that use such accents. Words using umlauts include argüir and güisqui.

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