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10 Facts About Written Spanish

Quick Guide for Spanish Students


Here are 10 facts about written Spanish that will come in handy as you learn the language:

1. Spanish is one of the most phonetic of modern languages. If you know how a word is spelled, you can almost always correctly predict how it is pronounced, the main exception being words imported recently from foreign languages (such as byte and marketing), which tend to maintain their foreign spelling and pronunciation. But the reverse isn't always true: As dozens of homophones attest, it isn't always possible to predict how a word will be spelled based on its pronunciation. That is because the sounds of some letters overlap (for example, the sounds of the s and the c are the same in most of Latin America) and the h is silent. Rarely, other letters can be silent too.

2. Spanish uniquely uses inverted question marks and exclamation points. The upside-down marks as in the sentences "¿Quién eres?" (Who are you?) and "¡Ayúdame!" (Help me!) were encouraged by the Royal Spanish Academy and do not appear to have been copied by other languages, although they are sometimes seen in Galician, a minority language of Spain. The symbols can make reading out loud easier, as they alert the reader that a change in intonation follows.

3. The Spanish alphabet has 27 letters. It includes the 26 letters of the English alphabet plus the ñ, which is pronounced something like the "ny" in "canyon." The alphabet has changed over the years; at one time, ll and ch were considered separate letters because they each were treated as a unit for pronunciation purposes. Also, at one time the k and w appeared only in words of foreign origin and were not considered part of the alphabet. They remain rare.

4.Spanish vowels are sometimes written with diacritical marks over them. Quite common is the acute accent (as in ó), which rises from left to right. It is usually written to indicate which syllable has stress, although an orthographic accent is sometimes used to indicate which part of speech a word is or how it otherwise functions. For example, que is usually a relative pronoun, while qué is usually an interrogative pronoun. Sometimes, the u can be written with a dieresis, making it ü, as a guide to pronunciation. The grave accent, which rises from right to left, although common in other Romance languages such as French, is not used in Spanish.

5. Spanish has more than one way of writing quotation marks. Most writers indicate quoted material with standard quotation marks that are used similarly to the way as they are in British English. However, it also is common to use a long dash to indicate a quotation, and sometimes angular quotes are used.

6. Words capitalized in English aren't always capitalized in Spanish. For example, the names of months, days of the week and nationalities aren't capitalized except at the beginning of a sentence.

7. Numerical punctuation varies with region. The number that is written as 6,543.21 in Puerto Rico, for example, is written as 6.543,21 in Spain and much of Latin America, particularly the regions farther from the U.S.

8. Spanish has an abundance of abbreviations. See this list of abbreviations for examples. Note that it is common for letters to be doubled to indicate that a letter stands for a plural word.

9. Greetings in a letter or email are followed by a colon. Use of a comma in written or emailed correspondence is often viewed as an anglicism.

10. Spanish words in real use range from one to 24 letters. Five of the six Spanish vowels are common words on their own: A is a preposition usually meaning "to," y and sometimes e mean "and," and o and sometimes u mean "or." The longest word in Spanish, excluding words that aren't used in real life, appears to be electroencefalografistas, the word for electroencephalograph operators.

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