Category Archives: Mini Lessons / Mini Lecciones

When to put accents in Spanish (II)


Besides the well-known general rules to put accents in Spanish, in 2010 the Royal Academy of the Spanish language (RAE, for its initials in Spanish) released “La Ortografía de la lengua española” (The Spanish Language Ortography), to describe the ortographic Spanish language system and explain its main rules for the correct writing in Spanish.  As a review, here we mention a couple of those rules:

1. Monosyllabic words do not have tilde (accent), except when the tilde is needed to differentiate a word from another one that has different meaning (diacritic accent). For example: tú (you) – tu (your); él (he) – el (the); mí (me) – mi (my); si (if; oneself), sí (yes); té (tea) – te (personal pronoun “you“, i.e.: ‘yo te dije’ – ‘I told you‘); dé (subjunctive form of verb ‘dar‘ – to give – for the 1st and 3rd person singular) – de (of); sé (I know; ) – se (3rd person singular/plural personal pronoun, i.e.: ‘ellos se aman‘ – ‘they love each other‘; or personal pronoun to form impersonal and pasive voice sentences, i.e.: ‘se busca vivo  o muerto‘ – ‘wanted dead or alive‘).

2. Words such as the adverb ‘solo’ (only) and the demonstratives ‘esta, este, esto’ (this) do not need to have the diacritic accent anymore. In the 2010 rules of the Spanish language ortography, the RAE “adviced” that Spanish speakers did not neet to put the diacritic accent in words such as  ‘solo’ (only; alone) and ‘esta, este, esto’ (and their plural forms: estas, estos). However, it has been noticed that users continue to put accents on these words to distinguish words as it follows:

solo‘ (alone) / ‘sólo‘ (only)

‘esta, este, esto’ (demonstrative adjectives; i.e.: ‘esta casa’ – ‘this house’) / ‘ésta, éste, ésto’  (demonstrative pronouns; i.e.: ‘esta casa es nueva, pero ésta no‘ – ‘this house is new, but not this one‘).

Personally, since this advice was released, I have stopped putting accents on the #2 cases, as I believe the context clarifies the meaning of the word, avoiding possible confusion. However, as Salvador Gutiérrez, one of the members of the RAE mentioned, I have noticed that some writers continue keeping the diacritic accent in those cases. I would like to hear what other people think about it.

For further resources visit:

Spanish Alphabet


The Spanish alphabet has 27 letters and 5 digraphs.  This has been approved by the Royal Spanish Academy in 2010 and this rule applies to all the Spanish speaking countries.  Be careful when you find material in Spanish that is not up to dated and it shows there are 29 letters. There are also 5 diagraphs or a pair of letters that represent one single sound: ch / ll / gu / q / rr.–5-digrafos/art/6359/

Ortografía en español


Para aquellos a quienes nos interesa escribir bien en español, aquí una lista de palabras que en realidad no llevan tilde, pero muchas veces las encontramos escritas con tilde o dudamos si deben llevar tilde o no.

A tener en cuenta y a conservar la belleza del idioma:

Survival Spanish phrases for travellers to handle 8 basic situations


Countries with Spanish as official language an...

Ideally, if your Spanish is intermediate or you have a very good basic one, you should be able to handle any situation and if you have some trouble at understanding the speaker, you can always ask for repetition or for more slowly speaking (see number 3: Basic politeness expressions).

Although, you can always try to find English speaking people at Spanish speaking countries, I think it is a well received gesture to make the effort to speak the local language of the place you visit.  However, if despite of  the effort, your basic Spanish is very poor or you can’t rely too much on your listening skills, try to find trustworthy people that speak English, for example at information desks or at hotel reception desks.  You can say something like: “Disculpe, ¿habla inglés? (Excuse me, do you speak English?  If they ask you if you speak Spanish, well, the truth would be: “Hablo muy poco español” (I speak very little Spanish).  Sometimes, you can also meet interesting, nice people during a tour.  They can be foreigners or local tourists as well.  In any case, they can be a good resource of advice about other places to explore.

Here it is my mini guide of survival Spanish for all-level learners:

1. Basic Greetings

Informal way (use it in informal situations, when you talk with younger people, people around your age and when you already know the person):
Hola, ¿qué tal? / Hi, how is it going?
Nos vemos / see you (informal way to say bye, when you know you will see the person again)
Chao / bye (informal way to say bye at anytime)

Formal way (use it with older people and usually with customer service representatives at stores or public services):

Buenos días / good morning
Buenas tardes / good afternoon
Buenas noches / good evening (from 7:00 pm, either when arriving or when leaving the place)
¿Cómo está? / how are you? (use it when you talk to older people you know)
Adiós / good bye (regular way to say bye, when you know you will not see the person ever again)
Hasta luego / see you later (polite way to say bye when you may or may not see the person again)
¡Que le vaya bien! / have a good day!

2. When meeting people

Informal way:
¿Cómo te llamas? / What is your name?
¿De dónde eres? / Where are you from?
¿Eres de aquí? / Are you from here?
¿Qué haces? or ¿a qué te dedicas? / What do you do? (for living)
¿Conoces a [name of a person]? or ¿conoces + [name of a place]? / Do you know [name of a person] or do you know [name of a place]?

Formal way:

¿Cómo se llama usted? / What is your name?
¿De dónde es usted? / Where are you from?
¿Usted es de aquí? / Are you from here?
¿Qué hace? or ¿a qué se dedica? / What do you do? (for living)
¿Conoce a [name of a person]? or ¿conoce + [name of a place]? / Do you know [name of a person] or do you know [name of a place]?                                                                                                   

3. Basic politeness expressions

Por favor / please
Gracias / thanks
Disculpe / excuse me… (before asking something to a stranger)
Perdón /excuse me (when you really want to apologize for something)
Permiso / excuse me (when somebody is blocking your way, and ad “por favor”)
¿Podría repetir, por favor? / Could you repeat, please?
Más despacio por favor / (Could you speak) more slowly, please?

4. To ask directions

Disculpe, ¿dónde queda…? or ¿dónde está?/ Excuse me, where is…? (try to ask this to information kiosk agents, hotel front desk customer service people and similar ones)
Disculpe, ¿cómo llego a…? / Excuse me, how do I get to…? (try to use this form or the previous one when you are sure you are really close to your destination, otherwise it will sound like you are LOST!)

5. To ask for a recommendation of a place

¿Conoce el restaurant “…”?, ¿qué tal es? / Do you know the restaurant “…”?, how is it?, how do you like it?

6. To take a cab

Por favor, a [name of the place]…
¿Cuánto cuesta?, ¿cuánto es? / How much is it? (ask this before you actually get into the cab)

7. To eat

Por favor, [name the dish/food item you want to have] – If you are not sure about your pronunciation, point out the name of the dish in the menu or the food item in the window, to avoid confusions.
La cuenta, por favor / The bill, please
Gracias / Thanks

8. To buy something

¿Cuánto cuesta esto? / How much does it cost?
¿Cuánto está esto? / How much is this?
To bargain:
If they tell you a price, just say a lower pricer with a nice smile.  For example: “¿Cuánto cuesta esto?” – They say “50.” Then, you can say: “¿qué tal 40?” or “¿los dos por 80?” (and do not forget to smile ;)). As you can imagine, you definitively need to know the numbers! Or at least the sets of ten!

Do not forget that to enjoy your experience, combine your curiosity with common sense and be always careful :).

Bueno, ahora, ¡buen viaje y buena suerte! 😉

When to put accents in Spanish (I): Rules and examples


In Spanish, we have one type of written accent (called “tilde” in Spanish) and it can appear with any vowel: á, é, í, ó, ú. Here you have the accentuation rules according to the type of word (with a minimum of two syllables):

“Agudas”.- A word is aguda (acute) when the stress is on the last syllable. An acute word will only have a written accent if it ends in a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or in the consonants n or s. Examples: comió (ate), canción (song), dieciséis (sixteen).

“Graves / llanas”.- A word is grave or llana (grave) when it has the stress on the penultimate syllable. As a general rule, these words always get a written accent EXCEPT when they end in a vowel (a, e, i, o, u) or in the consonants “n”, or “s”. Examples with tilde: árbol (tree), álbum (album); and with no tilde: baile (dance), canciones (songs), comieron (they ate).

An exception to this rule occurs when there is a hiatus, which is the situation when there are 2 adjoining vowels that you pronounce in two different syllables (as opposed to a diphthong where the vowels are pronounced in a single syllable). For this separation to happen the “closed vowel” (“i” or “u”) will have the written accent. Examples: día (day), frío (cold), grúa (wrecker), garúa (drizzle). Normally, according to the general rule, these “grave words” would not have a written accent, since all of them end in vowels. However, they receive the written accent, because there is a hiatus when you pronounce them. Therefore, with the accent, you separate the syllables this way: dí-a; frí-o; grú-a; ga-rú-a.

“Esdrújulas”.- A word is esdrújula when it has the stress on the antepenultimate syllable, and it will ALWAYS have a written accent. Examples: último (last), público (public), política (politics).

“Sobreesdrújulas”.- A word is sobreesdrújula when it had the stress before the antepenultimate syllable, and it will ALWAYS have a written accent. We find examples of this type of words in the verbal forms of the imperative, containing enclitic pronouns, such as: cuéntamelo (tell it to me), cómpraselo (buy it to him).

Finally, monosyllabic words will have a written accent when you need to distinguish them from the same word, but with a different meaning. This is called the “diacritical mark”. Some examples:

tienes tu motivo.   You have your reason.
¿Te sirvo más ?   Shall I serve you more tea?
Había más dulces, mas ya me los comí todos.   There were more candies, but I already ate them all.

“Esta casa está en venta”: How to differentiate both “esta/está” in Spanish spoken language?


Verbs in Spanish can be positioned before or after the subject, and you can even omit the subject which will be implied by the verb conjugation. If you have some knowledge of Spanish grammar, you will probably remember that ‘esta’ is a demonstrative adjective, for singular, feminine nouns (this); while ‘está’ is a verb (third person singular of verb ‘estar’: él/ella está – he/she is; and also the second person singular of the same verb, in formal speech: usted está – you are).

Keeping in mind these two previous considerations, it might be easier for you to distinguish these two words, just by the intonation. As a verb, ‘está’ has an accent, while the demonstrative adjective ‘esta’ does not. There is no way to go wrong with that. If the syllable of a word has an accent, you always have to stress the intonation in that syllable. There will be a posting about the rules of accents coming soon :).

To conclude, try to practice saying aloud these sentences in Spanish, and notice the difference of stress in ‘esta’ and ‘está’:

Verb after subject:   Esta casa está en venta.   (This house is on sale)

Verb before subject:   Está en venta esta casa.   (It is on sale… this house)

Verb without subject:  Está en venta.   (It is on sale)

Listen to these sentences in Spanish downloading this file: Esta casa está en venta.mp3

Spanish pronunciation: Vowels and the letter C


Vowels (Photo credit: chrisinplymouth)

One thing most beginners start learning about pronunciation in Spanish is that you basically need to know the sound of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u), the diaeresis in “ü” (as in “bilingüe” – bilingual), and the consonant “ñ” (as in “mañana” – tomorrow). Then besides that, you might learn the rules of accentuation and how that affects your intonation. We will talk about accentuation another time, for now, let is keep it simple.

If you can remember these words: father, ten, she, over, tuna, then you know how the vowels in Spanish sound. There are no more vowels than these ones: a – e – i – o – u, and they sound like in ‘father’, ‘ten’, ‘she’, ‘over’ and ‘tuna’. Even when there are two or three vowels together, each one will keep their same individual sound. We will mention the few exceptions about this in a later post (“gue”, “gui”).

There are some special cases where you will find that a consonant followed by certain vowels will have a different sound. Starting in alphabetical order, the first special case would be the letter “C”. It usually sounds like /k/, except when it is followed by “e” and “i”. Here you have some examples:

You pronounce with the /k/ sound: casa – como – Cusco; but you will use the /s/ sound in: cerca – circo. However, in Spain, you will hear a different pronunciation for ‘cerca’ and ‘circo’, which can be represented by the phoneme /θ/ (as in ‘thought’). Also,  if you have the letter “c” after the consonant “h” (which is always silent), like in ‘chao’, you will get the phoneme /ʧ/ (as in ‘check’), and this applies to every Spanish-speaking country.

To finish the lesson, I will give you a few sentences for your practice of today:

Mi casa en Cusco está cerca del circo.  (My house in Cusco is close to the circus).

Hoy nos vamos a comer al chifa.    (Today we’re going to eat at the chifa).

¡Chao!   (Bye!)