WHAT’S A TILDE?!
A tilde is an accent. It’s the little ´ which you’ll see on some words.
SO WHAT’S IT FOR?
In Spanish, we have very strict rules for pronouncing words. One syllable, or ‘beat’ of the word is always stressed more strongly than the others. This also happens in English, but the rules aren’t so clear.
Generally, the last syllable or the one before last, is the strong syllable (sílaba tónica) of the word. If the pronunciation of the word breaks those rules, if a different syllable is stressed, then a tilde is added above the vowel (a e i o u) of the strong syllable.
HOW DO WE KNOW WHICH IS THE STRONG SYLLABLE IF THERE’S NO TILDE?
We look at the last letter of the word.
RULE 1. If the last letter is a vowel, or n or s, then the syllable before last is the strongest. (a)
farmacia, bruja, edificio, salchichas
RULE 2. If the word ends in any other letter than a vowel, n or s, then the final syllable is the strong one. (b)
mejor, profesor, Madrid, final
The tilde is used to show that the pronunciation of a word breaks the rules!
Take a look these words
está, inglés, sábado, esdrújula
Esta, without a tilde, would have the first syllable stressed – esta. Esta means ‘this’. Está, with the final one stressed, is a different word & means ‘he/she is’.
Ingles, without a tilde, would have the first syllable stressed – ingles. Ingles means ‘groins’. Inglés, with the final one stressed, is a different word & means ‘English’. You don’t want to mix those two up!
Sabado without a tilde would be pronounced sabado. That word doesn’t exist. You have to say sábado, or there’s a good chance no-one will understand you.
Esdrujula without a tilde would be pronounced esdrujula, and again, no-one would understand you – unless you say esdrújula. (c)
Tildes really come into their own when we start using pronouns, & that’s when, as foreigners learning Spanish, we need to learn how to use them – because we basically create ‘new’ words when we add pronouns on to the end of a verb.
Eg. I’m going to buy the shoes for you – Voy a comprar los zapatos a ti.
When we use pronouns, this becomes Voy a comprártelos. We’ve made a new word from three words combined – comprar, te & los. We have to keep the emphasis in the same place on the verb. Comprar. If we don’t add a tilde, we’ll say comprartelos (see rule 1), & that would be wrong. So we add a tilde to show where the emphasis needs to be… comprártelos.
Look at when we use imperatives.
Give the plate to me – Dame el plato. We don’t need to add a tilde in order to pronounce ‘dame’ correctly. The emphasis is on ‘da’, the verb, which is where it should be according to the rules.
But look what happens when we change it to ‘Give it to me’. We now have ‘dámelo’. If we don’t add a tilde it will be pronounced ‘damelo’ which is wrong, because the stress has to stay on the verb, so it’s ‘dámelo’.
If you get confused as to where to put the tilde, all you have to do is remember where on the verb the strong syllable was before you added the pronouns – & if the position of the strong syllable breaks rules 1 & 2, add a tilde!
Buy the car for Jorge – Compra el coche a Jorge.
Buy it for him – Compra – (you) buy, se – for him, lo – it (the car)
Nothing to get stressed about!
- (a) For grammar lovers, words with the syllable before last (penultimate) stressed are called ‘llanas’ (even if there’s a tilde).
- (b) Grammar lovers call all words which have the final syllable stressed ‘agudas’ (even if there’s a tilde)
- (c) Esdrújula is a grammar term, & is an example of what it means – a word with the syllable before the syllable before last stressed (antepenultimate syllable). These words always have a tilde.