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Spanish Tildes and Written Accents: A (very) Brief History.

In the world of written language, few symbols have as much cultural significance as the tilde and written accents. Whether adorning the vowels of words like "mañana" or "papá," or used to differentiate homophones like "si" and "sí," these small marks have played a vital role in the evolution and usage of the Spanish (or Castilian, if you want to get technical) language.

Where did these written accents originate, and why are they so important ?

The tilde, also known as the "virgulilla" in Spanish, has its roots in the Latin language. In ancient Roman times, the tilde was used to indicate a missing letter or syllable in a word. It wasn't until the Middle Ages, however, that the tilde began to be used in the Spanish language to indicate nasalization of vowel sounds.

As Spanish evolved and spread around the world, the use of the tilde and other written accents became increasingly important for accurately conveying the pronunciation and meaning of words.

In Spanish, words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently can have very different meanings. Without the use of written accents, it would be difficult to distinguish between words like "él" (he) and "el" (the), or "(Yo) llego a las seis" (I will arrive at six) and "llegó a las seis" ((something or somebody) arrived at six).

Today, the use of written accents in the Spanish language is governed by the Royal Spanish Academy (La Real Academia de la Lengua), which sets rules and guidelines for the proper usage of tildes and accents. These rules help to ensure that written Spanish is clear, consistent, and easily understood by speakers of the language.

While the tilde and written accents may seem like small, insignificant marks to some, they play a vital role in the accurate and proper usage of the Spanish language. Without them, the rich history and cultural significance of the language would be diminished.

Useful Tips for Mac and Windows Users

If you are a Mac user, you just need to press and hold any key to see the accented variations for multiple languages. For instance, you can see that the letter o with accent has 8 different variations, option 4 is the one we use in Spanish for the accented o.

o with accent example for Mac users

For Windows users, Windows allows you to type any available character, including diacritical marks, by holding down one of the Alt keys while typing in a code on the numeric keypad, if one is available.

For example, to type the o accent, hold down Alt while typing 0243 (lower case) or 0211 for the uppercase version of the o with an accent on the numeric keypad. It is important to note that sometimes Alt codes will only work on the numeric keypad, not with the number row keys above the letters. Here is a table with the Alt Code shortcuts for tildes for Windows Users (hold ALT and then type the code)

​Vowel / Letter

Alt Code




​lowercase a with accent



uppercase accented a



​lowercase e with accent



​uppercase accented e



​lowercase i with accent



​uppercase accented i



​​lowercase n with accent



​uppercase accented N



​lowercase o with accent



uppercase accented o



​​lowercase u with accent



​uppercase accented u



​​lowercase u with two dots (dieresis)



​uppercase accented u with two dots (dieresis)



​open question symbol/mark



​​open exclamation symbol/mark



​double left arrow or quotes



​double right arrow or quotes


​em dash


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