4 min

You Called Me What? Here's Why Accent Marks Are Important

Lorraine Santiago-Poventud Director | SMB Hotels

Spanish is my first language. Let me set the record straight on that right now. While I was in school in Puerto Rico, I remember very distinctly how one of my teachers would use funny stories to hammer into us the importance of using accent marks on words when writing. Whether it was a ñ or é or á, we learned pretty quickly that leaving these characters off of words could be detrimental — the difference between a crying baby and crying in your alcoholic beverage. I was a strict follower of the rules.

Then I came to the United States, where the Spanish speakers here weren’t as careful with accent marks as I had been. News outlets and publishers were either lax about the use or their online systems couldn’t handle the marks, instead leaving a weird string of characters like this ’s in content. It wasn’t pretty — and could sometimes be pretty comical. Even Standing Dog’s preferred content distributor for press releases, PRNewswire, up until this past February couldn’t handle the special symbols that were the norm for me. While I personally knew that some words were just dead wrong in the content I was seeing, there wasn’t much that I could do.



What difference, though, does an accent mark make for SEO value? For international SEO, especially for U.S. Hispanics, it is not as crucial to have an accent in the keywords. In some cases, the terms without accents have a higher search volume when you compare them to the accentuated one. But, when you are writing for an audience in Spanish – either in the U.S. or Latin America – accents and other special characters are a must, otherwise your content is not valuable.

The news about PRNewswire press releases made me extremely happy — one small step for man, one giant leap for Hispanic-kind — but I couldn’t help to think back to my days in school and chuckle a little.

  • Would you call your father a papa or papá?


father vs potato

Without the accent, he’d be a Mr. Potato Head dad, and that’s just a little bit too delicious for my taste.

  • Are you talking about a baby or asking me to drink something — preferably wine, please?


baby vs to drink

Without the accent, I’ll be sure to say “cheers!” as I’m sipping something wet and fruity.

  • Are you asking for my Passport or how I like my meat?


document or id vs meat

Without the accent, I’ll say “Medium well, please” to go along with the wine from above.

See how important accents are? OK, if not, here are a few more funny, but just as serious, examples:

  • Cómo vs. como (how vs. eat)
  • Público vs. publico (public vs. to publish)
  • Barrió vs. barrio (swept vs. neighborhood)
  • Célebre vs. celebre (famous vs. to celebrate)
  • Práctica vs. practica (office/doctor’s office vs. to practice)
  • Tráfico vs. trafico (traffic jam vs. to smuggle something  like drugs)
  • Cártel vs. cartel (drug organization vs. sign)
  • Calló vs callo (to shut up vs. callus)
  • Pérdida vs perdida (loss vs. lose woman — whore)
  • Término vs. termino (term vs. to finish)
  • Mamá vs. mama (mother vs. to suck)

The next time you write something in Spanish, make sure that you are writing the correct word. Use your accents and other special characters wisely, for these could save you from a misunderstanding or from just being flat rude. Or, simply contact us and we might be able to assist. Our team of Spanish writers and speakers is fluent in accents, which means we can save you the embarrassment.



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