The scope of this article is to explain clearly types of accent symbols used in Portuguese and its rules.
In Portuguese there are four types of accent symbols or diacritics. These are graphic symbols that have to be placed above vowels in certain words:
´ - acento agudo (café, rodapé, música, fantástico)
^ - acento circunflexo (português, francês, êxito, ciência)
` - acento grave(à, às, àquilo)
~ - til (cão, maçã, amanhã, canção)
Why and when should they be used? Sometimes people find these symbols confusing, but they can actually be rather simple! Let’s see some examples and go through the rules.
Acento agudo and acento circunflexo
In Portuguese, words have well defined pronunciation rules. For instance, in words ending with the vowels a, o, or e the penultimate syllable is usually tonic, for example:
However, there are words that do not fit into this rule. In these cases, acento agudo (´) or acento circunflexo (^) come into play and helps us know how the word is pronounced, as below:
Acento agudo (´) represents an open stressed sound while acento circunflexo (^) represents a closed stressed sound.
The hardest thing here is to know which of these diacritics to use. Here are some tips: acento agudo is more common, while acento circunflexo is generally used in words ending with -ência.
It is very important to remember that the same word written with and without diacritics can have very different meanings. For instance, the word esta (pronounced Ésta) means “this”, while the word está (pronounced as estÁ) means “is”. So, please pay attention and do not forget the accents when necessary!
Now let’s look at when exactly we have to use the acento agudo and acento circunflexo diacritics:
In words ending with the vowels a, o, or e, the penultimate syllable is usually the strongest. If not, a diacritic should be used. Therefore, these words do not require a diacritic:
While the following words do require a diacritic:
In words ending with the vowels i or u, the last syllable is usually the strongest. If not, a diacritic should be used. Therefore the following words do not require a diacritic:
While the following words do:
In plural words, the stress of a word does not change (alunas, galos, javalis, perus).
In words ending with consonants (except s and em) and the letter combinations ps, is, and us, the last syllable is usually the strongest. If not a diacritic should be used. Therefore, the following words do not require the use of a diacritic:
While the following words do require the use of a diacritic:
In words ending with s (except ps, is, and us) or em, the penultimate syllable is the strongest. If not, a diacritic should be used. Therefore the following words require the use of a diacritic:
While the following words do not require the use of a diacritic:
When the vowels i and u do not create a diphthong in the stressed syllable, a diacritic should be used, as in the following words:
This is the case except when the vowels i and u come before nh (rainha, moinho) or in syllables ending with m, n, or r (Coimbra, ainda, sairdes).
In certain monosyllabic words, acento agudo is used to distinguish an open sound (dó, nó, pó, dá, já): otherwise, it could have a different meaning. For examples:
- dó means “pity” while do means “of the…”
- nó means “knot” while no means “at the…”
See? It is quite simple!
Acento grave (`) seems to be very similar to acento agudo. However, acento grave has a rather different function. It requires the merging of preposition a with the definite article a or with a pronoun beginning with a. That means, effectively, that a + a = à.
Here are some examples:
- ir à escola (go to school).
- às duas horas (at two o’clock).
- dá a tua caneta àquela menina (give your pen to that girl).
You should pronounce the vowel a with acento grave (à) more openly than a standard a.
Til (~) looks like a wave over the vowels a and o, that gives them have a nasal sound:
In these examples ãe, ão, and õe are diphthongs (sounds formed by the combination of two vowels in a single syllable). They can be found mostly at the end of words.
There are words in Portuguese that, though very similar in pronunciation, have very different meanings. In these cases a nasal sound (and consequently, til) can make all the difference:
- pão – pau
- mão – mau
- não – nau
- maçã – massa
Usually, a vowel with til is stressed. But it is also possible to find two diacritics in the same word, such as órgão or órfã. In these cases acento grave (´) has priority when it comes to stress.
Now you know four Portuguese diacritics: acento agudo (´), acento circuflexo (^), acento grave (`), and til (~) -- and their functions.
Basically, acento agudo and acento circuflexo represents a stressed syllable in words that are exceptions to the usual stress rules. Acento grave is a merging of two a vowels. Finally, til represents a nasal form of the vowels a and o.
I hope that this article was useful in helping you to understand why and when each of these diacritics should be used. Familiarize yourself with the learnings here as knowing Portuguese diacritics and its rules will allow you to be able to read and to write correctly.