The acute accent ( ´ ) is a diacritic mark used in many modern written languages with alphabets based on the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic scripts. The word acute is derived from the Latin acutus ("sharp"), itself a loan translation of the Greek ὀξύς (oxýs).
The acute accent was first used in the polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek, where it indicated a syllable with a high pitch. Modern Greek has a stress accent instead of a pitch accent, so the diacritic is now used to mark the stressed vowel of a word.
The acute accent marks the stressed vowel of a word in several languages:
- Aragonese. Used in stressed vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú.
- Asturian-Leonese. Used in stressed vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú.
- Galician and Portuguese.
- In Portuguese and in the "reintegrationist" norm of Galician, the acute indicates stress on the vowels á, é, ó, í and ú. It also indicates that the stressed vowels é, ó and ú are low (see below).
- In the administrative norm of Galician, which is similar to that of Spanish, the acute only indicates the stress on the vowels á, é, í, ó and ú, whether they are low or high.
- Modern Greek, where it marks the stressed vowel of every polysyllabic word: ά [a], έ [ɛ], ή [i], ί [i], ύ [i], ό [ɔ], ώ [ɔ]. It is located on the second letter in the groups ού [u], οί [i], εί [i], αί [ɛ], αύ [av / af] and εύ [ev / ef]. It is placed on the left side of an initial, uppercase vowel: Άδωνις, Έμεσα, Ήπειρος, Ίκαρος, Ύδρα, Όμηρος, Ώγυγος. It is removed in an all-uppercase sequence: Ύδρα > ΥΔΡΑ, ψωμί > ΨΩΜΙ.
- Spanish. Used in stressed vowels: á, é, í, ó, ú.
- Swedish. The acute accent is used to indicate that a terminal syllable with the vowel e is stressed, and is often only written out when it changes the meaning. For example ide "bear's nest" vs. idé "idea"; armen "the arm" vs. armén "the army" — in both cases the first syllable is stressed without the accent. An acute accent written over any other vowel would probably be similarly interpreted as indicating the stressed syllable by Swedish-speakers, but there are no such words in Swedish.
- Welsh. Word stress always falls on the penultimate syllable, unless indicated otherwise by the use of an acute accent on the stressed vowel; this can be on an á, é, í, ó, ú, ẃ, or ý. For example casáu "to hate", caniatáu "to allow, to permit".
- To mark high vowels:
- Catalan. The acute marks the quality of the following stressed vowels: high é [e] as opposed to low è [ɛ], high ó [o] as opposed to low ò [ɔ].
- French. Used only on é. It is known as accent aigu, and distinguishes é [e] from è [ɛ], ê [ɛ], and e [ə].
- Italian. The acute accent is compulsory only in words of more than one syllable stressed on their final vowel (and a few other words), and there are hardly any words ending in [-'o]. Therefore, only é is normally seen in normal text, typically in words ending in -ché, such as perché "why/because"; in ambiguous monosyllables such as né 'neither' vs. ne 'of it' and sé 'itself' vs. se 'if'; and some verb forms, e.g. 'vedé'. The symbol ó can be used for disambiguation, for instance between bótte, "barrel", and bòtte, "beating", though this is not mandatory, and rarely used in Italian writing.
- Occitan. The acute marks the quality of the following stressed vowels: high á [ɔ/e] as opposed to low à [a], high é [e] as opposed to low è [ɛ], high ó [u] as opposed to low ò [ɔ].
- To mark low vowels:
The acute accent marks long vowels in several languages:
- Czech: á [aː], é [ɛː], í [iː], ó [oː], ú [uː], ý [iː]. The use of the acute (see also háček) to denote long pronunciation of Latin characters was introduced by Jan Hus in the 15th century. To indicate a long u in the middle or at the end of a word, a kroužek (ring) is used instead, to form ů.
- Slovak: á [aː], é [eː], í [iː], ó [ɔː], ú [uː], ý [iː]. This language has also two more "long vowels" (which are consonants in the alphabet, but vowels in terms of their function): ŕ [r̩ː] and ĺ [ l̩ː], which are pronounced just like ordinary syllabic r and l, only longer.
- Hungarian: á [aː], é [eː], í [iː], ó [oː], ú [uː]. There is a double acute accent on long ő [øː] and long ű [yː] (as opposed to their short counterparts with an umlaut: ö [ø] and ü [y]).
- Irish. The acute accent is known as a síneadh fada /ˌʃiːnʲə ˈfadˠə/ in this language.
The acute accent is used to disambiguate certain words which would otherwise be homographs in the following languages:
- Danish. Examples: én "one" vs. en "a/an" and fór "went" and for "for"
- Dutch. It mainly distinguishes één "one" from een "a/an."
- Norwegian. In Bokmål, it is used for the imperative form of verbs ending in -ere, which lose their final e and might be mistaken for plurals of a noun (which most often end in -er): kontrollér is the imperative form of "to control", kontroller is the noun "controls". The simple past of the (disused) verb å fare, "to travel", is fór, to distinguish it from for ("for" as in English).
- Spanish. Covers various question word / relative pronoun pairs, such as cómo (interrogative "how") and como (non-interrogative "how"), dónde and donde "where", and some other words such as tú "you" and tu "your," él "he/him" and el ("the", masculine).
In Dutch, the acute accent can also be used to emphasize an individual word within a sentence. For example, "Het is ónze auto, niet die van jullie." ("This is our car, not yours.") In this example, ónze is merely an emphasized form of onze.
In Danish, the acute accent can also be used for emphasis, especially on the word der (there), ex. "Der kan ikke være mange mennesker dér," meaning "There can't be many people there" or "Dér skal vi hen" meaning "That's where we're going".
In several Slavic languages, the acute indicates that a consonant is palatalized.
- Slavic languages written with the Latin alphabet:
- It also occurs in Macedonian, a Slavic language written with the Cyrillic alphabet: ѓ, ќ.
- In Faroese, the acute accent is used on 5 of the vowels (a, i, o, u and y), but these letters, á, í, ó, ú and ý are considered separate letters with separate pronunciations.
- á: long [ɔa], short [ɔ] and before [a]: [õ]
- í/ý: long [ʊiː], short [ʊi]
- ó: long [ɔu], [ɛu] or [œu], short: [œ], except Suðuroy: [ɔ]
- When ó is followed by the skerping -gv, it is pronounced [ɛ], except in Suðuroy where it is [ɔ]
- ú: long [ʉu], short [ʏ]
- When ú is followed by the skerping -gv, it is pronounced [ɪ]
- In Icelandic the acute accent is used on 6 of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u and y), and, as in Faroese, these are considered separate letters.
- á: [au(ː)]
- é: long [jeɛː], short [jɛ]
- í/ý: [i(ː)]
- ó: [ou(ː)]
- ú: [u(ː)]
- All can be either short or long, but note that the pronunciation of é is not the same short and long.
- Etymologically, vowels with an acute accent in these languages correspond to their Old Norse counterparts, which were long vowels but in many cases have become diphthongs. The only exception is é, which in Faroese has become æ.
- In Polish, the acute on "ó" indicates a pronunciation change into [u], and historically it used to indicate that the vowel was long.
- In Turkmen, the letter Ý is a consonant: [j].
- In transliterating texts written in Cuneiform, an acute accent over the vowel indicates that the original sign is the second representing that value in the canonical lists. Thus su is used to transliterate the first sign with the phonetic value /su/, while sú transliterates the second sign with the value /su/.
- Many Norwegian words of French origin retain an acute accent, such as allé, kafé, idé, komité, diskré. Popular usage can be sketchy and often neglects the accent, and there exists a certain degree of interchangeability with the grave accent. Likewise, in Swedish, the acute accent is used only for the letter e, mostly in words of French origin and in some names. It is used both to indicate a change in vowel quantity as well as quality and that the stress should be on this, normally unstressed, syllable. Examples include café ("café") and resumé ("resumé", noun). There are two pairs of homographs that are differentiated only by the accent: armé ("army") versus arme ("poor; pitiful", masculine gender) and idé ("idea") versus ide ("winter quarters").
Use in English
As with other diacritical marks, a number of loanwords are sometimes spelled in English with an acute accent used in the original language: these include sauté, roué, café, touché, fiancé, and fiancée but many consider this nonstandard. Retention of the accent is common only in the French ending é or ée, as in these examples, where its absence would tend to suggest a different pronunciation. Thus the French word résumé is commonly seen in English as resumé, with only one accent (note that this is a false cognate, as in French "résumé" means summary and a resumé in English is a CV).
For foreign terms used in English that have not been assimilated into English or are not in general English usage, italics are generally used with the appropriate accents: for example, adiós, coup d'état, pièce de résistance, crème brûlée.
Accents are sometimes also used for poetic purposes, to indicate an unusual pronunciation: for example, spelling the word picked (normally [pɪkt]) as pickéd to indicate the pronunciation ['pɪkɪd]. The grave accent is also sometimes used for this purpose.
The ISO-8859-1 and extended ASCII character encodings include the letters á, é, í, ó, ú, ý, and their respective capital forms. Dozens more letters with the acute accent are available in Unicode. Unicode also provides the acute accent as a combining character, U+0301.
On Windows computers, letters with acute accents can be created by holding down the alt key and typing in a three-number code on the number pad to the right of the keyboard before releasing the alt key. Spanish speakers had to learn these codes if they wanted to be able to write acute accents before the appearance of Spanish keyboards, but some preferred using the Microsoft Word spell checker to add the accent for them. The codes are:
- 160 for á
- 130 for é
- 161 for í
- 162 for ó
- 163 for ú
On a UK Keyboard layout, these letters can also be made by holding Ctrl+Alt (or Alt Gr) and the desired letter. Some sites, such as Wikipedia or the babelfish automatic translator allow inserting such symbols by clicking on a link in a box.
On a Macintosh, an acute accent is placed on a vowel by pressing Option-e and then the vowel, which can also be capitalised; for example, á is formed by pressing Option-e and then 'a', and Á is formed by pressing Option-e and then Shift-a.
For listing in alphabetical order the accented vowel is listed in the same way as the unaccented.