Why doesn't the English language have accent marks? I have been trying to understand the critical differences that are present between the English and Spanish language, however I just can not wrap my head around the concept that some languages have accent marks while others don't. Why can't we all be equal?

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    If you can tell me why Spanish does have those confusing accents, without just saying 'it's easier', then I'll try and answer. May 2, 2014 at 16:06
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    Also, why Spanish doesn't use the letters "ß", "Þ", and "ð".
    – chapka
    May 2, 2014 at 16:27
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    (1) Accent marks are spelling, which is not language. (2) English does have accent marks -- coöperate, wingèd, sit (the dot on the lowercase I is an accent mark; Turkish has one İ/i with a dot, and one I/ı without, representing different vowels. (3) Accent marks are used for different purposes in different languages, without any sense of "equality" (a very strange term to use here). If you think Spanish has a lot of accent marks, take a look at Vietnamese. May 2, 2014 at 16:50
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    @John, the dot over the i is an diacritic mark in Turkish. In English it is no more an accent mark than the line across a t or capital G. May 2, 2014 at 17:11
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    "Why can't we all just get along? Oh, yeah. Tower of Babel. Nevermind."
    – bib
    May 2, 2014 at 17:36

3 Answers 3


Accent marks, or more properly, diacritics are not totally absent in English. They are just devilishly uncommon. And the few diacritics I am aware of typically appear in foreign borrowings, such as façade, borrowed from French, or saké, from Japanese. There is also the diaeresis or umlaut, which is used to indicate that the vowels in an apparent diphthong are to be pronounced separately, as in naïve and Noël. This doesn't change accent in quite the same way as you might be familiar with in Spanish.

Other languages with limited use of accents includes German and Dutch, which are, like English, Germanic tongues. So perhaps this characteristic is of the language group, rather than English in particular.

As to "why" I have no idea.

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    I don't think it really makes sense to consider Spanish ‘more diacritic’ than German. They both use diacritics, but in different ways. (Also, diaereses, tremas, and umlauts are not equivalent: they're all names for the diacritic, but trema and umlaut describes its function, not just its form: Trema is the one that indicates a separated diphthong, while umlaut indicates an umlauted vowel, like Fräulein, where the ä is umlauted from Frau.) May 2, 2014 at 16:55
  • @JanusBahsJacquet It isn’t always about separating a diphthong. I would say rather that the diaeresis represents a hiatus between two customary vowels and thus a syllabic boundary. Whether it separates what would otherwise be an actual diphthong as in naïve (the ai diphthong) or a digraph commonly used to represent a monophthong as in reënlist (the ee digraph being a monophthong) is not always clear. On the other hand, we also have the example of those famous Brontë sisters, in which there is no pair of vowels to separate, only a vowel that might well have otherwise been mispronounced.
    – tchrist
    May 2, 2014 at 19:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet - I'm confused... did I imply that Spanish is more "diacritic" than German? All I said was that some Germanic languages use diacritics very sparingly. Although you're correct that umlauts are not accent marks. May 2, 2014 at 19:19
  • We are very critical of diacritics and wish they would dia out.
    – Oldcat
    May 2, 2014 at 19:35
  • @Cyber, that was poorly worded. I meant it doesn't necessarily make sense to think of Germanic languages as using fewer diacritics than Spanish, for instance. German probably uses more than Spanish, for instance. It's more a matter of different functions than of different amounts. May 2, 2014 at 22:32

As far as I can understand, Spanish uses an accute accent mark (á, é ,í, ó, ú), a tilde (ñ) or diaeresis (gü) to indicate a phonetical particularity of a letter within a word; while English uses letter group configurations. Thus, there are not the same phonemes in «off» than in «of», in «late» than in «latte», just to mention some simple examples.


I'm sorry, I'm just going to plop what I know here in simple words because I'm not very good with the fancy terms. Spanish uses accents primarily to find stress in the word (besides ü such as "pingüino" to change the sound of U), while Germanic languages (and even with the French É) such as German and Swedish with ö, ü, and ä actually change the pronounciation of the word. I feel as though people just realized that they borrowed from too many languages and didn't do anything about it for so long (even Shakespeare didn't follow pronunciation rules, really) so they kind of just gave up. It does seem weird though, seeing as all of English's neighbors use some type of accenting in their letters and English basically only uses accenting for a very select few words taken from France..

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    "I feel as though..." is speculation. On Stack Exchange sites, we prefer definitive, well-researched answers. Some opinion is OK but is should be backed up by solid facts, which this answer isn't. Dec 26, 2014 at 10:39
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    It’s also wrong on many accounts. Umlauted vowels (äöü) are not considered separate letters in German, but they are in all the Nordic languages (äöy in Swedish; æöy in Icelandic; æøy in Danish, Faroese, and Norwegian). Moreover, å is a separate letter in Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian. In Icelandic and Faroese, áéíóúý are all separate letters denoting separate vowel sounds; in Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, they are not separate letters, and they denote only stress, just like in Spanish. Dec 26, 2014 at 15:23

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