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Do you really need a hundred and two monkeys? The importance of accent marks in Spanish.


Accent marks are easy to overlook, but when they are omitted, miscommunication can result.  A school was once having a fair for middle school kids, and the principal wanted to include a petting zoo.  He handwrote a letter to the local zoo asking for one or two monkeys: "Necesitamos 1 o 2 monos."  After several weeks, a truckload of monkeys – 102 monkeys, to be exact – arrived at the school.  Instead of a couple of monkeys, the school got more than a hundred! 


The principal's seemingly insignificant error of omitting a tiny accent over the "o" caused this big mistake.  When the letter "o" meaning or is written between two numerals, it has an accent to avoid being confused with a zero.  The omission of the accent on the "o" caused the people at the zoo to confuse "1 ó 2 monos" (1 or 2 monkeys) with "102 monos" (102 monkeys!)


Accent marks also matter when indicating verb tense and person.  Often, the 3rd person preterite (past tense) of verbs end with the same letter as the present tense 1st person, with only an accent over the "o" to differentiate between the two:


¿Te gusto?  means Do you like me?  (literallyAm I pleasing to you?)
¿Te gustó?  means Did you like it?(literally Was it pleasing to you?)


Here are other examples where the accent mark changes the meaning of words:

WITHOUT ACCENT

WITH ACCENT

aun   even

aún   still, yet

de   of, from

     give (as a command)

mas   but

más  more

mi     my

    me

se       himself/herself

     I know

siif

 yes

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