What are the rules for using accents? What are the exceptions?
There are many things to say regarding accents. Let’s start with this one: when we speak, although we don’t always realize it, we put an emphasis on each word. And rightly so, because all words have an accent. But when we write, it is rarely compulsory to indicate it, as hyphenated words are a minority compared to those without accents.
Now let’s see in detail what the rules of usage are for accents in the Italian language. Knowing how to use accents makes written communication correct and more effective. Not to mention that putting the emphasis where it is needed always gives the impression that you have mastered the language.
Let’s start by saying that accents can be grave (`) or acute (‘). When the vowels a, i, o, and u are the last letter of a stressed word, the accent is always on the: à, ì, ò, and ù.
An accent should be put on all truncated polysyllabic words:
and on the following monosyllables:
- dà (verb)
- dì (day)
- lunedì, mezzodì (related compounds)
- là and lì (adverbs of place)
- sì (adverb of affirmation)
- tè (beverage)
- è (verb)
- piè (foot)
- diè (verb: dare)
- fé (fede e fare verb)
For the vowel o, when it appears within a word, and for the vowel e, internal or final, the accent is acute or grave depending on whether the pronunciation of the vowel is open or closed. When e is at the end of a word, the emphasis is acute on the causal conjunction ché, on che compounds (perché, affinché, cosicché, giacché, poiché, etc.), and tre compounds (tventitré, trentatré, etc.). For the rest, the accent is usually grave.
We also add an accent on the first and third person of the simple future (indicative tense), the third singular person of passato remoto (remote past in indicative tense), and on some verbs such as battere, potere, and ripetere (remote past: batté, poté, ripeté).
The accent is also added on polysyllabic words formed from monosyllables that do not have one themselves:
Within words, it is not compulsory to write the accent. It happens, however, that it is useful to use it to distinguish between homograph and homophone words. For example: àncora e ancóra o condòmini e condomìni. In this case, the choice of whether to use the accent is left to the writer. It depends on the degree of ambiguity in the context.
Anyways, here are seven points which make the difference between an uneducated person and an educated person:
Point #1: It is better to add an accent when you write the plural of words ending in -io. The accent will be on the penultimate syllable:
- adultèri (plural of adulterio)
- benefìci (plural of beneficio)
- demòni (plural of demonio)
- desidèri (plural of desiderio)
- princìpi (plural of principio)
These words can be confused with those without an accent:
- principi (plural of principe)
- adulteri (plural of adultero)
- demoni (plural of demone)
Point #2: We add accents to words such as:
- dài and dànno
- dèi (divinity, but if the initial letter is capital, we should write Dei)
- èra (age, period)
- sètte (plural of setta)
- vòlta (as an arch)
Point #3: The accent is preferable in the plural of words ending in -òrio when there is the possibility of confusion with the corresponding plural of words ending in -ore:
Point #4: We add an accent to words whose pronunciation is often wrong in the spoken language:
Point #5: We add accents to uncommon words such as:
Point #6: No accents are added to: o, fu, re, sa, so, mi, no, qui, sto, su, tre, sta, fa, me, and qua.
Point #7: Last but not least, an accent is not an apostrophe and it is written on top of capital letters. We write È and not E’.