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Spanish languagetip - Diéresis.

“Diéresis” or “crema”. Have you ever heard about this? Perhaps you don't recognize it by its name, but... Have you ever seen two small dots on letter “u” in some Spanish words? This diacritical mark is “diéresis”.

Let's see some examples:

la vergüenza (the shame)

bilingüe (bilingual)

el pingüino (the penguin)

la ambigüedad (the ambiguity)

argüir (to point to, to deduce)

What do these last words have in common, apart from the “diéresis”? As you can see, the two horizontal dots (diéresis) are always over the letter “u”. And this letter “u” is preceded by letter “g”, and followed by either “e” or “i”. So this is what we have, so far:

-güe-
-güi-

Whenever we find “diéresis”, it means we have to pronounce letter “u” and, at the same time, to pronounce a soft “g”. (Remember that whenever we have in Spanish “ge” and “gi”, -without an intermediate “u” between them- letter “g” is hard.)

According to the “Real Academia de la Lengua”, diéresis is a...

Signo ortográfico auxiliar, también llamado crema, representado por dos puntos (¨) que se disponen horizontalmente sobre la vocal a la que afectan. En español tiene los usos siguientes:

Auxiliary orthographic sign, also named “crema”, represented with two dots (¨) horizontally placed on the vowel they affect. It has two uses in Spanish:

These two uses are:

Its use is obligatory on letter “u” to indicate this vowel must be pronounced in combinations “gue” and “gui”. It must also be used in capital letters: “GÜE” and “GÜI”.

It can also be used in poetry, on a diphthong first vowel, to indicate that the two vowels in that diphthong must be pronounced in separate syllables.

It is very common, among Spanish speakers, the use of the “diéresis” in words that should take it. For example:

“paragüas” (wrong) instead of “paraguas” (OK) (el paraguas = the ambrella)

“apacigüar” (wrong) instead of “apaciguar” (OK) (to calm down, to pacify)
-Note that “apacigüar” is wrong, but “(el) apacigüe” (third person singular, present subjunctive) is correct.-

Why do you think “paragüas” and “apacigüar” are wrong? It is easy! The rule to use “diéresis” implies letter g + letter u + eitheir “e” or “i”, and, it these two cases, what we have is “gua”, that is g+u+a. No “u” and no “i” after “gu”. So, no need to use the “diéresis”.

The reason why Spanish speakers tend to make this mistake is because of the association of letter “g” + “u” + another vowel, being that “u” pronounced. But remember, “diéresis” is only used in these two combinations: güe and güi.

The book Practice Makes Perfect Complete Spanish Grammar (2nd Edition)style=border:none can be a good way to learn more about Spanish grammar rules.

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