Compared to English, Spanish has fewer exceptions to the rules, uncomplicated spelling rules, and easy-to-follow pronunciation guidelines.
We can say that Spanish is an orthographically rich language because it also uses signs or diacritic symbols, which make writing and reading Spanish accurately easier for language learners. That brings us to the difference between mi and mí.
The difference between mi without an accent mark and mi with an accent mark lies in their purpose. Mi, without the accent mark is a possessive determiner, like “my,” as in “my dog,” “my family,” or “my hair.” The mí with the accent attached means “me,” and we use it after prepositions, so it is a prepositional pronoun. These are two words pronounced exactly the same and spelled the same, except for the acute accent mark on the “i” of one, giving them different meanings.
One word is what we call a determiner, while the other is a pronoun. You can also change the sounds of letters and the pronunciation of words by just adding a symbol.
This is quite straightforward in Spanish, so let’s dive a bit deeper into this acute accent mark and other signs that can change sounds and meaning.
Meaning and Symbols
The acute accent mark is by far the diacritic symbol we use the most in the Spanish language. This little slash that you can find on the vowels of words does a lot of hard work to make sense of this Latin language’s written word.
The acute accent’s first job is to indicate stressed syllables, which we explained in the previous section. This little line’s second job is to show us the meaning of certain words that look very much like other words.
We spell and pronounce words that are homonyms the same way, but they have different meanings. Spanish has quite a few of these, so we use the acute accent mark to distinguish the difference between these words. Let us look at a few example words to see how this works:
|el (the) — masculine, singular||Rico está sentado en el suelo. |
“Rico is sitting on the floor.”
|él (he)||Él está sentado en el suelo. |
“He is sitting on the floor.”
|si (if)||Lo haré si me ayudas.|
“I’ll do it if you help me.”
|sí (yes)||Sí te ayudaré.|
“Yes, I’ll help.”
|te (you) — object pronoun||Ella te enseña español.|
“She teaches you Spanish.”
|té (tea)||Me gusta el té |
“I like tea.”
Pronouns and Determiners
The fundamental difference between mi and mí is that one is a possessive determiner and the other is a prepositional pronoun. In English, we would use the possessive deteminer “my” or the prepositional pronoun “me.”
As in the other examples above, the two mi’s are homonyms, and we use the accent to distinguish the two from each other.
Mi without the Accent
The mi without an accent is what we call a possessive determiner, and it indicates my possessions — as in, not yours, but mine.
We add possessive determiners in front of nouns to show who or what “owns” the idea, the object, the place, the concept, or even the person. Not that we own people, but my brother is MY brother and not your brother, and my spouse is not your spouse.
In English and in Spanish, we add these determiners in front of the nouns they describe, as in the following examples:
- This is my brother. Este es mi hermano.
- That is my house. Esa es mi casa.
- You are wearing my shirt! ¡Llevas mi camisa!
- My hair is very long. Mi pelo es muy largo.
- Where is my car? ¿Dónde está mi coche?
- There is my family. Ahí está mi familia.
Does Mi Familia Have an Accent?
“My family” is mi familia, without the accent mark. Mí familia, with the accent mark, literally means “me family,” which would make you sound like some sort of Neanderthal in English, so we can only imagine what this would sound like to a native Spanish speaker.
Either way, it’s certainly not correct to write mi familia with an accent mark. Because mi familia means “my family,” indicating the possessive, it is not written with an accent. If you want to talk about your things or people, tu is the possessive determiner for you:
- This is your brother. Este es tu hermano.
- That is your house. Esa es tu casa.
- He is wearing your shirt! ¡Lleva tu camisa!
- Your hair is very long. Tu pelo es muy largo.
- Where is your car? ¿Dónde está tu auto?
- There is your family. Ahí está tu familia.
Mí with the Accent
When we put the acute accent mark on the “i” in mi, we change the word to the personal object pronoun used after prepositions.
Personal pronouns are little words that replace people’s names so that we don’t have to repeat them over and over. Here are the English pronouns and their Spanish counterparts:
|English Subject Pronoun||English Object Pronoun||Spanish Subject Pronoun||Spanish Object Pronoun|
The difference between subjects and objects is merely that the subject is the doer of an action, and the object is whoever receives that action. Let’s check out some examples:
The Spanish word order is slightly different, but you can clearly see the subject and object pronouns in these sentences:
- Tú bebes té.
- Yo como chocolate.
- Te quiero
- Usted me puede ver
English does not have prepositional pronouns and uses the object pronouns instead, so they look like:
|English Object Pronoun||Spanish Prepositional Pronoun|
So when pronouns are the object of a preposition, they usually come after the preposition and serve as the item, or person in this case, that links with whatever is on the other side of the preposition.
|Your problems||are||on||me (now)|
Again, the Spanish word order is not always the same, but you can see the prepositional pronoun after the prepositions, underlined here:
- Este presente es para ti.
- Tus problemas están en mí.
- El regalo es de mí.
Spanish is a great language to learn, and one of the major world languages, so it is always a good idea to double-check anything you are not certain about.
It’s amazing how much respect you get from others when you show them that you are trying to understand them better by learning their language.
Different Sounds Creates Words
The Spanish language has about 39 different sounds, only five of which are vowels, or open sounds — “a,” “e,” “i,” “o,” and “u.”
In English, there are more than 14 vowel sounds! Spanish is a phonetic language, meaning you write it mostly the way you say it, and it uses the Latin alphabet, just like English, to write sounds and form words (source).
Many societies developed their own writing systems but changed or adapted them when they found another alphabet more suitable than their own.
The most popular alphabet system that most languages use today is the Latin alphabet, which actually comes from the Greek alphabet.
Different languages use the Latin alphabet and modify it for their own use by adding what we call diacritical marks, like the acute accent in the word mí (source). A diacritic symbol modifies the phonetic value of a letter.
With a limited number of sounds, there is also a limited number of possible combinations to form words.
Modern Spanish has about 150,000 words, not that much compared to the 600,000 words that we find in English — although, these do include words that we don’t really use anymore.
Spanish Sounds vs. English Sounds
Some of the letters or “symbols” we use to write Spanish sounds completely different from English writing are:
- The double ll, which we pronounce the same as “y” in “yellow.”
- The “n” with a tilde, which we pronounce as “ny” as in “mañana.”
The tilde (ñ) is the curvy line you see above the “n,” which is an example of a diacritic mark that people have used to modify the Greek alphabet to suit their own languages.
The name of this sound is eñe, and it is the most frequent letter in Spanish. You can even see it in the name of the language — Español (source).
Sounds and Symbols
Spanish is also a syllable-based language. This means that each syllable lasts the same amount of time when we speak it, no matter if we stress that syllable or not.
English is different because, when we stress syllables in English, the length of the syllable changes.
Besides the fact that pronouncing Spanish syllables is more straightforward than English, pronunciation rules and some spelling rules are also simpler than English.
Let’s look at these rules to understand why we spell the words mi and mí differently but pronounce them the same.
When we stress syllables, we add more intonation to individual syllables in words, which is another way that we communicate meaning. In English, for example, stressing certain syllables in words can change the meaning completely:
Permit — When we stress the first syllable, we are talking about what you need to do certain things legally: “You cannot hunt in certain areas without a permit.”
Permit — When we stress the last syllable, we are talking about the action of allowing something: “They do not permit their children to use cellphones at the dinner table.”
|Word ending||Stressed syllable||Example|
|Words that end in s, n, a, e, i, o, u.||We stress the second-to-last syllable.||Ma-dre, za-pa-tos, me-sa, ho-la|
|Words that end with any other letter.||Stress falls on the last syllable.||Pa-pel, co-mer, or-de-na-dor|
In Spanish, when there is an exception to these rules, we indicate the stressed syllable with the diacritic symbol that we call the acute accent mark (source):
|Word ending||Stressed syllable||Example|
|Words that end in s, n, a, e, i, o, u.||We stress the last syllable unless otherwise indicated.||fan-tás-ti-co|
|Words that end with any other letter.||We stress the last syllable unless otherwise indicated.||di-fí-cilár-bol|
For more information of using accent marks in Spanish, make sure you read our articles, “Does Hola Have an Accent?“
Spanish Spelling with Diacritic Symbols
There are three diacritic symbols that we use in Spanish. The first one is the tilde — or la virgulilla in Español — that you can find on the eñe symbol, which we talked about earlier.
The second one is the diaeresis, which are two dots that you can find above the ü. We use this symbol to show speakers that the “u” sound, which would typically be silent in combinations with “g” and “i” or “e”:
|Silent “u”||Pronunciation||Pronounced “u”||Pronunciation|
We did say that there are three diacritic symbols, and we have seen all three already, but we need to look at the last one much closer. The last one that started all this, the one we see in the word mí.
The history of the written word is actually quite fascinating, with different languages using the same symbols or letters for the same sounds or completely different sounds.
Then, of course, there are the punctuation marks and diacritic symbols that can change the meaning or the pronunciation of a word or both.
Hopefully, this article has helped clear up the difference between mi and mí. Mi is a possessive determiner, while mí is a prepositional pronoun.
These homonyms both refer to the first-person singular, but they have two very different functions in the Spanish language. And it is important to use them correctly to avoid any confusion.