Sólo or solo?
Traditionally Spanish distinguished the adverb sólo (only/just) from the adjective solo (alone) by using the accent for the adverb. So, if you wanted to say:
–At breakfast I only drink coffee.
You would have said:
–En el desayuno sólo tomo café.
But if what you mean is that in the morning, while having breakfast, you prefer to spend some time with yourself, then you should have said:
–At breakfast I drink coffee alone.
In Spanish, if you are a man, you would have to say:
–En el desayuno tomo café solo.
Or, if you are a woman:
–En el desayuno tomo café sola.
And that’s it. We were doing great so far. Use the accent for the adverb, don’t use the accent for the masculine adjective. Pretty simple, isn’t it?
And then came the spelling reform…
Well, guess what? Almost ten years ago, in 2010, la Real Academia Española, the rulers of Spanish, decided to eliminate the accent for the adverb, because, they say, it is no longer necessary. And I think they have a point.
The examples we just gave above seem to prove the Academy right. If we remove the accent from the adverb there’s no room for misunderstanding. Do you know why? Yes, because of the position of the words: adverbs tend to be placed right before the verb. Adjectives, on the other hand, tend to be placed after the noun or at the end of the sentence. And, of course, there’s absolutely no chance of confusion when you use the feminine form of solo: sola.
Maybe not so fast?
But there are some Spanish speakers, rebel and yet traditional, who are making a big deal out of this. Because, they argue, eliminating the accent for the adverb solo could be very confusing in some cases. Let’s take a look at this sentence just to give them a chance:
–Que este hombre gobierne solo podría ser peligroso para el país.
How would you translate this one? It’s a little bit tricky, because it could be translated either as:
–That this man rule alone could be dangerous for the country.
–That this man rule could be dangerous only for the country.
Either way the country would be in danger, but let’s be honest, the syntax of that Spanish sentence is very, very odd.
Bottom line: don’t worry about it!
The good news is, that in the middle of this dispute, you can’t be wrong while learning Spanish: you can follow the recent rule and forget about the accent for the adverb or just keep using it as we just showed you. You could be a traditional rebel or a rebel of tradition. ¡La decisión es tuya! Just keep learning!