French Accent Marks: The Final Information



What are French accent marks, and why do they matter? The phrases café and résumé are initially French, and in English we regularly write these phrases with out the accents. In French, nevertheless, the accent marks should not non-obligatory.

Getting your accents proper is the distinction between being a pêcheur (fisherman) and a pécheur (sinner). Which one would you slightly have in your résumé?

So let’s take a look at the several types of French accent marks and the way they’re used. We’ll cowl all of the several types of accent marks, how they’re pronounced (in the event that they’re pronounced in any respect), and the impact they’ve on a phrase’s grammar and/or that means.

We’ll additionally take a look at loads of examples of French phrases with accents which ought to assist make issues clear. Plus, I’ll educate you easy methods to kind them on a PC and Mac (with keyboard shortcuts!).

French Accent Mark Record: The 5 French Diacritics

French accent marks are comprised of 5 totally different diacritics.

In no explicit order, they’re:

  • ç – the cedilla (la cédille)
  • é – the acute accent (l’accent aigu)
  • â/ê/î/ô/û – the circumflex (l’accent circonflexe)
  • à/è/ì/ò/ù – the grave accent (l’accent grave)
  • ë/ï/ü – the trema (l’accent tréma)

These accent marks serve a number of totally different functions within the language. Generally they have an effect on pronunciation, typically they don’t. Generally they’ll utterly change the that means of a phrase.

So how do you learn, write, or pronounce these letters? What do the accent marks imply? And how are you going to keep in mind the entire French accent marks, guidelines, and pronunciation? Let me stroll you thru them.

(By the way in which, in case you’re nonetheless scuffling with the French alphabet, we’ve a helpful video for you!)

The Cedilla (La Cédille) Accent Mark in French

The cedilla accent mark in French seems to be like a bit squiggle beneath the letter “c”: “ç”. This accent mark solely goes with the letter “c” – it’s not discovered beneath some other letter.

It’s a easy image to know: a ç (c with a cedilla) is pronounced like an “s”.

You’ll solely ever see a “ç” earlier than an “a”, “o”, or “u”. (Do not forget that “c” earlier than an “e” or “i” is pronounced like an “s” anyway, so including a cedilla wouldn’t change something.)

Two widespread phrases that comprise cedillas are garçon (“boy”, or “waiter” in a restaurant) and français (French!). It’s also possible to often see it in English in loanwords like façade.

The Acute (L’Accent Aigu) Accent Mark in French

The acute accent mark in French is just ever discovered above an “e”, as in “é”. Its function is to vary the pronunciation of the vowel.

An unaccented “e” may be pronounced a number of alternative ways, however while you see “é”, there’s no ambiguity. An é (e with an acute accent) is all the time pronounced the identical approach.

So what approach is that? Many books and web sites will let you know that “é” is pronounced just like the English “ay”, as in “say” or “approach”.

There’s only one downside with this piece of recommendation: it’s flawed. Positive, the “ay” sound is shut to the French “é” sound, nevertheless it’s not fairly the identical. In the event you pronounce “é” like an “ay”, it will likely be a useless giveaway that your native language is English.

To know how “é” is pronounced, let’s study the English “ay” sound a bit nearer.

Attempt saying “say” or “approach” very slowly, drawing out the vowel on the finish. Discover that as you say “aaaaaay”, your tongue strikes.It is because “ay” is secretly not one however two vowels mentioned in fast succession. (Linguists name such double vowels “diphthongs”.)

The French “é” is the first of the 2 vowel sounds that make up the English “ay” diphthong. To pronounce “é” precisely, place your tongue such as you’re about to say “ay”, however when you begin making noise, don’t transfer your tongue or lips. Hold them regular for the whole length of the sound.

As native English audio system, we regularly discover it arduous to shake the behavior of “doubling up” this sound and announcing it like an “ay” – however with apply, it is best to keep in mind.

(In the event you’re acquainted with the Worldwide Phonetic Alphabet, be aware that the IPA for the “é” sound is /e/. Additionally be aware that the French “é” sound is identical because the Spanish “e” sound, which I defined intimately in level #2 of this text. Even in case you don’t communicate Spanish, you could discover that clarification useful to your French).

Additionally, if you would like some tips about easy methods to keep away from sounding like an apparent foreigner, Benny has some recommendation for you in one among our podcasts!

The Grave (L’Accent Grave) Accent Mark in French

The grave accent mark in French may be discovered above an “a”, an “e”, or a “u” (à/è/ù). It does a couple of various things.

Firstly, it’s used above an “a” or “u” to differentiate phrases which have the identical pronunciation however totally different meanings:

a vs à:

  • a is the third-person singular type of avoir (“to have”)
  • à is a preposition that may imply “at”, “to”, or “in”

ça vs çà

  • ça is a pronoun that means “it” or “that”
  • çà is an interjection that’s arduous to translate. It will possibly specific fear or shock (like saying “uh-oh!”) or it may be mere verbal filler, like saying “hey” or “nicely”.

la vs là

  • la is the female type of the phrase “the” – or in different contexts it may well imply “her”.
  •  means “there” or “that

ou vs où:

  • ou means “or”
  •  means “the place”. Observe that that is the one phrase in the whole French language the place you’ll discover a grave accent above the letter “u”!

It’s also possible to discover a grave accent in déjà (“already”) and deçà (“nearer than”), though “déja” and “deça” with out the accent aren’t phrases.

Above an “a” or a “u”, a grave accent doesn’t change the pronunciation. Above an “e”, nevertheless, it tells you that the vowel is pronounced “eh”, just like the “e” in “get” (IPA /ɛ/).

There are some ways to pronounce an unaccented “e” in French. The grave accent makes it clear that you just should say /ɛ/, when in any other case the “e” may be a distinct sound, or silent.

The Circumflex (L’Accent Circonflexe) Accent Mark in French

The circumflex, which seems to be like a bit pointy hat, may be discovered as an accent mark above all 5 vowels in French: â, ê, î, ô, or û. I’ll spend extra time on the principles of this accent mark, since its utilization is considerably sophisticated.

First, it tells you easy methods to pronounce “a”, “e”, and “o”:

  • “â” is pronounced roughly like an English “ah” as in an American “sizzling” or British “bathtub”.
  • “ê” is pronounced like an English “eh” as in “get” – the identical as if it was “è” with a grave accent.
  • “ô” is pronounced roughly like an English “oh” as in “boat” or “shut”. It’s the identical sound discovered within the French phrase au.

When positioned over an “i” or “u”, a circumflex doesn’t change the pronunciation, besides within the mixture “eû”. Jeûne (“quick” as in a dietary quick) is pronounced in a different way from jeune (“younger”).

So why trouble writing a circumflex when it doesn’t have an effect on pronunciation? The reply takes us again tons of of years.

Take the phrase forêt, which implies “forest”. As you may guess, the English and French phrases share a standard root. As time went on, French individuals stopped announcing the “s”, however they continued to write down it – it was a silent letter, of which English has many.

Ultimately, it was determined to vary the spelling of the phrase to take away the superfluous “s”. However for no matter motive, the French intelligentsia didn’t need to erase all hint that this “s” had ever existed – so it was determined so as to add a circumflex to the “e” instead. The circumflex is an etymological tombstone – it tells you “hey, there was once an additional letter right here!”

Evaluate these French phrases to their English cognates:

  • ancêtre – “ancestor”
  • août – “August”
  • côte – “coast”
  • forêt – “forest”
  • hôtel – “hostel”
  • hôpital – “hospital”
  • pâté – “paste”
  • rôtir – “to roast”

Mostly, a circumflex denotes a lacking “s”, nevertheless it’s typically used for different letters. For instance, âge (age) and bâiller (to yawn) have been as soon as spelt aage and baailler.

The circumflex can be helpful for distinguishing sure pairs of identically-pronounced phrases:

sur vs. sûr:
– sur is a preposition that means “on”, or an adjective that means “bitter”.
– sûr means “certain” or “sure”. Observe that the circumflex continues to be current in inflected varieties like the female sûre, or in derived phrases like sûreté (safety).

du vs. :
  – du means “of the” – it is a contraction of de (of) and le (masculine type of “the”).
   –  is the previous participle of devoir – “to should”. Not like sûr, the circumflex is just not stored within the inflected varieties: so it is within the masculine singular however due, dusand dues within the different three varieties.

mur vs. mûr:
un mur is “a wall”.
mûr means “ripe” or “mature”, in addition to being a slang time period for “drunk”. The circumflex is preserved within the inflected varieties (mûre, mûrs, mûres), and in associated phrases like mûrir (to ripen.)

This may sound like rather a lot, however a bit apply every day will assist! We interviewed Will, a fellow French learner, about his language journey and recommendation in our podcast:

The Trema (L’Accent Tréma) in French

Lastly, we’ve the French trema accent mark: two little dots above a letter. It may be discovered above an “e”, “i”, or “u”: ëïü.

The trema can be typically referred to as a “diaeresis” or “umlaut”, though technically it’s not an umlaut. The umlaut and diaeresis are unrelated issues that advanced in other places and solely look the identical by coincidence – however that doesn’t matter right here.

Chances are you’ll recognise the trema from the names Zoë and Chloë. Right here, the trema tells you that the “o” and “e” are pronounced individually – so that they rhyme with “snowy”, not “toe”.

(If solely David Jones had taken the stage identify “Boë” as a substitute of “Bowie”, all of the confusion about its pronunciation may have been averted).

Some English fashion guides counsel you utilize the trema (also referred to as a “diaeresis”, pronounced “die-heiresses”) for a bunch of different phrases, like reëlect or coöperate. Nonetheless, in apply nearly no-one does this.

In French, the trema works the identical approach, and it’s rather more widespread than in English. It’s written over the second of two vowels to let you know that they should be pronounced individually, whereas with out the accent they could mix into a very totally different sound:

  • coïncidence (coincidence)
  • Jamaïque (Jamaica)
  • Noël (Christmas)

That is by far the most typical use of the trema.

There a complicated exception when you think about adjectives which finish in a “gu” – like our good friend aigu (acute), as in l’accent aigu.

Why we need to use aigu with a female noun, like douleur (ache)? Usually we’d add a silent “e”. The issue is that “gue” in French is pronounced as “g”, with a silent “e” and “u” (You’ll be able to see the identical rule in English phrases like “fugue” or “obscure”).

To get round this downside, French makes use of a trema: the female type of aigu is aigüe, as in douleur aigüe. Because the French Spelling Reform of 1990, the trema is formally alleged to go on the “u”, though you’ll typically nonetheless see individuals writing aiguë.

So now we’ve wrapped up what every French accent mark does, and subsequent we’ll speak about easy methods to kind them on a PC and Mac. However first, I can’t assist however point out this video Benny did about easy methods to overcome some French challenges–together with writing and talking. Test it out!

Find out how to Kind French Accents

I’m certain you’ll need to know easy methods to kind French accent marks. French computer systems typically use the AZERTY keyboard format, which has some main variations from our acquainted QWERTY – together with some particular keys for typing accents.

Be taught to kind in a brand new format in case you’re feeling hardcore. For everybody else, there are pretty handy methods to kind accents in French (or some other language) on QWERTY. Right here’s how you are able to do it on a PC or a Mac:

Find out how to Kind French Accents On a PC

The next shortcuts ought to work to kind French accent marks on a PC keyboard:

  • To kind “ç” or “Ç”, press Ctrl + ,, then “c” or “C”.
  • To kind “é” or “E”, press Ctrl + ’, then “e” or “E”.
  • To kind a vowel with a circumflex press Ctrl + Shift + ^, then the vowel.
  • To kind a vowel with a grave accent press Ctrl + `, then the vowel.
  • To kind a vowel with a trema press Ctrl + `, then the vowel.

If that doesn’t work, you possibly can strive inputting the character code immediately.

Every accented character may be entered with a four-digit code. Merely press the “alt” key, then enter the French accent codes beneath. (Observe: you’ll must enter them with the quantity pad on the right-hand facet of your keyboard, not the quantity keys above the letters.)

Character Code Lowercase Code Uppercase
ç Alt + 0199 Alt + 0231
é Alt + 0233 Alt + 0201
â Alt + 0226 Alt + 0194
ê Alt + 0234 Alt + 0202
î Alt + 0238 Alt + 0206
ô Alt + 0244 Alt + 0212
û Alt + 0251 Alt + 0219
à Alt + 0224 Alt + 0192
è Alt + 0232 Alt + 0200
ì Alt + 0236 Alt + 0204
ò Alt + 0242 Alt + 0210
ù Alt + 0249 Alt + 0217
ë Alt + 0235 Alt + 0203
ï Alt + 0239 Alt + 0207
ü Alt + 0252 Alt + 0220

Find out how to Kind French Accents On a Mac

Usually, you possibly can kind French accent marks on a Mac as “particular characters” through the use of the Choice/Alt key. That’s the one labelled “⌥”, between “ctrl” and “cmd”. Right here’s what you’ll want to know for French:

Character Keys
cedilla Alt + c
acute accent Alt + e
circumflex Alt + n
grave accent Alt + `
trema Alt + u

So as to add a letter with a diacritic, press the suitable key mixture, then press the important thing for the letter you need the diacritic to belong to. For instance, to kind “ì”, press “alt” + “`” collectively, then launch them and press “i”.

The exception is the cedilla – urgent “alt” + “c” inputs a “ç” immediately, with out the necessity to press “c” once more afterwards.

Relying in your keyboard and system settings, you might also be capable to kind particular characters by holding down an everyday letter key. For instance, once I maintain down “e” on my Mac for a second or so:

Now to get the accented “é”, I simply press “2”.

Understanding French will make a visit to the gorgeous south of France much more spectacular!

French Accent Marks – Have Your Say

That covers it! As you possibly can see, the principles for accents in French are a bit sophisticated, however they’re not unimaginable. Do not forget that they don’t all the time have an effect on pronunciation: so in case your focus is talking, not each accent rule must be studied in nice element simply but.

And in case you’re excited by persevering with, I extremely suggest FrenchPod101 and Story Studying French. They make studying French enjoyable and straightforward and will provide you with loads of alternatives to apply your accent marks!

Authentic article by George Julian, up to date by the Fluent in 3 Months staff on June 21, 2024.

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George Julian

Content material Author, Fluent in 3 Months

George is a polyglot, linguistics nerd and journey fanatic from the U.Okay. He speaks 4 languages and has dabbled in one other 5, and has been to greater than forty nations. He at the moment lives in London.

Speaks: English, French, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Portuguese

View all posts by George Julian

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