Home Language Learning French Accent Marks: What They Are and Methods to Use Them

French Accent Marks: What They Are and Methods to Use Them

French Accent Marks: What They Are and Methods to Use Them


Regardless of your present degree, sooner or later whereas studying French you’ve in all probability seen letters that resemble English ones, solely with unfamiliar markings above them (and typically beneath them). It might be the é in la télévision (the tv), the â in âge (age), or the ç in commerçant (shopkeeper). 

Rookies could merely gloss over these when studying, viewing them as “non-compulsory”. Nonetheless, there may be nothing non-compulsory about accent marks. They assist us perceive how we should always pronounce sure letter sounds and the place we should always add further emphasis! In some instances, they’ll even change the that means of a phrase. 

Whereas it’s tempting to keep away from studying accents, you’ll discover that studying them alongside the fundamentals makes every thing simpler, from writing to studying new vocabulary. Rosetta Stone may also help you study accent marks in a enjoyable, participating atmosphere that reinforces your retention. Take a look at our distinctive immersion strategy to studying, or bounce proper right into a subscription at this time


What are the 5 accent marks?

There are 5 accent marks you’ll want to acknowledge in French.  

  • l’accent aigu (the acute accent)—Ex: é
  • l’accent grave (the grave accent)—Ex: è
  • l’accent circonflexe (the circumflex)—Ex: ô
  • l’accent tréma (the trema)—Ex: ï
  • la cédille (the cedilla)—Ex: ç

Why are accent marks necessary in French?

French accent marks typically operate as they do in Spanish, putting emphasis on a sure syllable of a phrase. Nonetheless, as at all times, there are exceptions! In reality, most French accents do extra than simply that, or one thing else totally. Some accent marks in French, just like the acute accent, change the pronunciation of the letter altogether. Others, just like the grave accent, solely barely modify the sound of it. At different instances, there isn’t a emphasis or pronunciation change in anyway, as is the case with among the usages of the circumflex.

Regardless of the function could also be, understanding French accent mark guidelines can stop miscommunication, because the together with them could produce phrases of various that means, corresponding to côte (coast) and côté (facet).

The pronunciation and function of every accent mark varies, and within the sections beneath we’ll break every of those down. Earlier than continuing although, we should first be sure we have now a stable grasp of the French alphabet, and are capable of produce the sounds of every letter in it appropriately. So, brush up on that earlier than studying extra!

Understanding French pronunciation

Pronunciation is among the issues which makes French a difficult language to study, even in comparison with its Latin friends like Spanish. Marked by varied sounds distinctive solely to itself, greedy French pronunciation is among the largest challenges for English audio system (and even Spanish and Italian ones too).

Although a lot of the letters are the identical, many are pronounced with at the very least a slight diploma of distinction between their English counterparts. For instance, considering of the French “E”  just like the English one will produce errors that impede one’s capability to speak. The additional modification of this “E” sound by accent marks solely will increase the phonetic variations between the 2 languages.

On a constructive be aware, French accent marks are straightforward to study as soon as one has achieved an understanding of the alphabet. What’s extra, Rosetta stone’s Alphabet software is a superb useful resource for studying or refreshing oneself on the French alphabet, accent marks included. It not solely helps learners perceive how letters are pronounced in isolation, however gives quite a lot of examples to place them into context.

Which letters take accent marks in French?

Apart from the cédille, solely vowels take accent marks. Under is a listing of letters that may undertake every accent.

  • l’accent aigu: “E” (é)
  • l’acccent grave: “A”, “E”, and “U” (à, è, ù)
  • l’accent circonflexe: “A”, “E”, “I”, “O”, “U” (â, ê, î, ô, û)
  • le tréma: “E”, “I”, “U” (ë, ï, ü)
  • la cédille: “C” (ç)

The 5 varieties of French accent marks

Under is a collection of tables for every of the 5 accent marks in French with examples.

1. Cedilla (la cédille)

The cedilla’s primary function is to differentiate the fricative “S” sound of the letter “C” from its velar “Ok” sound. In different phrases, to differentiate the “S” sound in phrases like “site” from the “Ok” sound in phrases like “okite”. In French, a “C” may be pronounced like a “Ok” or like an “S ” relying on the presence of the cedilla. Phrases with a cedilla are pronounced like an “S”. 

So, in phrases like le mâcon (mâcon, wine from Burgundy) the “C” is pronounced like a “Ok”, whereas in phrases like un maçon (a bricklayer, mason) it’s pronounced like an “S”.  Phrases like glaçon (ice dice) are pronounced like “glasson”, whereas phrases like laconique (no cedilla) are pronounced as “lakoneek(uh)”.  

The cedilla can be used up to now participle of sure verbs just like the “conçu” (conceived) of concevoir (to conceive). At different instances it may be used to differentiate an “S” sound from a “Ok” in conjugated types of verbs, corresponding to the primary particular person plural conjugation of commencer (to start), commençons [(we) begin]. The identical applies to recevoir (to obtain). Nonetheless, all types of recevoir take the cedilla aside from the primary particular person plural nous and the second particular person plural/formal vous. Thus (je) reçois, (tu) reçois, (il/elle/on) reçoit, and (ils/elles) reçoivent all undertake the cedilla to make clear any confusion as to the proper pronunciation of the letter “C”.

French English
ça that
commençons (we) start
déçu disillusioned
la façade  the entrance of a constructing
la façon a means, fashion (of doing one thing)
le français French (language)
un garçon a boy
une leçon a lesson
provençal provincial
reçu acquired (previous participle)

2. Acute accent (l’accent aigu) 

The acute accent is used to differentiate the everyday pronunciation of the letter “E” from the “AY” sound in phrases like cérémonie. The distinction between the “E” and the é is heard in phrases like un pageant (a pageant) and félicitations (congratulations). This sound resembles the sound of the letter “A” within the English alphabet. Nonetheless, this analogy is merely approximate. 

There’s a slight distinction between é and “A”, however considering of it this fashion ought to get most English audio system off to an excellent begin. Its use additionally extends to verb kinds, because the é  is the ending for normal -ER verbs up to now tense like parler (to talk) donner (to offer), and habiter (to reside/reside). Be aware: the letters in parentheses point out the female endings of adjectives.

French English
une allée a path, aisle, or walkway.
le café the espresso
défait(e) defeated 
donné(e) gave/given (previous participle of “to offer”)
éternel(le) everlasting
la journée the day (within the sense of the size of a day)
le marché the market
se méfier to be suspicious of
le passé the previous
la soirée the night (within the sense of size)

3. Circumflex (l’accent circonflexe)

You might need seen the circumflex in your first day of French within the phrase plaît within the phrase s’il vous plaît. The plaît right here is within the third particular person singular (il/elle/on) conjugation of the verb plaire (to please).

At instances the circumflex serves the needs of marking the place an “S” as soon as stood in outdated French. Phrases like “être” (to be), and “l’hôpital” (hospital) as soon as had an “S” after the vowel with the circumflex, thus being pronounced like “estre” and “l’hospital.” It could actually additionally point out the place the letter Omega (ω) as soon as stood in its Greek phrase of origin, as within the phrase un diplôme (a diploma) which comes from the Greek “δίπλωμα” (theeploma).

French audio system now both pronounce the vowel as they’d usually, or barely elongate its sound, as is the case for phrases like l’hâte (haste, hurry) or mûr (ripe). In sure phrases although it tells us to shorten and intensify the vowel sound, corresponding to with être (to be), un forêt (a forest), and l’intérêt (an curiosity).

Be aware: The presence or absence of those accent marks illustrates the purpose touched on earlier about how accent marks can change the that means of a phrase altogether, such is the case right here with mûr (ripe) and un mur (a wall). The identical applies to the distinction between une tâche (a activity) and une tache (a stain).

French English
un ancêtre an ancestor
un château a citadel or château
le côte the coast
coûter to value
un forêt a forest
un mâchoir a jaw
mâchonner to chew
les pâtes pasta
rôtir to roast
une tâche a activity

4. Grave accent (l’accent grave)

The grave accent serves two functions:

  • To change the sound of the letter “E” in an effort to produce a brief “ai”  sound just like the phrase “air”.
  • To tell apart the that means (NOT the pronunciation) of homophones (phrases that sound the identical). For instance, “la” (particular, female, singular article) and “” (there). Equally, ou (or) and(the place).

Exterior of those makes use of the grave accent has no change in sound. For instance, when utilized to  the phrase déjà (already), the sound of the letter à doesn’t change.

French English
à to, at, in
déjà already
dernière final ( earlier or last in succession, female type of adj.)
l’ère period
une espèce a species, form, sort
un frère a brother
une grève a strike (e.g. employee’s strike)
une lèvre a lip
une pièce a play, a room, a chunk/half, or a coin
très  very

5. Trema (l’accent tréma)

The trema has a really easy operate, particularly to differentiate a given vowel sound from those who encompass it. Although not as frequent because the earlier classes of accents, it’s crucial for proper pronunciation. For instance, the phrase maïs tells us to pronounce the letter “I” individually from the letter “A” with the identical shut “I” sound discovered within the phrase marine in English. We pronounce it as we might within the alphabet, in order that maïs feels like “ma-ees.” That is what distinguishes it from the conjunction mais (no trema over the “I”) that means “however.”

Equally within the phrase “canoë” we pronounce the “E” separate from the “O” sound to say “cano-way.” As at all times, understanding our French grammar guidelines regarding gender settlement of adjectives helps us perceive which type of a phrase to make use of. For instance, in phrases like aiguë the ë not solely adjustments the pronunciation, but in addition signifies the female type of the adjective aigue (acute).

French English
un canoë a canoe
le caraïbe the caribbean
laïc/laïque secular (m./f.)
naïf/naïve naive (m./f.)
le Noël Christmas
maïs corn 
stoïque stoic 

Methods to sort French accent marks

Hopefully you discover studying pronounce the accent marks comparatively straightforward. Nonetheless, one thing that is perhaps tougher is studying use the French AZERTY keyboard. English audio system use the QWERTY one, with QWERTY being the top-most letters from left-right, whereas in France the top-most letters are AZERTY. Studying the French AZERTY keyboard and the corresponding accent marks are crucial for environment friendly typing. 

With the rising significance of typing and texting in at this time’s world, studying the keyboard of various languages is simply as necessary as having the ability to correctly learn and hand write. Simply as we wouldn’t copy and paste all the assorted punctuation marks when texting, writing emails, or typing blogs in English, we likewise wouldn’t achieve this with accent marks in French. In time, you may discover toggling between QWERTY and AZERTY keyboard no totally different than toggling between the 2 languages themselves! 

On the whole, Macs and PCs can have their keyboard settings modified to permit straightforward back-and-forth between totally different keyboards. On some PCs one might need to obtain the keyboard although. Each typically additionally include a visible help for the person to see the place the totally different accent and letter marks are. Alternatively one can use the “Insert” operate on Microsoft Phrase and Google docs, however that is time intensive for the common typer. 

For a “translation” of what keys to sort in your QWERTY keyboard to realize the related accent marks within the AZERTY one, seek the advice of the desk beneath.

é 2
è 7
ç 9
à 0
â, î, ô, ê, û [ + vowel

You’ll probably notice that most of the accent marks are achieved by pressing on the numerical keys (1-0) and might be wondering how to type numbers. For this, it’s as easy as pressing “Shift + number”. So, to type “1” we press “Shift + 1”, “2” is “Shift + 2”, “3” “Shift + 3”, and so on.

When it comes to the trema, it can be a bit more complicated. For some macs using the hotkey of “Option-u + vowel” will work. Similarly, on a PC:  ” + vowel might work. Some computers might require a user to manually set this hotkey themselves. If you aren’t able to access it with your AZERTY keyboard or hot keys, don’t worry. It’s not as common as the other accents so typically one can get by with either long pressing the key until the accent shows up, or by inserting it in a document then copying and pasting. Alternatively, if you have your keyboard settings set to French, auto-correct might do it for you!

Due to the peculiarities of the AZERTY keyboard, it isn’t always the case that accented letters are capitalized. However, it is important to know that the Academie Française proclaims that accented letters must be capitalized (which is one argument for updating or switching keyboards currently). So, though not necessary when typing, keeping this in mind for one’s handwriting is essential for retaining “official French”.


How to type French accents on a Mac

As with PCs, on Mac’s the user can copy/paste or use the “Insert” function on Microsoft Word or Google docs. One can also long press the desired key and choose from the range of accent marks that appear. However, these are not time-saving options for the consistent French language typer. Changing keyboards on a Mac is relatively straight forward. Mostly, one should be able to simply click on “system preferences” from the Launchpad, then “keyboard”, “input sources”, “+”, then one’s choice of French (there are several choices based on the region and purpose of one’s use).

For continental French, it should simply read “French”. You should then see the language with its corresponding flag and abbreviation (“FR” for French) in the task bar. You can click on it to change it, or simply press “CTRL + Spacebar” to toggle between French and the language you’re currently using. After that, it’s “simply” a matter of memorizing the keys! Don’t worry, you’ll be surprised what your muscle memory is capable of with enough practice! 

How to type French accents on a PC

Switching keyboards on a PC might follow a similar path to that of a Mac. If one is using Windows 7 or Vista, on the “Keyboard and Language” tab in the search engine of the “Start Menu”, click “Change language”. Click “add” then choose the suitable version of French then “Ok” in the “Regional and Language options”. You should see “FR” for French in the language taskbar.

For Windows XP click ”Start”, “Run Box”, “Details” on the Language tab, “Add” (under “Installed Services”)  then choose your desired French from the options in “Language Input”, then choose the appropriate keyboard lay out (AZERTY is best if it’s presented as an option). Some PCs or Windows versions may require you to download the keyboard, which is relatively quick and easy. Either way, finding a way to toggle to a AZERTY keyboard is necessary for common communication in a language such as French which demands the use of accent marks.

For other alternatives and further instructions on changing one’s keyboard settings for accent marks, click here.

Master French pronunciation with Rosetta Stone

Accent marks are the keys to unlocking correct pronunciation in French. As you come across new vocabulary, take note of which accent marks are present and if they affect the meaning of certain words! 

If you’re eager to take your French to the next level, Rosetta Stone has immersive, bite-sized lessons that can help you build your French skills on your own schedule. Plus, we can even take your pronunciation a step further with TruAccent, which gives you immediate feedback on how you sound. We have everything you need to get conversation-ready in no time. 

Written by Micah McCauley 

Micah McCauley is a freelance contributor to Rosetta Stone with years of experience teaching French to non-native speakers. His career spans the U.S., France, and China. He is currently a student and associate instructor of French and Francophone Studies. He enjoys composing music, traveling, and learning Spanish in his free time.



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