Accent Marks 1

Accent marks are important for three reasons. They deal with: 1) the spelling, 2) the pronunciation, and 3) the meaning of words. Therefore it is of vital importance to learn the accent marks represented in the French language.  There are 5 accent marks in the French language: four placed on the following vowels  a, e, o, u, ,i  and one for the consonant c .

 The accent aigu  ) is placed on E and lets you know to pronounce an e as the english word a (i.e. date). 

Examples : éléphant , Sénégal, étudiant

The accent grave (` ) is placed over an a, e, or u. This particular accent is used to make distinction between words. Observe the following example : ou (or) vs où (where ; also denotes a location or place).

Examples: zèbre, élève ( the grave accent is placed on the second e).

 The accent circonflexe (^) is very flexible and can appear relatively on any vowel.  It is used to  indicate that an s used to follow that vowel and is placed on a, e, e, o, or u.Examples :  forêt, pâté, île, hôtel, flûte 

The tréma (¨) is used normally when two vowels appear next to each other. The trema on the second vowel indicates to pronounce each vowel separately.  Examples :  naïve, Saül, Haïti.

 The cécédille (¸) is only found under a c, indicating to pronounce the c like an s.  When the cécédille is used under a c it alters the hard sound K to a soft C sound.Examples: français,  ça, garçon 

Language note-Accent marks are not placed on capital letters in French. île (Ile), état (Etats-Unis) 

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One Response

  1. Hi,

    Interesting article, however the accents must always be used on capitals. Failure to do so has become commonplace because of the limitations of human input devices starting with the typewriter, invented in countries which do not use accents.
    The accents have a real meaning in French, and sentences without accents slows the reading and cause confusion for the reader. Example :
    LA CHAMBRE DES CONGRES. Is it “la chambre des congrès” (the house of congress), or “la chambre des congres” (the house of eels) ? 🙂
    Another one : IL EST INTERNE DANS UN HOPITAL. Is is “il est interne dans un hôpital” (he is intern in a hospital), or “il est interné dans un hôpital” (he is and inmate in a psychiatric hospital) 🙂

    A few unrelated precisions :
    There is another accented vowel in French : the ÿ. It is very rare however, and only found in proper names.
    The ç is called a c-cédille, and the ¸ is called the cédille.

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