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French Accent Marks Explained With Examples

Renuka Savant Apr 20, 2019
Those learning the French language are sure to know that each of the five accent marks serves a specific purpose. We'll be learning all about accent marks in French, mainly their names, uses, and pronunciation.

French is full of exceptions, mes amis!

Learners of the language will be familiar with the rule that all consonants appearing at the end of a word are pronounced in a soft, almost inaudible manner. An exception is usually made whenever an accent is placed on the last alphabet.
As a second language, French pronunciations can seem a bit of a task to comprehend, especially for native English speakers. French orthography is not for the weak-hearted and the low-spirited, since it is overwhelmingly replete with homophones and silent letters. Within these rules lie a multitude of exceptions, further complicating the situation.
However, help is at hand with diacritic marks and accents―learn these well, and you'll notice a considerable ease in getting most French pronunciations right.

French Accent Marks and Diacritics

There are five accent marks and diacritics in French―four of these, aigu, grave, circonflex, and tréma  are used with vowels, while cédille  is used only with the alphabet, 'c'.

L'accent aigu

The acute accent

The aigu  accent resembles the slant of an acute angle. In French, this accent appears only on the letter 'e'. The letter 'e' in French is pronounced, 'uh', as in 'a chair' in English. The acute accent appearing over an 'e' lends it an 'ay' sound, as in 'hay' in English.

Marché  or 'market' is pronounced mar-shay
Rosé, the wine is pronounced ro-say
Cliché, a word imported into English, is pronounced klee-shay
Téléphone  is pronounced tay-lay-fon. In the absence of the acute accent, the French pronunciation would have been tuh-luh-fon.
In modern French, when the acute accent é appears at the beginning of a word, it is to indicate that a consonant, usually an 's' used to follow it.


● The verb, 'écouter', (ay-kou-tay ) which means 'to hear', was originally spelled escouter
● The noun 'étudient' (ay-tyu-di-en ), meaning 'student' was written estudient


Windows users:

Macintosh OS:
Option key+e


L'accent grave

The grave accent

The grave accent is found atop three letters in French―'a', 'e', and 'u'. Its placement on 'a' and 'u' accords no change in pronunciation, but serves as a distinguishing feature among homonyms.


Ou  means 'or', whereas où means 'where'. Both are pronounced 'oou'.
● Feminine definite article, la, and the adverb meaning 'there'.
The pronunciation is altered when the grave accent is placed on the letter 'e'.


Mère, meaning 'mother' is pronounced meh-r
Cinquième, meaning 'fifth' is pronounced san-ki-ehm
Crème brûlée, the French dessert, also known as burnt cream, is pronounced krehm bruh-lay


The grave accent key is present on most keyboards. Users of Windows can directly use the ` key. Users of Macintosh OS can press the option key along with ` key.
À - À
à - à
È - È
è - è
Ù - Ù
ù - ù

À - U+00C0
à - U+00E0
È - U+00C8
è - U+00E8
Ù - U+00D9
ù - U+00F9

Le tréma

The diaeresis

The tréma appears in the form of two dots above the letters 'e', 'i', 'u', and rarely if ever, on 'y' (old French). The accent is placed on the second of two consecutive vowels, indicating that both must be pronounced independently.

Naïve is pronounced na-ee-v
● Christmas is known as Noël  in French, pronounced nu-ell


Ë - Alt+0203
ë - Alt+0235
Ï - Alt+0207
ï - Alt+0239
Ü - Alt+0220
ü - Alt+0252

Macintosh OS
Ë - Ë
ë - ë
Ï - Ï
ï - ï
Ü - Ü
ü - ü

Ë - U+00CB
ë - U+00EB
Ï - U+00CF
ï - U+00EF
Ü - U+00DC
ü - U+00FC

La cédille

The cedilla

In French, the cedilla appears as a tiny curve below the letter 'c'. The accent is used with the purpose of lending a soft 's' sound instead of a harsh 'k' sound. The c cedilla softens the hard 'k' sound to 's' when used before the vowels 'a', 'o' or 'u'.
It is never used on a 'c' before vowels, 'e', 'I' or 'y', since these vowels invariably produce a soft 's' sound.


Française  or 'French' is pronounced fro-sez,  with a soft, nasal 'o'
Garçon  means 'boy', is pronounced gar-so,  with a soft, nasal 'o'.


Windows OS
Alt+0199 and Alt+0231 for upper and lower case

Macintosh OS

Ç - Ç
ç - ç

Ç - U+00C7
ç - U+00E7

Le circonflexe

The circumflex

The circumflex can appear over any vowel, indicating that an 's' used to be a part of the word. It has no bearing on the pronunciation, but is an important part of written French.


Fête  used to be 'feste', pronounced fet
Hôpital  used to be 'hospital', pronounced o-pi-tal
Île  used to be 'isle', pronounced ee-l


 - Alt+0194
â - Alt+0194
Ê - Alt+0202
ê - Alt+0234
Î - Alt+0206
î - Alt+0238
Ô - Alt+0212
ô - Alt+0244
Û - Alt+0219
û - Alt+0251

Macintosh OS
 - Â
â - â
Ê - Ê
ê - ê
Î - Î
î - î
Ô - Ô
ô - ô
Û - Û
û - û
 - U+00C2
â - U+00E2
Ê - U+00CA
ê - U+00EA
Î - U+00CE
î - U+00EE
Ô - U+00D4
ô - U+00F4
Û - U+00DB
û - U+00FB