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


No matter your present level, eventually while checking out French you’ve most likely seen letters that look like English ones, just with unknown markings above them (and in some cases listed below them). It might be the é in la télévision (the tv), the â in âge ( age), or the ç in commerçant ( storekeeper).

Beginners might just gloss over these when reading, seeing them as “optional”. There is absolutely nothing optional about accent marks. They assist us comprehend how we ought to pronounce specific letter noises and where we ought to include extra focus! Sometimes, they can even alter the significance of a word.

While it’s appealing to prevent finding out accents, you’ll discover that discovering them together with the fundamentals makes whatever simpler, from composing to finding out brand-new vocabulary. Rosetta Stone can assist you discover accent marks in an enjoyable, interesting environment that increases your retention. Have a look at our unique immersion approach to learning, or jump right into a subscription today!


What are the 5 accent marks?

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

  • l’accent aigu (the severe accent)– Ex: é
  • l’accent tomb ( the tomb 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 essential in French?

French accent marks in some cases work as they carry out in Spanish, positioning focus on a particular syllable of a word. As constantly, there are exceptions! A lot of French accents do more than simply that, or something else completely. Some accent marks in French, like the severe accent, alter the pronunciation of the letter entirely. Others, like the serious accent, just somewhat customize the noise of it. At other times, there is no focus or pronunciation modification whatsoever, as holds true with a few of the uses of the circumflex.

Whatever the function might be, understanding French accent mark guidelines can avoid miscommunication, as the including them might produce words of various significance, such as côte ( coast) and côté (side).

The pronunciation and function of each accent mark differs, and in the areas listed below we will break each of these down. Before continuing however, we need to initially ensure we have a strong grasp of the French alphabet, and have the ability to produce the noises of each letter in it properly. Brush up on that before checking out more!

Understanding French pronunciation

Pronunciation is among the important things that makes French a difficult language to discover, even compared to its Latin peers like Spanish. Significant by different noises distinct just to itself, understanding French pronunciation is among the most significant obstacles for English speakers (and italian and even spanish ones too).

Though the majority of the letters are the exact same, numerous are noticable with a minimum of a minor degree of distinction in between their English equivalents. Thinking of the French “E” like the English one will produce mistakes that restrain one’s capability to interact. The more adjustment of this “E” noise by accent marks just increases the phonetic distinctions in between the 2 languages.

On a favorable note, French accent marks are simple to discover as soon as one has actually attained an understanding of the alphabet. What is more, Rosetta stone’s Alphabet tool is a terrific resource for revitalizing or finding out oneself on the French alphabet, accent marks consisted of. It not just assists students comprehend how letters are noticable in seclusion, however supplies a range of examples to put them into context.

Which letters take accent marks in French?

With the exception of the cédille, just vowels take accent marks. Below is a list of letters that can embrace each accent.

  • l’accent aigu: “E” (é)
  • l’acccent tomb: “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 kinds of French accent marks

Below is a series of tables for each of the 5 accent marks in French with examples.

1. Cedilla (la cédille)

The cedilla’s primary function is to differentiate the fricative “S” noise of the letter “C” from its velar “K” noise. To put it simply, to differentiate the “S” noise in words like “ s ite” from the “K” noise in words like “ k ite”. In French, a “C” can be pronounced like a “K” or like an “S” depending upon the existence of the cedilla. Words with a cedilla are pronounced like an “S”.

So, in words like le mâcon (mâcon, red wine from Burgundy) the “C” is pronounced like a “K”, whereas in words like un maçon (a bricklayer, mason) it is pronounced like an “S”. Words like glaçon ( ice) are pronounced like “gla ss on”, whereas words like laconique ( no cedilla) are noticable as “lakoneek( uh)”.

The cedilla is likewise utilized in the previous participle of specific verbs like the “ conçu” (developed) of concevoir ( to develop). At other times it can be utilized to differentiate an “S” noise from a “K” in conjugated kinds of verbs, such as the very first individual plural conjugation of commencer (to start), commençons[(we) begin] The exact same uses to recevoir (to get) All kinds of recevoir take the cedilla other than for the very first individual plural nous and the 2nd individual plural/formal vous Therefore (je) reçois, ( tu)

reçois, ( il/elle/on)
reçoit, and (ils/elles)
reçoivent all embrace the cedilla to clarify any confusion regarding the right pronunciation of the letter “C”.
French English
ça that
commençons ( we) start
déçu dissatisfied
la façade the front of a structure
la façon a method, design (of doing something)
le français French (language)
un garçon a young boy

une leçon

a lesson provençal provincial reçu got (previous participle) 2. Intense accent (l’accent aigu) The severe accent is utilized to differentiate the normal pronunciation of the letter “E” from the “AY” noise in words like cérémonie The distinction in between the “E” and the é

is heard in words like un celebration ( a celebration) and félicitations (congratulations). This sound looks like the noise of the letter “A” in the English alphabet. This example is simply approximate. There is a minor distinction in between é and “A”, however thinking about it by doing this ought to get most English speakers off to a great start. Its usage likewise reaches verb kinds, as the é is the ending for routine -ER verbs in the previous tense like

parler (to speak)
donner (to offer), and
habiter ( to live/reside). Keep in mind: the letters in parentheses show the womanly endings of adjectives.
French English
une allée a course, sidewalk, or aisle .
le café the coffee
défait( e) beat
donné( e) gave/given (previous participle of “to offer”)
éternel( le) everlasting
la journée the day (in the sense of the length of a day)
le marché the marketplace

se méfier

to be suspicious of le passé the past la soirée the night (in the sense of length) 3. Circumflex (l’accent circonflexe) You may have observed the circumflex on your very first day of French in the word plaît in the expression

s’ il vous plaît The plaît here remains in the 3rd individual particular (il/elle/on) conjugation of the verb plaire ( to please). At times the circumflex satisfies of marking where an “S” as soon as stood in old French. Words like “ être” (to be), and “ l’hôpital” (health center) as soon as had an “S” after the vowel with the circumflex, therefore being pronounced like “ es tre” and “l’ h os pital.” It can likewise show where the letter Omega (ω) as soon as stood in its Greek word of origin, as in the word un diplôme ( a diploma) which originates from the Greek “δίπλ

ω μα” ( theepl o ma). French speakers now either pronounce the vowel as they would typically, or somewhat lengthen its noise, as holds true for words like l’hâte ( rush, rush) or mûr ( ripe). In specific words though it informs us to emphasize the vowel and reduce noise, such as with

être ( to be), un forêt ( a forest), and l’intérêt ( an interest). Note: The existence or lack of these accent marks shows the point discussed earlier about how accent marks can alter the significance of a word entirely, such holds true here with mûr (ripe) and un mur

( a wall). The exact same uses to the distinction in between
une tâche (a job) and
une tache (a stain).
French English
un ancêtre a forefather
un château a castle or château
le côte the coast
coûter to cost
un forêt a forest
un mâchoir a jaw
mâchonner to chew

les pâtes


  • rôtir to roast une tâche a job 4. Tomb accent (l’accent tomb) The serious accent serves 2 functions:
  • To customize the noise of the letter “E” in order to produce a brief “ ai” noise comparable to the word “ ai r“. To differentiate the significance (NOT the pronunciation) of homophones (words that sound the exact same). “ la” (certain, womanly, particular short article) and “

    ” (there). ou
    (or) and
    ( where). Outside of these utilizes the serious accent has no modification in noise. When used to the word
    déjà ( currently), the noise of the letter
    à does not alter.
    French English
    à to, at, in


    currently dernière last (last or previous in succession, womanly type of adj.) l’ère age une espèce a types, kind, type un frère a bro une grève a strike (e.g. employee’s strike) une lèvre a lip une pièce

    a play, a space, a piece/part, or a coin très extremely 5. Trema (l’accent tréma) The trema has a really simple function, particularly to differentiate an offered vowel noise from those that surround it. Not as typical as the previous classifications of accents, it is essential for right pronunciation. The word maïs informs us to pronounce the letter “I” individually from the letter “A” with the exact same close “I” sound discovered in the word mar i ne in English. We pronounce it as we would in the alphabet, so that maïs seems like “ ma-ees. ” This is what identifies it from the combination mais ( no trema over the “I”) suggesting “however.” Similarly in the word “


    ” we pronounce the “E” different from the “O” noise to state “cano-way.” As constantly, understanding our French grammar guidelines worrying gender arrangement of adjectives assists us comprehend which type of a word to utilize. In words like aiguë the ë not just alters the pronunciation, however likewise shows the womanly type of the adjective aigue ( severe). French English [ + vowel ù

    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.

un canoë(*) a canoe(*) le caraïbe(*) the caribbean(*) laïc/ laïque(*) nonreligious (m./ f.)(*) naïf/ naïve(*) ignorant (m./ f.)(*) le Noël(*) Christmas(*) maïs(*) corn (*) stoïque(*) stoic (*) How to type French accent marks(*) Hopefully you discover discovering how to pronounce the accent marks reasonably simple. Something that may be more difficult is finding out how to utilize the French AZERTY keyboard. English speakers utilize the QWERTY one, with QWERTY being the top-most letters from left-right, whereas in France the top-most letters are AZERTY. Discovering the French AZERTY keyboard and the matching accent marks are essential for effective typing. (*) With the growing value of typing and texting in today’s world, finding out the keyboard of various languages is simply as essential as having the ability to effectively hand and check out compose. Simply as we would not paste and copy all the different punctuation marks when texting, composing e-mails, or typing blog sites in English, we also would not do so with accent marks in French. In time, you may discover toggling in between QWERTY and AZERTY keyboard no various than toggling in between the 2 languages themselves! (*) In basic, Macs and PCs can have their keyboard settings altered to permit simple back-and-forth in between various keyboards. On some PCs one may have to download the keyboard. Both usually likewise included a visual help for the user to see where the various accent and letter marks are. One can utilize the “Insert” function on Microsoft Word and Google docs, however this is time extensive for the routine typer.(*) For a “translation” of what secrets to key in your QWERTY keyboard to attain the appropriate accent marks in the AZERTY one, seek advice from the table listed below.(*) AZERTY(*) QWERTY(*) é(*) 2(*) è(*) 7(*) ç(*) 9(*) à(*) 0(*) â, î, ô, ê, û(*)


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