French language lessons: how to use accents

French language lessons: how to use accents

Get to grips with the French language: learn when to use accents and find out how French accents change the pronunciation of French words and how to type them on a keyboard

Acute accent

Accent aigu

Appears only on top of the letter ‘e’ : é.

It changes the pronunciation from ‘uh’ to ‘ay’ as in éléphant, pronounced ay-lay-fon. The lack of an acute accent in ‘semelle’ (sole) means ‘se’ is pronounced ‘suh’.

To type é on a keyboard hold the Alt key and type 0233

Grave accent

Accent grave

Can appear on ‘e’, ‘a’ or ‘u’: è, à, ù.

A grave accent appears over the letter ‘e’ when the following syllable is mute, as in ‘père’ (father), pronounced ‘peh-r’ or ‘près’ (near), pronounced ‘preh’. The accent grave is place over an ‘a’ or a ‘u’ in some words to distinguish them from others that are otherwise spelt the same way but have a different meaning. Example: ‘elle a’ means she has, while ‘à la maison’ means ‘at home’ and ‘où’ means ‘where’, while ‘ou’ means ‘or’.

To type grave accents on a keyboard use the following alt codes: è = Alt 0232; à = Alt 0224; ù = Alt 0249


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Accent circonflexe

Can appear on all vowels except ‘y’: î, â, ê, ô, û

A circumflex is a sign that indicates a spelling change. For example, ‘fête’ and ‘château’ used to be spelt ‘feste’ and ‘chasteau’. It changes the pronunciation when placed above ‘e’, ‘a’ and ‘o’. ‘ê’ is pronounced similarly to ‘è’ while ‘â’ and ‘ô’ are pronounced like the normal letter, just slightly more drawn out. ‘î’ and ‘û’ are pronounced the same. The circumflex is also used to differentiate homophones.

To type circumflex accents on a keyboard use the following alt codes: î = Alt 0238; â = Alt 0226; ê = Alt 0234; ô = Alt 0244; û = Alt 0251



Appears above ‘e’ and ‘i’: ë, ï

It changes the pronunciation of the words as the accented vowel must be pronounced distinctly from the vowel preceding it. For example, ‘canoë’ is pronounced ‘ca-no-eh’ and ‘naïf’ (naive) is pronounced ‘na-ee-f’.

To type diersis accents on a keyboard use these alt codes: ë = Alt 0235; ï = Alt 0239

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