French/Diactrics

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Unlike English, French use diacritics, usually the acute, the grave, the circumflex, the diaeresis, and the w:cedilla. Diacritics have no effect on the primary alphabetical order.

  • Acute accent or accent aigu over e indicates uniquely the sound /e/.
  • Grave accent or accent grave over a or u used primarily to make two words distinct: à ("to") vs. a ("has"), ou ("or") vs. ("where"). Grave accent over an e, indicates the sound /ɛ/.
  • Circumflex or accent circonflexe over a, e and o indicates the sound /ɑ/, /ɛ/ and /o/, respectively. It also indicates the historical deletion of an adjacent letter (usually an s or a vowel): château < chasteau, fête < feste, sûr < seur, dîner < disner. It has also come to be used to behave like the grave accent: du ("of the") vs. (past participle of devoir "to have to do something (pertaining to an act)"). You can drop the circumflex on i and u, but not always: chaîne becomes chaine but sûr (sure) should not be changed because of sur (on).
  • Diaeresis or tréma over e, i, u or y indicates that a vowel is to be pronounced separately from the preceding one: naïve [naiv], Noël [nɔɛl].
    • The combination of e with diaeresis following o (as in Noël) is nasalized if followed by n: Samoëns [samwɛ̃].
    • The combination of e with diaeresis following a is either pronounced [ɛ] (Raphl, Isrl [aɛ]) or not pronounced, leaving only the a (Stl [a]) and the a is nasalized if is followed by n (Saint-Sns [sɛ̃sɑ̃(s)]).
    • You can move the diaeresis in words containing guë onto the u: aiguë becomes aigüe, ciguë becomes cigüe.
  • Cedilla or cédille under c indicates that it is pronounced /s/ rather than /k/. Thus je lance "I throw" (with c = [s] before e) becomes je lançais "I was throwing" (c would be pronounced [k] before a without the cedilla).