French accent marks - Purpose and Pronunciation
French accent marks
There are four types of French accent marks.
Some of them have an impact on the pronunciation. Others only have a grammatical role.
Discover all there is to know about the French accents!
Table of content
The acute accent é
Let’s start with l’accent aigu (acute accent): é.
This French accent mark has a phonetic purpose only, and it can only be added to the vowel e.
The letter é is pronounced as in the English word (may), but without pronouncing the second part of the vowel sound, associated to the letter y. Here is an example:
The grave accent: à, è and ù
You may find l’accent grave (grave accent) on the vowels a, e and
On the letter e, it has an impact on the pronunciation: pronounce the accentuated vowel è as in the English word (bed). Here is an example:
It has no impact on the pronunciation.
The circumflex: â, ê, î, ô and û
L’accent circonflexe (circumflex) changes the pronunciation of the letter e.
Pronounce ê as in the English word (bed). For example:
Sometimes, the accentuated letters are a little longer, but even the native speakers don’t always make the distinction. Therefore, don’t bother too much with that.
For the most perfectionists, here is an example to illustrate this:
The diaeresis: ä, ë, ï, ü
Le tréma (diaeresis) is used to indicate that two vowels must be pronounced separately.
In French, some letters form a combination (a unique sound).
Therefore, when we want to pronounce two letters separately, we sometimes have to add a diaeresis, in order to “break” the combination.
Here is an example with the combination of letters ai:
How to pronounce the French accent marks: summary
Let’s recap what we’ve learned in this article:
1. The Acute Accent Mark
The acute accent can only be added to the vowel e.
é is pronounced as in the English word (may).
2. The Grave Accent Mark
The grave accent may be used with the letters a, e and
è is pronounced as in the English word (bed).
However, à and ù are pronounced the same as a and u.
3. The Circumflex
A circumflex can be added to any vowel (except y).
ê is pronounced the same as è, like in the English word (bed).
On the letters a, i, o and u, the circumflex has none or a very small impact on the pronunciation.
4. The Diaeresis
The diaeresis is used on the vowels a, e,
i and u.
A diaeresis is used to “break” a vowel cluster, so that each letter can be pronounced separately.
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