There are 5 French accents:
- the cédille Ç,
- the accent aigu é,
- the accent circonflexe â, ê, î, ô, û,
- the accent grave à, è, ù
- and the accent tréma ë, ï, ü.
An important thing to know about pronouncing French words is that the French accent marks can completely change the pronunciation of a word. Luckily, most accent marks don't actually do very much!
The 5 French accents;
- 1 for a consonant
- 4 for vowels
1. The cédille (cedilla) ÇThe cédille is only used on the letter C. It changes a hard "c" sound (like "k") into a soft "c" sound (like "s"). Ç is never used before the vowels e or i, as these 2 vowels always produce a soft "s" sound (glace, ici).
2. The accent aigu (acute accent) éThe accent aigu is only used on the letter e.
3. The accent circonflexe (circumflex) â, ê, î, ô, ûThe accent circonflex indicates that (historically) an "s" used to follow that vowel e.g. écouter and escouter
4. The accent grave (grave accent) à, è, ùWith a and u, the accent grave is used to differentiate some words;
- à "to" versus a "has"
- où "where" versus ou "or"
5. The accent tréma (dieresis/umlaut) ë, ï, üThe accent tréma indicates that the vowel is to be pronounced separately from the one immediately before it.
- Sometimes the French accents are left off capital letters!
- If the correct French accent isn't used then it would be regarded as a spelling mistake!
More on é and èSome French accents do change the pronunciation and need to be learned and practiced. The é and the è are the two most common. Look at the pronunciation guide below and listen and practice.
That's probably enough pronunciation practice for now! Remember the more you listen, the more you'll be able to recognize words as they're spoken.
I would strongly recommend that you check out this lesson on the French alphabet next!
À bientôt !
Marie-Claire Rivière and the Rocket French Team