I’ve often seen my students struggling with French accent marks.
But it’s an impotant part of French language and pronunciation that you can’t skip.
Honestly there is nothing to struggle with if you understand why we need them.
There are five French accents:
- acute accent
- grave accent
- circumflex accent
All of them mean something. So let’s learn their meaning!
Then listen to me and see how they affect the pronunciation
The acute accent – accent aigu – is only used on an -e.
This is then pronounced like et.
Je parle (I speak)
J’ai parlé (I spoke)
The grave accent
The grave accent –accent grave– is used on three vowels: a, e and u.
When this accent is used on a or u, the pronunciation doesn’t change.
It distinguishes from other words which otherwise would look alike.
► To distinguish the conjugated verb a (he/she has) from the preposition à (to/in/at):
- Elle a faim = She is hungry
- Elle est à Paris = She is in Paris
► To distinguish the definite article la (the) from the word là (here/there):
- C’est la journaliste = This is the journalist
- Elle est là = She is here
► To distinguish ou (or) from où (where):
- Lundi ou mardi? = Monday or Tuesday?
- Où est Pierre? = Where is Pierre?
When the grave accent is used on e, the sound è is more open than é.
J’achète (I buy)
J’ai acheté (I bought)
The circumflex accent
The circumflex accent is used on -a, -e, -i, -o and -u.
This accent makes the difference between modern and ancient French language.
These words used to have an -s after the vowel – the -s is often present in English.
un hôpital = a hospital; un hôte = a host …etc
Regarding the pronunciation ê sounds very much like è, while â, î, ô and û sound very much the same as a, i, o and u.
► Note also the difference between du (some) and dû (past participle of devoir: had to, due):
- Il a du pain = He has some bread
- Il a dû partir = He had to leave
The diaeresis is placed on a vowel to indicate that this vowel must be pronounced separately from the previous one:
Anaïs sera là à Noël (Anaïs will be here for Christmas)
The cedilla is used with a c to obtain the sound [s] before a, o or u:
Je suis français (I am French)
Je l’ai reçu (I received it)
Without a cedilla, c followed by a, o or u is pronounced [k] like couper (cut).