French accent guide (detailed!)

so I've seen many sites where this stuff is covered but a lot of them just explain it like é is pronounced like "ay" (/e/) and è is pronounced like "eh" (/ɛ/) but to me at least that was never really helpful

well I tried putting together some rules when to use which one

and you don't actually need to know the difference between /e/ and /ɛ/ to get it right, the only difference you need to know is /e/ and /ə/ (and mute e)



  • in words that end in ès where e is not mute and s isn't added to indicate plural/* (après, progrès)
    compare congres /kɔ̃ɡʁ/ and congrès /kɔ̃.ɡʁɛ/

  • to distinguish dès (since) from des (of the) and lès (next to) from les (the)

  • when e is followed by _ and mute e, where _ is:
    a consonant other than x (mère, pièces, ils lèvent)
    gu, qu (collègue, chèques)
    2 different consonants of which the second one is l or r (règle, chèvres)
    2 consonants which are pronounced as 1 sound (sèche, règne)

exceptions: médecin, médecine (they have é instead of è although it is followed by a mute e)

in some cases such as cèleri or evènement it is possible to use both è (new spelling) and é (old spelling),

è can also be found in inversed question word order with je pronoun (this can also be é if you use old spelling)



  • at the end of more than 1 syllable words where e is not mute
    compare sale /sal/ and salé /sa.le/

it can be followed by e, s, es, or ent; if it is followed by s it indicates that it's plural (otherwise it would be è)

  • at the end of 1 syllable words when it is pronounced e and not ə (for example thé /te/ would be pronounced like /tə/ if there was no é, compare dé /de/ (dice) and de /də/ (of))

it can be followed by e, s, es, or ent; if it is followed by s it indicates that it's plural (otherwise it would be è)

  • in the beginning and middle of words when it’s pronounced like /e/ and not /ə/ AND it is followed by:
    a vowel (néanmois, théorie)
    a consonant (except x) and a vowel* (résumé, caméra)
    2 different consonants and a vowel* and the second consonant is l or r (métro, église)
    2 consonants that are pronounced as 1 and a vowel* (échelle, éléphant, régner)

*except mute e

there are some exceptions for words of foreign origin like revolver or pizzeria where there is no é according to old spelling but according to new spelling an accent is placed: révolver, pizzéria

another interesting way of finding out whether it should be e, é or è by breaking the word to syllables

no accent is used before x, a double consonant, 2 consonants which are not pronounced like 1 sound (except if the second consonant is l or r), or 3 consonants
examples: exercice, intéressant, technique

but if it's a compound word (like téléspectateur) or there is a prefix like dé- or pré- (déstabiliser) then you can use é before 2 consonants

no accent is used when e is pronounced like /ə/ (e.g. petit)
(note: /ə/ is often pronounced like /ø/)


used after vowels when e needs to be pronounced separately from the other vowel (for example Noël would be pronounced with 1 syllable (/nœl/) if there was no ë, but with ë it’s pronounced like /no.el/)

in traditional orthography ë is also written in guë combinations where it is needed to pronounce the u (but ë is actually not pronounced there)
example: aiguë / would be pronounced like /ɛg/ if there was no ë (new spelling: aigüe)


used after vowels when i needs to be pronounced separately from the other vowel (either as i or j)
compare maïs / and mais /mɛ/ or aie /ɛ/ and aïe /aj/

in guï combinations (old spelling) when it needs to be pronounced /gɥi/ and not /gi/
example: ambiguïté (new spelling: ambigüité)


used in güe and güi combinations when u needs to be pronounced
compare: aigüe / aigue /ɛg/ (old spelling: aiguë)

used after vowels when u needs to be pronounced, for example gageüre – the ü makes it clear that it’s pronounced /ɡa.ʒyʁ/ and not /ga.jœʁ/ (old spelling: gageure)


used to distinguish à (to) from a (has), là (there) from la (the), and çà (here) from ça (that), also used in words like déjà and voilà

doesn’t affect the pronunciation


used in the word où (where) to distinguish it from ou (or)

doesn’t affect the pronunciation

Circumflexes (Â, Ê, Î, Ô, Û)

for these there aren’t any general rules but some can still be formed:

  • a circumflex is used when there used to be an s in some old spelling of the word (forêt-forest, hôtel-hostel)

  • ô is used in le(s) nôtre(s) and le(s) vôtre(s) (ours, yours) to distinguish them from notre and votre (our, your)

  • û is used in sûr (sure) to distinguish from sur (on), mûr (mature) from mur (wall), dû (past participle of devoir) from du (de+le), and jeune (young) from jeûne (fasting)

  • î is used in verb endings like –aître and –oître and when conjugated if i is followed by t (il connaît, il croît), also plaire (il plaît)

  • when conjugating verbs, a circumflex is found in simple past forms for nous and vous (nous mangeâmes, vous mangeâtes), as well as in imperfect subjunctive form for il (qu’il mangeât)

according to the new rules, circumflexes on î and û are not needed anymore (so for example you can write chaîne as chaine) except:

  • when it’s needed to distinguish 2 words (like du and dû)

  • in proper nouns (Nîmes) and words derived from proper nouns (nîmois)

  • in simple past and imperfect subjunctive verb conjugations mentioned above

the circumflex accent can also “overwrite” è or é, for example fenêtre could have been written as fenètre if ê didn’t exist

the circumflexes usually don't affect the pronunciation but in some cases they might: jeune is pronounced like /ʒœn/ and jeûne like /ʒøn/ (though many people pronounce them the same way)

Ç - -

this one is very easy: you use it when c before a, o, and u needs to be pronounced as /s/ (otherwise it would be pronounced as /k/)
ca /ka/ -
ça /sa/

September 5, 2017


This is why I am a big fan of Duolingo, people helping each other in what is an extremely difficult task learning a foreign language.

I very much appreciate the wide variety of posts

September 5, 2017

You. Are. The. BEST! Thank you so much!

September 5, 2017

'Dé' is 'die'; 'dice' is 'dés'.

< /pendantry >

September 5, 2017

dice can also be singular

September 5, 2017

OED says, of 'dice': '(properly pl.): see die n.'
And I trust the OED over Wikipedia any day...

Very useful and most appreciated post, however, I should add. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

September 5, 2017

well OED is the source for that

Historically, dice is the plural of die, but in modern standard English dice is both the singular and the plural: throw the dice could mean a reference to either one or more than one dice

In modern standard English, the singular die (rather than dice) is uncommon. Dice is used for both the singular and the plural

September 5, 2017


September 5, 2017

Very helpful, thank you!

September 5, 2017

Very good.

September 6, 2017
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