The French spelling war

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The French spelling war - there is no end in sight:

The French spelling changes, instigated in 1990, has created a spelling war of " tradition spelling " vs. " rectifications ". The " rectifications " being to move towards greater uniformity of spelling to reflect current pronunciation of french language and ease of learning acquisition by all who learn french - for both native speakers and foreigners.

This was commenced by L'Académie française which is a government body and France's official authority on the usages, vocabulary, and grammar of the French language. In 1990 it tabled insightful changes to french spelling, known as : " rectifications orthographiques " Those "rectifications", instead of changing individual spellings, published general spelling rules which affected the spelling of approximately 2000 words, and this has changed the evolution of the French language. Even after almost a quarter of century since its introduction it still causes great derision among many french speakers.

As at 2015, in France the old and new spelling are still officially both valid in official examinations, and there is still a substantial body of french speakers who resist spelling changes - thus making the learning, adaption and inclusion of communications in french a greater barrier, and impeding the potential expansion of the influence of french - not just for native speakers learning french, but also for those who learn this language from another primary language.

But it is necessary for learners of the french language to know about these changes, and the underlying disputes about spelling that can occur - to enable them to make sense of contradictory information and spelling they may come across.

In my learning I choose to embrace the official standardization of spelling rules - so as to assist the speed of my learning journey. I appreciate the simplicity, uniformity and assistance with pronunciation these changes provide. For me, the goal is to learn how to communicate as quickly and effectively as possible.

Primary References :
- wikipedia Spelling reform
- wikipedia Académie française
- wikipedia history of reforms over the centuries
- wikipedia French orghography
- wikipedia appendix
- blog on french spelling buried

Other discussions about this topic in Duolingo:
- CoiledSpring on the reforms
- S'il te plaît ou S'il te plait?

Brief summary of the more major changes by CoiledSpring :

  • Compound numbers always have an hyphen (quarante et un becomes quarante-et-un)
  • Compound words' plurals are way easier. Now it's the last word which takes the plural's mark when the first is a verb or a preposition (un après-midi, which was pluralized as des après-midi before, becomes des après-midis, un chasse-neige, which pluralized as des chasse-neige, becomes des chasse-neiges)
  • The acute is replaced by a grave accent, according to the pronunciation (événement, which is pronounced évènement, is now written évènement)
  • The circumflex is removed from all u et i (except in the historical past, subjonctive, and in case of homonym). For example, coût becomes cout, s'il vous plaît becomes s'il vous plait, s'entraîner becomes s'entrainer, dîner becomes diner, etc …
  • Borrowed words are accented according to the French rules, and are pluralized according to the French rules too (sandwiches becomes sandwichs, revolver becomes révolver)
May 4, 2014


Learning to speak French is a grueling trial and test of your will, and yet Duolingo manages to make it kinda fun. This is amazing, thanks Duolingo people

May 4, 2014

I am with you Dovmiester ! Thanks Douolingo people - for creating such an engaging environment. And thank you also for allowing us to have communications with others - as this also engages me, and encourages me to refine and develop my thoughts. It helps answer questions I have, and also at times makes me smile :)

May 5, 2014

Very interesting.

Evolution of language occurs with all languages, I guess. For example the use of US English within the UK. At Uni we had a good discussion/argument about whether or not "color" was now an accepted way of spelling that word (UK English = colour). That was a Software Engineering class! Well, it was supposed to be :)

I asked my final year project supervisor (a lady from the USA), whether or not US English would be allowed in the project work. She said it would be, but UK English would be preferred.

I only asked because I seem to be exposed to a LOT of work (text books) that are written in US English, and quite often find that I have used the US English spelling rather than the UK :)

Anyway, thanks for posting that. A very interesting read :D

May 4, 2014

PS Evolution of language occurs with all languages,

The French changes weren't evolution, they were intelligent design :)

May 4, 2014

Ha ha. The Evolution - Intelligent Design (Half-way House) and Creationism, raises it's head on DL! lol. I think I know which I believe in, but am not telling. lol

May 5, 2014

hee hee ;)

May 5, 2014

At Uni we had a good discussion/argument about whether or not "color" was now an accepted way of spelling that word (UK English = colour).

Within programme code or CSS etc 'color' is fine. In all other contexts the rest of us English people reserve the right to point an laugh ;)

May 4, 2014

lol, very good :) I'll remember that :)

May 5, 2014

And thank you for commenting. I like to know that things I put up here are of use to someone else besides myself. I do these postings to help focus my learning journey. Otherwise I would not attempt to create such a succinct piece (for me) of writing. If I can find a source on the internet that I can point to that does this - then that is what I will do. But when I can't find that source - I am trying to create a scaffold for my benefit - and hopefully for others as well. My current endevour is to crack the rules and patterns of french verbs. This is forming a thread of this discovery I am on. You can check this out at Verbs ~er group

May 4, 2014

PS. I have posted this here - as this is also a key subject I had to research (which has taken me many hours - over days) - as I tried to understand many of the discrepancies I was coming across. For me I had to make sense of these discrepancies so that I could proceed with my learning journey. And I felt that there may be others like me - who need to know this - so that they to can move on with their learning journey. So I am hoping my 'executive summary' may be of use also to others.

May 4, 2014

I'd like to add that it's not only the people who are reluctant to the reforms who are the problem (because, let's be honest, there aren't that many people standing up for the exclusive use of the old orthography). The greater problem is that many people in France don't know about the reform and will correct you when you write « gateau », « s'il vous plait », or « cout ».

It isn't a big problem when you can correct the person by telling them about the reform. It is when you can't, though. For example, when you write a letter with the new orthography to a person who only knows the old one, because they've used it all their lives, it could be a problem (if you're writing a letter for a job, you could be prejudiced).

That's why the New Orthography needs to be known, and why I think using it for the Duolingo course would be beneficial, as it would, in my humble opinion, help the reform to gain recognition.

October 4, 2015

I agree with you, and in my experience with duolingo - they also agree with you about accepting the reforms. I am not a moderator, but an extensive user. However with something as huge as duolingo is, that is constantly being extended and modified - errors do occur.
SO, I would encourage anyone who picks up errors like this - to put in a report. I know these are chased up, and corrections made.

October 4, 2015

I was taught by a man who still prefers paye to paie. Talk about old spelling! Also, circumflex is highly useful to an English speaker, as it means, "we used to have an 's' here". So foret = forest. Easy :) It does make sense that the French wouldn't change quickly to the new version while the Belgians would. Insert stereotypes here.

May 6, 2014

*Circonflexe (and I only note this because we don't use a circumflex in the English language, even though this may indeed be the English translation for Circonflexe. Therefore, it may be preferable to use the French version when talking about French grammar).

May 6, 2014

I prefer to stay in one language when I write/talk. Otherwise they start to get muddled in my brain :)

May 7, 2014

you know that actually i dont undderstand your comment

May 4, 2014
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