What is the difference between the accents?

Examples: à and á or ô

May 10, 2012


The circonflex typically appears on the vowel before a dropped 's'. l'hostel became l'hôtel, l'hospital became l'hôpital, etc

June 21, 2012

You are supposed to make vowels with "^" slightly longer and more open : pâte vs patte, dû vs du, fête vs faite, vôtre vs votre. But this distinction is less and less heard in official pronunciation and almost never taught in class.

June 12, 2012

The acute accent (l'accent aigu) goes above the letter e to change its pronunciation to something like "ay", like in café.

The grave accent (accent grave) goes above the letter e to change its pronunciation to something like "eh", like in crème.

If there is no accent, the pronunciation of "e" alone is either "uh", like in "le", "revoir", or silent (in most varieties of French), like in "mange", "parle".

The grave accent above a letter "a" (à) doesn't change its pronunciation, but distinguishes from "a"="has". It also goes above the letter u in "où = where" (this is the only word in French with an ù) to distinguish it from "ou = or".

The circumflex accent (l'accent circonflexe), or "the hat", can go above any vowel, and has a similar function to à and ù in that it doesn't usually change the pronunciation drastically, but it distinguishes words apart which are otherwise spelled the same: mur = wall, but mûr = ripe. Sometimes, the circumflex accent simply goes on a letter for historical reasons "hôpital", "même", "fenêtre" etc., which are too lengthy to explain here: Google is your friend :)

In short, sometimes you can hear which way the accent leans (on an e), but sometimes you simply have to memorize how a word is spelled!

PS: á doesn't exist in French

May 11, 2012

Also, the hat symbol ("ô") is used to show where an "s" used to be but was removed. (like how thee was removed from english)

January 19, 2013

Like how hôpital used to be hospital!

December 20, 2013

Excellent response! I would like to add a little something on the historical root of the words. The circumflex or "hat" appears to be used when the word in its root origin had an S after the vowel with said accent. E.g. Hôpital (hospital), "même" ("miSmo" in Spanish), fenêtre ("fineStra" in Italian), pâte (paSta).

November 25, 2013

I notice you forgot the most tricky accent in french: the Trema " ¨ " which can only be placed on " ë ", " ü " and " ï " (sometimes on " ÿ " but don't bother with this one, you only find it on francized names (places, last name ...)). The trema is rarely used in the language but you find it in some fairly used word like "Noël/Christmas" or "Maïs/Maize". It is most of the time used with two consecutive vowels which usually form a diphthong in french "oi/wa, œ..." but with the adding of the " ¨ " on the second vowel (always the second one) you break this diphthong in two dinstinct sounds : Noël is pronounced "No/èl or No/ayl"... I don't want to discourage anyone from learning french (I, myself, had to because that's my native language) but this peculiar accent is still the terror of any french pupils or any french learners. Good luck I, myself, have been struggling with the learning of the english language for almost 20 years !

September 27, 2012

You have struggled very well with learning English. From your writing I can tell you speak and write the language better than many people who were born in this country. I only hope, after study, that I can honor your language in the same manner.

January 20, 2013

If chinesse children learn to write chinesse, we surely can learn french! haha

December 31, 2012


January 19, 2013

Come and learn Chinese,it's relatively easy when you just want to speak,but not to write it

May 6, 2013


September 27, 2013

Contrary to how most people feel about the language and its difficulty, I've been studying Chinese in college and it's become the easiest language I've ever learned, both writing and speaking it (hearing can still be pretty difficult). But I encourage more people to find somewhere they can learn the language.

December 15, 2013

Mind if I ask which system were you learning? Traditional or Simplified writing?

December 16, 2013

The class I'm taking teaches only Simplified.

December 16, 2013

Je suis un chinois ! :)

June 24, 2013


July 25, 2013

The Edit button is your friend.

June 12, 2019

you have written better english than the natives themselves!

March 23, 2013

Good explanation. Yeah, the trema indicates a second syllable.

March 30, 2013

It used to do that in English, too. Does anyone remember the word "coöperate?" I don't know when we stopped using it; perhaps with the advent of word processors that didn't have a way to make it.

April 12, 2013

I am an American, born and raised here. I've never heard of this and I have a very old dictionary.

September 27, 2013

Yeah, us 'Mericans don't "Coöperate" unless it's in Call of Duty (datuhkrjuhbs)

December 7, 2013

The New Yorker still specifies dieresis—not Jakob Grimm's umlaut—in their style sheet.

Europeans using hyphens soon ran into the guffaw-inducing Cupertino Effect.

June 12, 2019

Thanks a lot for the explanations! :)

May 25, 2012

Merci beaucoup! That was really good explanation! I am really motivated learning french.

July 23, 2012

I learnt Merci beaucoup from you! Merci beaucoup!

June 24, 2013

Also, the "ç", personally i would like to see this in english. It makes the c sound like a s. for example, garçon, or ça. a c without the cedilla sounds like a "k". it is also the hardest accent to write if you are using pen and paper, many french teachers say to draw a little "5" under the c to make the cedilla.

January 29, 2014

Thank you so much, excellent information on accents!

August 19, 2013
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