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Accent Marks In French

Lesson Dec 30, 2022

English speakers who are learning French for the first time often get confused as to the function of French accent marks( little marks appearing over or under some letters in French).

Although English and French have the same letters, accent marks are conspicuously missing in English. This accounts for the difficulty beginners experience in trying to pronounce words with accents.

What then are accents marks and what purpose do they serve?

Accent marks are known in French as ‘les accents’ and they function as a guide to how certain letters are pronounced.

French has 5 accents marks and they are:

  1. (’) L’accent aigu, found only over an e (é)
  2. (`) L’accent grave, can be found over an e, a or u (è, à, ù).
  3. (^) L’accent circonflexe, can be found over every vowel except y (â, ê, î, ô, û).
  4. (,) Le cédille, only found under a c (ç)
  5. (••)Le tréma, can appear over an e or i (ë, ï ).

Now that we know what accent marks are in French, let's examine them one after the other.

The acute accent (L’accent aigu)

The acute accent tells you to pronounce an e as though it's an A. Similar to the ‘a’ in the English word late.



pronounce this word as though what you are seeing is ‘a-la-phan’


Pronounce étable as though what you see is ‘a-tarble’.

The grave accent(L’accent grave)

The grave accent over an e

It tells you to pronounce an e similar to the e in the English word jet.


Près, Zèbre, après.

The grave accent over an a or u

The accent grave over an a or u, doesn't change the sound of the letter.

It may serve to differentiate between two words with similar spellings but different meanings.


  1. La and

La (the).


  1. Ou (or) and où (where).

The circumflex (L'accent circonflexe)

(^)The accent circonflexe can appear over any vowel and does not change the sound of the letter.


Forêt (forest), île(island), pâte(batter), hôtel(hotel), mûr(ripe), drôle(funny).

Just like an accent grave, the accent circonflexe can also be used to differentiate between two similar words with different meanings.


  1. Sur and sûr

In English, sur means on while sûr means sure/certain.

  1. Mur (wall) and mûr (ripe).

The cedilla (Le cédille)

The cédille tells you to pronounce a c like an S.


Français (French).

Français would sound more like fransè instead of frankè.

Garçon (Boy)

The trema (Le tréma)

When two vowels appear next to each other, a tréma over the second one tells you to pronounce each vowel separately.


Haïti (Haiti)

Noël (Christmas)

Maïs (Corn)

Please note that none of the pronunciation is official. It's only meant as a guide.



I write about English and French, how to apply them professionally and in social encounters.