French accents are crucial for accurate pronunciation and comprehension. They include the acute (é), grave (è), circumflex (ê), tréma(ë), and cedilla (ç). Each accent changes the sound and meaning of words, aiding in correct pronunciation, clarity, and fluency. Learning the usage of these accents is essential for effective communication in French.

The Five French Accent Marks and Types of French accent marks

1. Accent Aigu (é)

Usage – Found exclusively on the vowel “e”

Effect – The accent aigu ( ´ ) changes the pronunciation of the “e” to a closed sound, similar to the “ay” in “say.”

Where it’s Used:

  • To indicate a specific pronunciation of “e”.
  • Often used to distinguish between homophones.
  • Commonly found in past participles and some noun forms.


– É:

  • Café (coffee) vs. cafe (a café, without the accent, is an accepted anglicism but less correct in French).
  • École (school) where the accent denotes the closed “e” sound.
  • Été (summer) vs. ete (an incorrect spelling without the accent).
  • Passé(past) as in “Il est passé par ici” (He passed by here).

The accent aigu is essential for proper pronunciation and understanding in French. It specifically modifies the sound of the letter “e,” ensuring clarity in communication and distinguishing between words that would otherwise look similar in their unaccented forms.

2. Grave accent (l’accent grave) (à, è, ù)


  • Found on the vowels a,e and u.
  • The accent grave ( ` ) affects pronunciation and meaning.


  • À: Indicates a preposition or the verb form “a” (third person singular of “avoir”) to differentiate from “a” (has).
  • È: Changes the pronunciation of the vowel, making it more open, as in “fête” (celebration).
  • Ù: Rarely used, but can distinguish words in writing, such as “où” (where) from “ou” (or).

Where it’s Used:

  • À: To denote a preposition, typically meaning “to” or “at”.
  • È: To indicate a more open “e” sound in pronunciation.
  • Ù: To differentiate homophones in writing.


  • À:

À (to, at) vs. “a” (has): “Je vais à la plage” (I am going to the beach) vs. “Il a un chien” (He has a dog).

  •  È:

Fête (celebration) vs. “fete” (a variant spelling without the accent, but less common).

Très (very) indicating the open “e” sound.

  • Ù:

Où (where) vs. “ou” (or): “Où est la gare?” (Where is the station?) vs. “Tu veux du thé ou du café?” (Do you want tea or coffee?).

The accent grave is crucial for distinguishing meanings between homophones and ensuring correct pronunciation in French. It highlights subtle differences in vowel sounds and clarifies the meanings of words that would otherwise be confusing in their written form.

3. Accent Circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û)

Usage – Found on all five vowels: a, e, i, o, and u.


  • Indicates a historical letter, often an “s,” that has been dropped from the word.
  • Can slightly alter the pronunciation, often lengthening the vowel sound.

Where it’s Used:

  • To denote historical changes in the language.
  • Sometimes to differentiate homophones.


  •  â:

Hôpital (hospital) – Historically “hospital” with a dropped “s”.

Âge(age) – Highlights the lengthening of the vowel.

  •  ê:

Forêt(forest) – Shows a dropped “s” (historically “forest”).

Être (to be) – Indicates a historical change in spelling.

  •  î:

Île (island) – Historically “isle”.

Maître (master) – Historically “maistre”.

  • ô:

Hôtel (hotel) – Indicates a missing “s” (historically “hostel”).

Côte (coast/rib) – Historically “coste”.

  • û:

Dû(due/owed) – Indicates a historical change.

Sûr(sure) – Historically “sûr”.

The circumflex accent is essential for understanding the historical development of words and ensuring correct pronunciation and meaning in French. It often marks where an “s” was historically present and affects the vowel sound, sometimes lengthening it.

4. Tréma (ë, ï, ü)(l’accent tréma)

Usage: Found on the vowels e, i, and u.

Effect – The accent tréma (¨) indicates that the vowel should be pronounced separately from the one before it, ensuring each vowel in the combination maintains its distinct sound.

Where it’s Used: 

  • To indicate that two consecutive vowels should be pronounced individually.
  • To differentiate homophones.


  • ë:

Noël(Christmas) – Ensures both “o” and “e” are pronounced separately: /no-el/.

Raël (a name) – Pronounced as /ra-el/.

  • ï:

Maïs (corn) – Pronounced /ma-is/, distinguishing it from “mais” (but).

Naïve (naive) – Pronounced /na-iv/, distinguishing it from “naive” without the accent.

  • ü:

Aiguë (sharp, feminine form) – Ensures the “u” is pronounced separately: /e-gy/.

Capharnaüm (chaos, mess) – Pronounced /ka-far-na-um/, ensuring the “a” and “u” are distinct.

The accent tréma is crucial for ensuring that each vowel in a combination is pronounced separately, avoiding the merging of sounds. This accent helps in maintaining the clarity of pronunciation and meaning in French words that include consecutive vowels. 

5. Cédille (ç) (la cédille)

Usage – Found exclusively on the letter “c” before the vowels “a”, “o”, and “u”.

Effect – The cédille (¸) changes the pronunciation of the “c” from a hard sound (like “k”) to a soft sound (like “s”).

Where it’s Used – To ensure the “c” is pronounced as a soft “s” sound in positions where it would normally be hard.


  • Ç:

  Façon (way, manner) – Ensures the “c” is pronounced as /s/: /fa-son/.

  Garçon (boy) – Ensures the “c” is pronounced as /s/: /gar-son/.

  Leçon (lesson) – Ensures the “c” is pronounced as /s/: /le-son/.

  Français (French) – Ensures the “c” is pronounced as /s/: /fran-se/.

The cédille is essential for modifying the pronunciation of “c” to ensure it has a soft “s” sound before the vowels “a,” “o,” and “u.” This accent helps maintain the correct pronunciation of many French words and clarifies the intended meaning.

Learn How To Pronounce Accents 

Importance Of Accent In French

  • Distinguishing Meanings: Accents differentiate words that are spelled identically but have different meanings (e.g., “du” (of the) vs. “dû” (due)).
  • Guiding Pronunciation: Accents indicate the correct pronunciation of vowels, helping to articulate words accurately (e.g., “père” (father) vs. “pere” (non-existent)).
  • Historical Markers: Some accents, like the circumflex in “hôpital” (hospital), indicate historical changes in the language, such as dropped letters.
  • Preventing Misunderstandings: Incorrect use of accents can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication.
  • Essential for Fluency: Mastering accents is fundamental for fluency and clear communication in French.
  • Conveying Intended Meaning: Proper use of accents ensures speakers convey the intended meaning and are understood accurately.
  • Vital for Learning: Accents are a crucial aspect of learning and using the French language effectively.


French accent marks, including the acute (é), grave (è), circumflex (ˆ), trema (¨), and cedilla (ç), play vital roles in French pronunciation and meaning. The acute accent alters the “e” sound, the grave accent indicates an open pronunciation, the circumflex often denotes historical changes, the trema separates adjacent vowels, and the cedilla softens the “c” sound. Understanding and correctly using these accents are essential for clear communication and accurate interpretation in French language and culture.

Check this article – How to Get Different Accent Codes in French

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a € œ?

“œ” is a ligature in French and other languages. It represents a combination of the letters “o” and “e” and is pronounced similarly to the “e” in “herd”. In French, it’s often found in words like “cœur” (heart) and “sœur” (sister).

2. What does â mean? 

The circumflex accent (ˆ) over the letter “a” (â) in French typically indicates a historical letter that has been dropped, often an “s.” It can also indicate a slight change in pronunciation, usually lengthening the vowel sound. For example, “âge” (age) historically derived from “as” and “hôtel” (hotel) from “hostel”.

3. How many French accents are there?

In French, there are five main accents used in orthography:

  • Acute accent (´)
  • Grave accent (`)
  • Circumflex accent (ˆ)
  • Trema (¨)
  • Cedilla (¸)

These accents play crucial roles in indicating pronunciation, meaning, and distinguishing between words in written French.

4. What is the rule for accents in French?

Accents in French serve to indicate pronunciation, meaning, and historical changes in words. The acute accent (´) alters the sound of “e”, the grave accent (`) distinguishes homophones, the circumflex accent (ˆ) denotes historical changes, and the cedilla (¸) softens the pronunciation of “c”.