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French Grammar

French Accents – Here is what you need to know (Free Exercises Inside)

French Accents

What are these strange little things on top of some French letters?

What do they do to words?

And (more importantly) can they be forgotten about, you know just to make our learner’s life a tad easier?

Well, my dear, let’s just say accents are a singularity of the French language (even though, let’s not forget you can find accents in other languages such as Spanish).

After all, we all know how much French people really like being unique. And rightly so!

In this blog, I will tell you everything you need to know about French accents.

To help you with pronunciation and get you to practice it, I will also add some audios.

And finally, to make sure you master French accents perfectly well, you will find, at the end of this blog, some exercises and their correction so you can evaluate your understanding of this grammar point.

Does this sound good to you?

Yes !!

Great, so now, let’s get started 🙂

 

Lets Dive Into French Accents Pronunciation Guide

1) What is the point in having accents and where do they come from?

I know that studying French accents can be a bit of a pain and that, just like most learners do, you wish you could simply forget about them completely but, let me tell you, that would be such a shame.

Why?

Well, simply because accents are actually very important in French (even though some people would disagree with that but I’ll tell you more about this point later).

  • Accents, also known as diacritical marks, totally change the pronunciation but also the sense of a word and omitting them could lead to some rather embarrassing situations!
  • Imagine writing “mais oui, je suis sur Brigitte” (yes, I am on top of Brigitte) instead of “mais oui, je suis sûr Brigitte!” (yes, I am sure Brigitte). ..
  • They can also replace a letter that used to be written in the old version of French words but that has disappeared in modern French.
  • The most common example of this language evolution is the letter “s”.

Let’s take the word “hôpital” for example. It used to be “hospital”. As you can see, we dropped the “s”  and replaced it with a circumflex accent (l’accent circonflexe).

However, the letter “s” is still present in other words that contain the same root as “hôpital” like in “hospitalier”. Because the “s”  is written, you don’t need the circumflex accent.

  • French accents are also used to distinguish some homophones. There are plenty but just to name a few, here are some homophones you could come across:

ou (or) / où (where)

il a (verb to have → he has) / à (to)

des (some) / dès (dice)

  • Finally, French accents are used to make a difference between some verbal forms. Thus, you could find “il donna” (donner – to give – conjugated in the passé simple tense) and “qu’il donnât” (donner – to give – conjugated in the subjonctif imparfait tense).Well, let me reassure you on one thing: no one ever uses the  subjonctif imparfait (never ever).
  • It’s totally old-fashioned and really not used in today’s French (phew).And, the  passé simple  is mainly (if not all the time) used in written French not spoken French.
  • In other words, don’t worry yourself too much about this use of French accents!

Okay, so now that you know, why there are some accents in French, let’s learn a bit more about them!

 

2) Different types of French accents and diacritical marks

We count only five accents in French so I’m sure you will master them all in no time!

You will find them on four of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and on one consonant (c).

 

  1. a) What are they called?

Next to their written name, you can click on the audio to hear how to pronounce these words.

L’accent aigu (the acute accent)

L’accent grave (the grave accent)

L’accent circonflexe (the circumflex accent)

Le tréma (the diaeresis)

La cédille (the cedilla)

 

  1. b) L’accent aigu (the acute accent)
  • Usually, l’accent aigu (the acute accent) only occurs on “e”. It is pronounced [e] like in

Café [kafe]

Musée [myze]

Poésie [poezi]

There are a few rules you should know when it comes to the accent aigu.

  • You will have to write an “e” with an acute accent when this vowel is the first letter of a word.

For example

Un éléphant (an elephant)

Un électricien (an electrician)

Un éditeur (a publisher)

And, because we know how much the French love exceptions, there is an exception to this rules!

You don’t use an acute accent on the letter « e » when it is the first letter of the word if that word takes -ère and -es.  In that case, you will need the grave accent or no accent at all.

Have a look at the following examples. It will probably make more sense!

Une ère (an era)

Un escargot (a snail)

  • There is an acute accent on the « e » when it is the last vowel of the word or when a word finished by a silent « e ».

La liberté (freedom)

Un lycée (high school)

  • You will always see an acute accent on the ending of the past participle of an -er verb.

Chanté (sung)

Donné (given)

  • To spice things up a little bit, you can sometimes hear the sound made by an accent aigu on a « e » (the [e] sound) but it’s not actually written… Here are a couple of examples :

Pedigree (pedigree)

Revolver (revolver)

  • There never is an acute accent on an « e » when there is either an « x » or a double consonant before.

Un accent circonflexe ( circumflex accent)

Une étiquette (a tag)

 

  1. c) L’accent grave (the grave accent)

This accent is found on «a », « e », and « u ». When it is placed on top of either an « a » or an « u », it doesn’t modify the pronounciation of the word.

It is just used to distinguish one word from another.

Just like the acute accent, the grave accent obeys to some rules.

  • You have to write a grave accent at the end of a word when this word finishes with a “s” despite being in the singular form.

Abcès (abscess)

Accès (access, entrance)

Après (after)

Auprès (close to)

Congrès (congress)

Décès (death)

Excès (excess)

Exprès (on purpose)

Près (close)

Procès (trial)

Progrès (progress)

Succès (success)

Très (very)

  • Here’s a rule not many people know about (even French people only tend to do it naturally without thinking about it):

You have to write a grave accent on the “e” if it is before a group of consonants and that the second consonant of that group is either an “l” or an “r”.

Lièvre (hare)

Fièvre (high temperature)

  • Homophones with -à

You have to write a grave accent on top of the « a » in the adverb of place « là » (there) to distinguish it from the definite article « la » (the).

The grave accent is also used to differenciate the verbe -avoir (to have) as in  il a from the preposition “à”.

  • Homophones with -ù

The only time you will find the letter “u” with a grave accent is in the relative or interrogative pronoun où. It is to distinguish it from the coordinating conjunction ou.

Blanc ou noir (white or black)

Où habites-tu? (where do you live?)

 

  1. d) L’accent circonflexe (the circumflex accent)

This accent is found on all the vowels except “y”.

  • As with the grave accent, it is sometimes used to avoid confusion between similar looking words.

This is, for example, the case with the following words.

Sur (on) / sûr (sure)

Hâler (to weather) / haler (to haul)

Une boîte (a box) / il boite (he limps)

Une châsse (a shrine) / la chasse (hunting)

  • It is usually put on top of an « o » in possessive pronouns like in: le nôtre (ours), le vôtre (yours), les nôtres (ours), les vôtres (yours).
  • You will also find it on top of the « i » in verbs ending in – aître and in -oître. It also needs to be used when you conjugate the verb plaire and that the « i » is followed by a « t ».

Il connaît (he knows)

Il paraît (it seems)

Il croît (he grows)

C’est un homme qui plaît aux femmes (he’s the kind of man most women like).

  • Finally, the circumflex accent is also used in words that used to take an « s »in old French.

We can mention the following examples :

Âne (donkey)

Château (castle)

Fenêtre (window)

Hôpital (hospital)

Fête (party)

Don’t forget that sometimes the « s » appears in words that contain the same root such s :

Hôpitalhospitalier

Fêtefestif

 

  1. e) Le tréma (the diaeresis)

A  diaeresis over the vowels « e » and « i » indicates that the preceding vowel is pronounced separately.

Canoë  (canoeing)

Égoïste (selfish)

 

  1. f) La cédille (the cedilla)

The cedilla is put under the letter “c” in front of the vowels -a, -o, and -u to change its sound. A”c” with a cedilla loses its hard k sound and get a soft one. It is pronounced like the sound “ss”.

I would strongly advise you to pay particular attention to the word leçon which means lesson. Well, that is if you pronounce the cedilla correctly (with a soft sound).

If unfortunately, you forget and pronounce it with a k  sound (lecon), you will actually say le con which is rather pejorative as it means the moron…

Here are some examples of words with a cedilla.

Français (French)

Soupçon (suspicion)

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Now it is Practice time!

Lets dive into exercise on French Accents

Try to do our exercises and then check your answers.

Good luck!

1) Write the following words correctly?

Un eleve : ____________________________________________________

Une chaine: ____________________________________________________

Un batiment: ____________________________________________________

Un cote: ____________________________________________________

Une brulure: ____________________________________________________

Une ile: ____________________________________________________

Un gateau: ____________________________________________________

Une fenetre: ____________________________________________________

Un chateau:____________________________________________________

Une buche:____________________________________________________

Une fete: ____________________________________________________

Une ecoliere: ____________________________________________________

 

2) Choose the correct accents for some of the words in the following sentences:

Le bucheron se promene dans la foret.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

L’eleve entete refuse de faire cet exercice.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

L’ecoliere prefere flaner dans la foret avec son frere.

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

3) Choose the correct spelling.

Ma mere / mére / mère est partie en voyage (my mum has gone on holidays).

L’éléphant / èlèphant /élèphant vit en Afrique (the elephant lives in Africa).

Je suis entiêrement / entièrement / entiérement d’accord avec toi! (I totally agree with you).

Il a eu une tèrrible / térrible / terrible peur! (He got very scared).

À la fin du match, il y avait ègalitè / égalitè / égalité. (At the end of the match, they drew).

Ce procês / procés / procès a fait la une des journaux. (This trial was on every newspaper’s front page).

Son texte contient beaucoup de rèpétitions / répétitions / rêpétitions. (Her text contains a lot of repetitions).

Le mystère / mystêre / mystére reste en entier. (It still is a mystery).

 

Correction

1) Write the following words correctly?

Un élève, une chaîne, un bâtiment, un côté, une brûlure, une île, un gâteau, une fenêtre, un château, une bûche, une fête, une écolière.

2) Choose the correct accents for some of the words in the following sentences:

Le bûcheron se promène dans la foret.

L’élève entêté refuse de faire cet exercice.

L’écolière préfère flâner dans la forêt avec son frère.

 

3) Choose the correct spelling.

Ma mere / mére / mère est partie en voyage (my mum has gone on holidays).

L’éléphant / èlèphant /élèphant vit en Afrique (the elephant lives in Africa).

Je suis entiêrement / entièrement / entiérement d’accord avec toi! (I totally agree with you).

Il a eu une tèrrible / térrible / terrible peur! (He got very scared).

À la fin du match, il y avait ègalitè / égalitè / égalité. (At the end of the match, they drew).

Ce procês / procés / procès a fait la une des journaux. (This trial was on every newspaper’s front page).

Son texte contient beaucoup de rèpétitions / répétitions / rêpétitions. (Her text contains a lot of repetitions).

Le mystère / mystêre / mystére reste en entier. (It still is a mystery).

 

Here’s The Next Step…

Have you understood everything about French Accents?

let me know by leaving a comment below right now.

Side Note: Want a light introduction to French Courses Online? Check Out Our French Courses Online for Beginners

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