french keyboard

French Accent Marks: What They Are and How to Type Them

Bonjour, je veux apprendre le français. (Hello, I want to learn French.)

See that little appendage on the “c”? It’s an accent mark, and it makes a huge difference in French pronunciation.

This obviously begs the question—how do we type these symbols?

Let’s take a look at all of the French accent marks, followed by creative ways to type French accent marks on English keyboards.

Contents

French Accent MarkExample
l’accent aigué
l’accent graveà, è, ù
l’accent circonflexeâ, ê, î, ô, û
l’accent trémaë, ï, ü
la cédilleç

1. L’accent Aigu — Acute Accent ( ´ )

The accent aigu looks like this: ´, a little apostrophe-like mark that floats up into the sky (é). This can only be on the letter e. Think of eggs or a tasty French omelette to help you remember this rule.

The aigu is placed on the end of a word to indicate that the letter e is pronounced like ay, as in marché (market), or parlé  (spoken) or the place you’ve probably already visited several times this week, café

When the aigu is used at the beginning of a word, it often indicates that an s used to follow that vowel, for example étudiant (student) or étudier  (to study):

Un étudiant qui étudie à l’école.
A student who studies at the school.

2. L’accent Grave — Grave Accent ( ` )

The accent grave looks like this: `

One clever way to remember the difference between the grave and its mirror image the aigu is to think of the English word “grave,” as in “I’m digging my own grave here.” The accent mark goes down, into the grave.

The grave can be found on an ae or u. However, it only changes the pronunciation of the letter e. It makes the e sound like ehh.

On the a and u, it helps distinguish between words that are spelled the same:

With GraveWithout Grave
(where)ou (or)
à (to)il a (he has)
(there)la (the; her/it)
dès (from)des (of the; some)

3. L’accent Circonflexe Circumflex ( ˆ )

L’accent circonflexe, or circumflex, is also called the hat or le petit chapeau (little hat). That’s easy to remember, isn’t it? This cute little hat goes on the a, e, i, o and u (â, ê, î, ô, û).

There are two good things about this accent that you will want to take note of. The first is its effect on pronunciation is so slight you won’t need to worry. In fact, there are some language reform groups who are in favor of getting rid of it.

The second thing is that there really aren’t that many words in French that wear the circumflex. You’ll probably run into the little hat if you travel and stay at a hôtel  (pronounced more or less like owe-tel, and almost identical to the English “hotel” without the “h”).

Sometimes the circumflex is used as a marker to reference the old spelling of a word. With the word forêt  (forest), the accent indicates that an s once followed the vowel, as it does in the identical English word “forest,” but over time was dropped. Think of it like a kind of gravestone that pays tribute to the original Latin version of the word.

Aside from these, the circumflex has a more important job when it is used to distinguish between words with different meanings. This is when you want to make sure that it is worn correctly. For example:

With CircumflexWithout Circumflex
(past participle of devoir )du (a contraction of dele)
(owed)du (of the, some)
mûr (ripe)mur (wall)
sûr (sure)sur (on, upon)

And, just to keep you on your feet, there are a few French words that use the little hat simply to give the word more prestige. Among them are:

4. L’accent Tréma Trema ( ¨ )

You know those two little dots that you sometimes see hovering above an ei or u? That’s the tréma. It is used when two vowels are next to each other and both must be pronounced, as in naïve , a word English has borrowed from the French, without the tréma.

Usually, the ¨ is placed above the second of two consecutive vowels. Think of the English word “coincidence,” which is actually pronounced “co-inn.” Coincidence is a French word, but in French it’s spelled coïncidence .

5. La Cédille  Cedilla ( ¸ )

Enfin ! (At last!) We made it to the thumb, or the little tail as it’s commonly nicknamed.

This little guy, the cédille, is present in other languages like Portuguese and Catalan, but in French, it only goes under the letter c as so: ç. Facile, no? (It’s easy, right?)

The cédille is used to give the c an s sound instead of a hard k sound—for example leçon (lesson) or français (the French language), as in “Parlez-vous français?” (Do you speak French?)

You will also hear this often in the daily greeting, ça va? (How are you?)

And then there’s the infamous garçon (boy/waiter)!

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How to Type French Accent Marks

Now that you know how to use the five French accent marks, how can you easily type them on a computer?

Using a Mac

International Keyboard

With an international keyboard, French accent marks are easy to type. Here’s how you can set up an international keyboard on Mac: 

  1. Go to System Preferences.
  2. Choose “Keyboard,” then “Input Sources.”
  3. Click the + Sign, then choose “English” as the language to see a list of keyboards. 
  4. Select “US International” and then “Add.” 

To type French accent marks, simply type the accent as you normally would, followed by the letter you want it to appear over. 

For example, to type ô, hold down shift while pressing the “6” key (which is how you would type the ^ symbol normally). Then type the letter “o.” Voilà!

If you are using the international keyboard and want the symbol to appear on its own, and not over the following vowel, just hit the space bar after you type the symbol.

To sum up:

French accent mark: Shift + 6 + o = ô

Symbol and vowel separate: Shift + 6 + space bar + o = ^o

It’s really intuitive, and takes no extra effort or time once you get used to how it works.

Regular Keyboard

You can also stick with a regular keyboard and use pre-configured key combinations instead. Check this out:

French LetterMac Key Combination
éOption + e, then release and type e
çOption + c
àOption + `, then release and type a
èOption + `, then release and type e
ùOption + `, then release and type u
âOption + i, then release and type a
êOption + i, then release and type e
îOption + i, then release and type i
ôOption + i, then release and type o
ûOption + i, then release and type u
ëOption + u, then release and type e
ïOption + u, then release and type i
üOption + u, then release and type u

If you want to type capital letters, just hold down Shift when you type the letter you want.

Using a PC

International Keyboard

On Windows 10: 

  1. Head to the Start menu and click “Settings.”
  2. Click on “Time & Language.”
  3. Select “Language,” which is in the left column.
  4. Click on “English,” then “Options.”
  5. Click on “Add a Keyboard,” then choose the “United States-International” option.

On Windows 7:

  1. Head to Start, type “intl.cpl” in the Search box and hit the Enter key.
  2. Look for “Keyboards and Language,” and select “Change Keyboards.”
  3. Select “Add.”
  4. Click “English.”
  5. Select “United States-International” from the Keyboard list and click OK.
  6. Under options, select “View Layout.”
  7. Under Default Input Language, select “English – United States-International” and click OK.
  8. In Regional and Language Options, click OK.
  9. Finally, on the desktop’s language bar, click “United States-International.”

If you want to have this optional keyboard permanently, you can select the international keyboard as your default keyboard from the dropdown menu while the keyboard menu is still open. You can also have a small keyboard icon stay on the menu bar at the bottom of the screen.

Now that we have configured the international keyboard on PC, we can see how to type accents. All you have to do now is type one character and the letter it goes over. You’ll notice that it’s a little different if you’re using a UK keyboard:

French LetterWindows International Keyboard Shortcut (US)Windows International Keyboard Shortcut (UK)
é' + eAltGr + e
à` + a` + a
è` + e` + e
ù` + u` + u
ç' + cAltGr + c
â^ + aAltGr + ^ + a
ê^ + eAltGr + ^ + e
î^ + iAltGr + ^ + i
ô^ + oAltGr + ^ + o
û^ + uAltGr + ^ + u
ë" + eAltGr + " + e
ï" + iAltGr + " + i
ü" + uAltGr + " + u

To type capital letters, just use the same codes while holding down Shift.

Regular Keyboard

On a Windows PC, the codes for typing lower-case and upper-case letter accents are as follows. Be aware that you have to hold down Alt while typing the code.

French Small LetterKeyboard Shortcut for Small LetterFrench Capital LetterKeyboard Shortcut for Capital Letter
àAlt + 133 or 0224ÀAlt + 0192
âAlt + 131 or 0226ÂAlt + 0194
äAlt + 132 or 0228ÄAlt + 142
çAlt + 135 or 0231ÇAlt + 128
éAlt + 130 or 0233ÉAlt + 144
èAlt + 138 or 0232ÈAlt + 0200
êAlt + 136 or 0234ÊAlt + 0202
ëAlt + 137 or 0235ËAlt + 0203
îAlt + 140 or 0238ÎAlt + 0206
ïAlt + 139 or 0239ÏAlt + 0207
ôAlt + 147 or 0244ÔAlt + 0212
ùAlt + 151 or 0249ÙAlt + 0217
ûAlt + 150 or 0251ÛAlt + 0219
üAlt + 129 or 0252ÜAlt + 154

Using Linux

Because there are so many distributions of Linux, it is hard to give much advice about how to type French accents using the system. However, in Ubuntu, you can go to Menu, then “Character Map” and then select the character you want.

Alternatives to Typing with Codes

If all of this work to set up an international keyboard or memorize lots of codes seems too much for you, there are alternatives that might be easier. You can find point and click resources for inserting codes into your text:

  • TypeIt lets you type accents from many different languages, including French. You will see a field where you can type, above which are buttons that include all of the accents. You could type accents here and copy and paste them into your word processor, or you could even type your entire text directly into the site.
  • Lexilogos does basically the same thing as TypeIt, but with more features included. An advantage of Lexilogos is that it also includes a French dictionary and a spell checker.
  • Your word processor will likely include the French character set—just check its website for instructions! In Microsoft Word, you can go to the Insert tab and click “Advanced Symbol.” Then just choose your font and look for the French character you want to include.

 

Now that you understand how essential it is to put the accents in their proper places, you’ll have an easier time pronouncing and writing French.

Knowing the rules means you’ve earned the respect of French language speakers and you’re one step closer to fluency. Congratulations!

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