How to Type French Accents: A Guide for PC, Mac and Linux Users (Plus Online Keyboard Resources)
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?
French keyboards have keys for these symbols, but there are a few creative methods for typing French accents on English keyboards.
- What Are the French Accents?
- How to Type French Accents on a PC
- How to Type French Accents on a Mac
- How to Type French Accents Using Linux
- Alternatives to Typing French Accents with Codes
- Why Do We Use French Accents?
What Are the French Accents?
Although this post aims to teach you how to type French accents, it still does not hurt to review the different accents and their pronunciations. Let’s take a look.
Accent aigu (acute accent): é
The accent aigu is used on the “e.” It is pronounced with a rise in intonation, like the letter “a” in English:
Accent grave (grave accent): è, à, ù
On the “e,” the accent grave is pronounced like “eh” in English:
To the untrained ear, this sound can seem very similar to the accent aigu.
When the accent grave is on the “a” or “u,” there is no difference in pronunciation. It only serves to distinguish different words.
Cédille (cedilla): ç
The cédille is used to tell us that we need to make an English “s” sound. For example:
français (French/French person)
Accent circonflexe (circumflex accent): â, ê, î, ô, û
The accent circonflexe does not change the pronunciation of the word. It only indicates the historical presence of an “s” in that position of the word. Indeed, an ongoing debate is raging about whether or not to eliminate this accent. You will have to memorize the words in which it is used. Here are just a couple of examples:
Tréma (dieresis): ë, ï, ü
Finally, the tréma indicates that we need to introduce a break in the word’s pronunciation at that point. For example:
Noël (Christmas) — pronounced no-el
Alright, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Depending on your computer and even its age, the ways to type French accents might be different, so I will try to cover all of the most common possibilities.
How to Type French Accents on a PC
On a Windows PC, the codes for typing lower-case letter accents are as follows. Be aware that you have to hold down ALT while typing the code.
à = ALT + 133 or 0224
â = ALT + 131 or 0226
ä = ALT + 132 or 0228
ç = ALT + 135 or 0231
é = ALT + 130 or 0233
è = ALT + 138 or 0233
ê = ALT + 136 or 0234
ë = ALT + 137 or 0235
î = ALT + 140 or 0238
ï = ALT + 139 or 0239
ô = ALT + 147 or 0244
ù = ALT + 151 or 0249
û = ALT + 150 or 0251
ü = ALT + 129 or 0252
Likewise, the capital letter accents are typed as follows:
À = ALT + 0192
Â = ALT + 0194
Ä = ALT + 142
Ç = ALT + 128
É = ALT + 144
È = ALT + 0200
Ê = ALT + 0202
Ë = ALT + 0203
Î = ALT + 0206
Ï = ALT + 0207
Ô = ALT + 0212
Ù = ALT + 0217
Û = ALT + 0219
Ü = ALT + 154
An easy alternative to using so many codes is to set your keyboard to the international format. You can do this as follows:
On Windows 10:
- Head to the Start menu and click Settings.
- Click on Time & Language.
- Select Language, which is in the left column.
- Click on English, then Options.
- Click on Add a Keyboard, then choose the English (international) option.
On Windows 7:
- Head to Start, type intl.cpl in the Search box and hit the ENTER key.
- Look for Keyboards and Language, and select Change Keyboards.
- Select Add.
- Click English.
- Expand the Keyboard list, select English (international) and click OK.
- Under options, select View Layout.
- Under Default Input Language, select English (international) and click OK.
- In Regional and Language Options, click OK.
- Finally, on the desktop’s language bar, click English (international).
Now that we have configured the international keyboard in PC, we can see how to type accents. All you have to do now is type one character and the letter it goes over:
é = ‘ + e
à = ` + a
è = ` + e
ù = ` + u
ç = ‘ + c
â = ^ + a
ê = ^ + e
î = ^ + i
ô = ^ + o
û = ^ + u
ë = ” + e
ï = ” + i
ü = ” + u
For UK users, the codes are a little different:
é = AltGR + e
à = ` + a
è = ` + e
ù = ` + u
ç = AltGR + c
â = AltGR + ^ + a
ê = AltGR + ^ + e
î = AltGR + ^ + i
ô = AltGR + ^ + o
û = AltGR + ^ + u
ë = AltGR + ” + e
ï = AltGR + ” + i
ü = AltGR + ” + u
Note that with these last codes, you have to hold down AltGR and the character at the same time. Also, to type capital letters, just use the same codes while holding down SHIFT.
How to Type French Accents on a Mac
Fortunately, things are easier for Mac users because simple key combinations come pre-configured. Check this out:
é = option + e, then release and type e
ç = option + c
à = option + `, then release and type a
è = option + `, then release and type e
ù = option + `, then release and type u
â = option + i, then release and type a
ê = option + i, then release and type e
î = option + i, then release and type i
ô = option + i, then release and type o
û = option + i, then release and type u
ë = option + u, then release and type e
ï = option + u, then release and type i
ü = option + u, then release and type u
If you want to type capital letters, just hold down shift when you type the letter you want.
How to Type French Accents 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 French Accents 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. Both online and offline, you can find point and click resources for inserting codes into your text. Let’s take a look.
TypeIt is a great resource that 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. You can easily type and click on the accents you need. An advantage of Lexilogos is that it also includes a French dictionary and a spell checker.
Built-in word processor character sets
Finally, you can also find the French character set included in your word processor. For example, in Microsoft Word 2010, go to the insert tab and click symbol, then more symbols and then special characters. Now, just look for the French character you want to include.
Whichever word processor you use, you should easily be able to find instructions for adding special characters by checking the processor’s site.
Why Do We Use French Accents?
Students often wonder why accents are necessary in French. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to just get rid of them? Whatever your opinion may be, accents are a fundamental part of writing in French, so it is important that we know them.
Why does French have accents anyway?
As you’ve gathered from the examples above, accents are used to indicate special pronunciations for certain letters or words. This is extremely important in French, a language where many letter combinations can produce the same sounds. In this sense, accents offer us opportunities to form new words by simply adding a small symbol. Accents can also serve to indicate historical changes or pronunciations of words.
In addition to changing pronunciation, accents can also change a word’s meaning.
What are some French words that change because of accents?
It is extremely important to know when to use accents because, as mentioned above, they can literally change the meaning of a word. Check out these examples:
résume (he, she summarizes)
du (of, from the)
Are there any tricks for knowing when to use accents?
In many cases, you have to memorize when to use French accents, especially when they do not affect pronunciation. However, there are some cases in which you always need an accent.
For example, when forming the past participle of er verbs, you will always use an é.
aimer (to like)
To help familiarize yourself with accent use, read French texts while listening to the audio at the same time. This way, you’ll spot which words are written with accents and learn to associate them with their spoken counterparts, regardless of whether they affect pronunciation.
There are plenty of French resources for this type of activity: audiobooks paired with the corresponding literature, podcasts with transcripts and any other audio accompanied by text. FluentU’s subtitled media clips are also helpful, as you can check the usage, audio pronunciation and video references of accented words.
If we want to write high-quality French, we need accents. Let’s face it: They are everywhere.
Although it is not always intuitive to type French accents with an English keyboard, if you write enough, you will memorize the combinations. Personally, I use codes for the most common accents because I have memorized them, and for the other characters, I use a character map.
However you decide to type French accents, it will become second nature to you after a bit of practice!