Les Accents et La Prononciation: ACCENTS & PRONUNCIATION

In addition to French alphabet, French uses several accents which are worth understanding. It contributes to the overall clarity of the word and also determines the meaning of words and bring elegance to the spoken language.

Five different kinds of accent marks are used in written French. In many cases, an accent changes the sound of the letter to which it is added. In others, the accent has no effect on pronunciation. Accents in French never indicate stress (which always falls on the last syllable).

Let us discuss some key accents and pronunciation features!

Acute Accent- accent aigu (é)

It is the most common accent used in the written French (Fr. accent aigu). It is only written with the letter ”e”. One use of the é is to form the past participles of the regular -er verbs.

aimer, to loveaimé, loved
regarder, to watch regardé, watched

Another thing to notice here is that, if you are unsure of how to translate the English words from French, and the word begins with é, replace it with the letter ”s” and you will occasionally get the English word or an approximation thereof.

  • étable –> stable (for horses)
  • école –> scole –> school
  • il étudie –> il studie –> he studies———- and to combine what you already know about the accent aigu, here is one last example:
  • étranglé (from étrangler) –> stranglé –> strangled

Tip To Note: But it does not work with every word that begins with é.

Now let us see examples of accent aigu, the sound of “e” is “euh” but when the acute accent appears the sound changes to “ay” like in the word Day, the sound of “ay” is similar to sound of é. You can now try to pronounce the word fédélité which means loyalty, été which means summer in English.

Grave Accent- accent grave (è à ù)

In case of letters à and ù, the grave accent is used to graphically distinguish one word from another. For example:

Without Accent GraveWith Accent Grave
a (the 3rd person singular of the verb avoir, to have)à (preposition- at, to, in)
la (the definite article for feminine nouns) (there)
ou (conjunction, or) (where)

In case of è, it is not used to distinguish one word from another. The è is used for pronunciation. It is pronounced as the letter e in the word ‘pet’.

Cedilla- cédille

The cedilla is used only with the letter ”c” followed by the vowel (a, o, u). It changes the pronunciation of “c” to a soft /s/ sound, making it equivalent to English and French ‘‘S”. For example, “garçon” (boy) is pronounced “gar-sohn”.

See The Table Given Below With Examples-

accentletters usedexamples
accute accent
(accent aigu)
é only éléphant: elephant
grave accent
(accent grave)
è, à, ùfièvre: fever, là: there, où: where
(accent circonflexe)
â, ê, û, ô, îgâteau: cake
être: to be
dû: past participle of devoir
chômage: unemployment
île: island
ë, ï, ü, ÿnoël: christmas
maïs: corn
aigüe: acute (fem)
ç onlyfrançais: french

Remember that French pronunciation is complex and varies based on regional accents and individual speech patterns.

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