Diacritical marks and ligatures in French

Diacritical marks and ligatures in French

- What are these strange signs of "tails" and "caps", accents and apostrophes, which the French use when writing, some common, as it may seem, letters of the Latin alphabet? - you may ask.

- All these signs are not only for appearance, they affect the pronunciation of French sounds. - an experienced teacher will answer.

So, let's puzzle it out!

In ancient times signs, which were added to letters, or located next to them, were used in various writings. For example, the Greeks used them to express tonality (the Greek polythionic), and Jews and Arabs - to show vowels. In India, they were used to refer to a change of a particular sound.

In the Latin alphabet, diacritics are used mainly to expand the basic alphabet. This is done to indicate the grapheme (how to write a certain letter) or phoneme (how to show a specific sound). Try to designate the letter "щ" with Latin letters. A bit too many letters, aren’t there? Thus, diacritics is used to denote the specific behavior of letters in the alphabet - softness, longitude, stress etc.

Diacritics are superscripts, subscripts, or inline symbols that are used to change sounds. In Russian, these are the letters Ё and Й, and in French there are 5 of them.

1) accent aigu [aksɑ̃tegy] — é — is the most frequent diacritic sign of French language, but it is used only for one letter «е»:

la bonté, le café, la charité, un éléphant.

2) accent grave [aksɑ̃gʀav] — è, à, ù — is placed above the vowels and does not affect the pronunciation:

à, çà, deçà, delà, déjà, holà, là, où, voilà.

3) accent circonflexe [aksɑ̃siʀkɔ̃flɛks] — ê, â, ô, î, û — is placed over vowels other than -y, it affects pronunciation, but is sometimes placed to pay tribute to traditions, to history.

abîme, côte, coût, dû, fête, flûte, gîte, pâte, sûr.

4) tréma [tʀema] — ë, ï, ü  — shows that the previous vowel should be pronounced separately:

aïe, aïeul,  ambiguïté, capharnaüm, ciguë, exiguë, exiguïté.


5) cédille [sedij] — ç — is placed only above the letter -c and means that it is read as [s], regardless of the letter following it:

façade, leçon, reçu, forçat, soupçon, français.


And finally, let’s say a good word for the ligatures...

Ligature is a symbol formed by merging two or more graphemes (i.e. letters) and it serves to show one sound formed by merging the letters of the alphabet. In French, two ligatures are used - œ and æ. They can denote such sounds: [e], [ɛ], [œ] and [ø]:

œdème, œstrogène, cœur, nœud, nævus, cæcum

We hope you’ve understood the peculiarities of French spelling and have understood how important it is to keep diacritical marks and ligatures when writing. This is a very important aspect of French language. Well, we wish you to have fascinating lessons!

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