How to Easily Type and Pronounce the 5 French Accents

French accents are sneaky creatures.

They wait in the dark, looking for an innocent letter to jump on and transform.

But what do they want exactly?

I mean, sure, they look stylish with their cute little shapes, but are they really necessary? Can’t you just, you know, forget about them?

That’s what you’re about to discover.

Oh, and you’ll also learn everything you need to know to type French accents on Windows and Mac even if you don’t have a French keyboard.

The guide to understanding and pronouncing French accents

French accents

The French language uses 5 different accents to indicate slight variations in pronunciation and distinguish between similar words:

Let’s look at the differences between these French accents!

L’accent aigu

L’accent aigu (the acute accent) is used on the letter “e” to indicate a change of pronunciation.

Unlike other French accents, you won’t find the acute accent on any other letter than “e”.

L’accent grave

L’accent grave is used on the letter “e” to indicate a change of pronunciation and on the letters “a” and “u” to differentiate words that sound identical.

Il a faim (he is hungry)

Il va à Paris (He is going to Paris)

In the first sentence, the lack of accent grave indicates that “a” is the conjugated form of the verb avoir (to have) while the accent in the second sentence indicates that à is a preposition.

In the following sentences, the accent helps you know how to pronounce the words.

The difference of pronunciation between words containing a “e” with accent can be subtle so don’t worry if you struggle to hear it at first. You most likely need to train your ears first.

In fact, many native French speakers also struggle to tell the difference.

That’s not a big problem because pronouncing the wrong accent rarely creates confusion.

L’accent circonflexe

L’accent circonflexe can be used on all vowels to indicate a change of pronunciation or as a sign that there used to be an additional letter (often a “s”) in the word.

Words with accent circonflexe are often words that are similar in French and in English.

In fact, the only difference between an English word and French words (besides pronunciation) is often that the French word has un accent circonflexe while the English word has an “s”.

If you have French friends on Facebook or regularly read comments on French websites, you’ll notice that lots of people don’t use the accent circonflexe in informal situations.

That’s because using it is rarely necessary and the French love to shorten everything. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the accent circonflexe, just that you shouldn’t be surprised if you notice that your French friends often forget to write it.

In fact, using the accent circonflexe on words with «u» and «i» isn’t necessary anymore except if the accent helps differentiate several similar words.

This said, the majority of French people still use it and lots of people aren’t even aware of this change.

As a French learner, it’s safer to keep using the accent circonflexe in formal situations since lots of people aren’t aware of these new rules and may think not using the accent is a mistake.

Le trèma

Le tréma indicates that a vowel that’s normally pronounced as part of a group of syllables should be pronounced separately or that a normally silent letter isn’t silent.

Here, the trèma indicates that the “i” and “e” must be pronounced separately from the letter that comes just before them.

La cédille

La cédille indicates that the letter c should be pronounced /s/ and not /k/

“Leçon” is the proof that French accents matter.

Forget the cedilla and you’re not saying “leçon” (lesson) anymore but “le con” (the idiot). Oups.

You’ll never find a cédille before ‘e’, ‘i’, and ‘y’ though because “c” before these letters is always pronounced /s/.

How to type French accents on Windows

type French accents on Windows

There are many ways to type French accents in Windows and in Microsoft Word, and the right one for you depends on your preferences and on how often you write in French.

You could use ALT codes and type a number every time you want to write an accent, but this is pretty slow and annoying.

Instead, I recommend you to change your keyboard’s layout. You can use the UK extended or US international keyboards for example. These two keyboards allow you to use a combination of keys to type French accents while keeping your normal keyboard layout.

How to use French accent does (ALT codes) to type French accents on a PC

À : Alt – 0192
à : Alt – 0224
È : Alt – 0200
è : Alt – 0232
É : Alt – 0201
é : Alt – 0233
Ê : Alt – 0202
ê : Alt – 0234
Ç : ALT+0199
ç : ALT+0231

How to Change your keyboard layout to type French accents on Windows

  • Open the Control Panel.
  • Click on ‘Change keyboards or other input methods’ under ‘Clock, Language, and Region’.
  • Click on ‘Change keyboards’.
  • Select the language and layout (US International, UK extended etc) you want to use.
  • Choose the language you want to use in the taskbar.

Note: the exact words used may vary but the procedure is similar for all these systems.

How to type French accents with the US international keyboard layout

Here is how to type French accents using the US international keyboard layout:

à, è : ` then letter

é : ‘ then e

ç : ‘ then c

ê : ^ (shift + 6) then e

ö : ” (shift + ‘) then letter

French quotations marks : ctrl + alt + [ ]

When you use the US international keyboard layout, you need hit the spacebar after typing ‘ if you want to use ‘ without a letter.

How to type French accents with the UK extended keyboard layout

` : ` then letter

é : ALT GR + e

ç : ALT GR + c

^ : ALT GR ^ then letter

” : ALT GR + ” then letter

How to type French accents on Mac

type French accents on Mac

Mac OS makes it easy to type French accents out of the box with the option key.

é : option key + e

è, à : option key + ` then letter

ç : option key + c

^ : option key + i then letter

ë, ï, ü : option key + u then letter

 

And you, what’s your favorite way to type French accents? Answer in the comment section below!

39 thoughts on “How to Easily Type and Pronounce the 5 French Accents”

  1. On my MacBook Pro, the é is OPTION+e and then letter e. (One of those e’s is omitted from the instructions above.)

    Reply
  2. I wish I’d known there were easier ways to type the accents when I was taking French in high school! Now, when I type in French it’s usually on my phone or Kindle, so it’s easy to type the accents. Still, I’m thrilled to know better shortcuts for when I do type in French on the computer.?

    Reply
  3. There is a piece of software called Holdkey. In Word & email, if you hold e then you are offered all variants of e ie èeé works for all letters with many accents for French, Spanish etc

    Reply
  4. I use Windows – go to Review – Set Language – scroll down until you find the language you want – press OK. Whilst it doesn’t insert accents it queries the spelling and you can change it. It will also query grammar faults.

    Reply
  5. Le circonflexe peut aussi indiquer les mots qui proviennent de langue italienne
    Voilà l’exemple
    la testa la tête
    l’ospedale l’hôpital
    lasciare lâcher
    la costa la côte
    il gusto le goût

    Reply
  6. I just simply use Canadian Multilingual Keyboard Standard. I can type any accents including œ and æ. And some bonus μ, Ω.
    I actually use many Keyboard Layout (choose with “Windows Logo + Space”).

    Reply
  7. Hi, just bought a qwerty keyboard but as french is my mother i need those accent. and even with uk international i dont ;manage to get the e (aigu) and the a, while I get the altgr + e = é whitout any problem. any clue ?

    thx !

    Reply
    • I was doing some research and happened to notice your question. This may help:
      French keys for Windows 10 US keyboard
      CTRL + , then c: ç
      CTRL + ` (to the left of 1) then a, e, i, o, u: à, è, ì, ò, ù
      CTRL + ‘ (apostrophe) then a, e, i, o, u: á, é, í, ó, ú
      CTRL + SHIFT + 6 then a, e, i, o, u: â, ê, î, ô, û
      CTRL + SHIFT + : (colon) then a, e, i, o, u: ä, ë, ï, ö, ü
      CTRL + SHIFT + 7 then o or O: œ or Œ
      CTRL + SHIFT + 7 then a or A: æ or Æ

      Reply
      • Harry P., your solution is simply the best! Where did you find this information? I would like to see if there are solutions for markings in other languages I work with, like the macron in Hawaiian and Latin and the glottal stop (opening single quote) in Hawaiian. By the way, the only way I could get the capitals (majuscules) for those you explain was to put on the CapsLk.

        Reply
      • Harry P thanks for this, it also works on an English UK keyboard – in Windows 10 I haven’t been able to find the “Extended” Keyboard so your solution is excellent.

        Reply
  8. The way you described it, it seems easier to type French on Mac than on Windows. I’m out of luck, I have Windows! Any software you could recommend to type French easily on Windows?

    Reply
    • Sandy, there is a tool called keyxpat (https://keyxpat.com) that can help you, under any windows software. It attaches the characters you want on the key you want, so there is no other keys to
      type at the same time. For french for example, all chars é, è, ê, ë are all on the same E key. To choose one, keyxpat uses a metronome (you chose the period in ms) and you release the E key when necessary to get the right accent. This is straightforward and unobtrusive, an it allows you to type quickly.

      Disclaimer: I’m the author of this tool. I did it for myself first because I need to write in french on a US qwerty keyboard all the time.

      Reply
    • You don’t need to feel discouraged. It’s very easy to type French symbols on Windows. Just use US International Layout, the best existing PC layout, which, additionally to French, could also be used for typing in Afrikaans, Danish, Dutch, English, Faroese, Finnish, German, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish, and Swedish.

      Reply
  9. I do switch my keyboard to French with cmd + space bar on my English mac.
    Not very convenient, but it works well and even make the automatic corrector switch language…
    Thanks Benjamin for the other tips, will probably give those a try !

    Reply
    • You’re welcome :). I hope everything is going well for you and your Hamburgés :).

      There are also softwares that automatically recognize the language when you type and change the keyboard accordingly. So far I only saw https://punto.yandex.ru/mac/ in action. It works great but it’s in Russian so I will check if I find similar softwares in English. I will let you know :).

      Reply
  10. I actually got a Mac with a French keyboard! 🙂

    I see you’re still writing in English – I reckon if you wrote in French you’d get more serious learners and more business, but fewer readers overall. Why post for the French learner who can’t be bothered to read in French..?

    Bonne année!

    Reply
    • Congrats on getting the Mac, I am considering getting one myself :). Bonne année à toi aussi :).

      Because as much as I love immersion, I don’t think writing this kind of post in French would be useful. There are plenty of French websites showing how to type French accents.

      That and the fact that I am already busy trying to determine what the best way to help beginner French learner get started the right way would.

      What kind of posts in French would you be interested in? I started translating some posts in French at some point, but nobody seemed interested, so I quickly gave up.

      Reply
      • To be honest, I’m prolly not really your target reader. It might be best to ask your target readers instead. First up, I’m already at B2 level, with the goal of reaching C1. So I’m not a beginner (though I don’t mind revising ‘beginner grammar’ and there are plenty of phrases here which I don’t know).

        Second, if you want to earn an income by helping people learn French, then the sales figures you have will tell you something. Are English-speakers buying your products? If not, then my theory is that more serious learners will buy products but only when they are in French. Which makes sense.

        However, you’re certainly doing a lot better than I am at building an audience, getting comments from your learning community, writing regularly, even putting out a book..so you have a lot of positives and there’s no reason why you can’t make this the ‘go-to’ French blog.

        I just think it could be in French 🙂

        And if you write in English you might be missing out on all the Spaniards and Germans also learning French.

        Have you thought about setting up an only French blog with a French domain..? Or is part of it the fact that you enjoy writing in English?

        Reply
        • Thank you so much for your English-language posts. I’m 70 years old and recently moved to France knowing only perhaps 10 words of French. I find your info very helpful, and I’m grateful for it. You see, there’s no way I could read French at this point. Thanks again–

          Reply
        • I am a fairly advanced French learner, but I enjoy the posts in English as well as those in immersion French. This particular post, however, is best in English for me because it is already high in technical jargon. I’m not very tech literate, and so not having the extra hurdle of translation made this important topic more accessible for me. Thanks, Benjamin!

          Reply
  11. They made it simpler on Macs running Mavericks: Press and hold the character that you would like accented. You’ll get a list of available special characters as a tooltip. Pick the one you need et voilà. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the last part.) You can do this on iPhones as well, even if you have the English keyboard.

    Reply
  12. I can show how I do with Ubuntu (operating system), with a QWERTY keyboard, without changing keyboard layout.
    I still have to search the combination of French quotation marks, and also how to produce the oe ligature: œ This last one is rare to meet, often I found oe in substitution of œ. Example: œuf vs oeuf (egg). I don’t know if it is to be considered a mistake.

    Shift+ ò = ç

    AltGr+ , (comma – button at the bottom with: , and ; ) then release, then press the vowel, or allowed consonant, to obtain á, é, í, ó, ú

    AltGr+ shift + ^ (button at the top with: ì and ^ ) then release, then press the vowel, or allowed consonant, to obtain â, ê, î, ô, û

    AltGr + shift + . (full stop – button at the bottom with: . and : ) then release, then press the vowel, or allowed consonant, to obtain ä, ë, ï, ö, ü

    Other similar combinations: AltGr + – (hyphen) AltGr + shift + °

    Reply
    • I describe how I have been able on my pc with Xubuntu 14.04 on (derived from Ubuntu: the major difference is the graphical environment) to enable some characters, with a QWERTY keyboard.
      It is needed to enable the Compose key, to do so one have to search the keyboard setting, then select the label: Layout, then uncheck the check mark to: Use system defaults. At this point then go on: Compose key, and select: right win (Windows logo key this button on the keyboard is the key on the right of the button AltGr) , thus Windows key has now become our Compose button.
      This is the button that must be pressed and then released before type other keys to obtain some special characters.

      Comp + oe to obtain œ (Windows logo key then release, then press before o and then e)
      Comp + ae to obtain æ (Windows logo key then release, then press before a and then e) or AltGr + a to obtain æ
      Comp + ‘ a, e, i, o, u to obtain á é í ó ú (Windows logo key then release, then press before ‘ and then a, e, i, o, u) (key ‘ is apostrophe)
      Comp + , c to obtain ç (Windows logo key then release, then press before , then c) (key , is comma)
      Comp + (Shift + ì) a, e, i, o, u to obtain â ê î ô û (Windows logo key then release, then press before Shift together to ì (button at the top with: ì and ^ ) and then: a, e, i, o, u )
      Comp + (Shift + 2) a, e, i, o, u to obtain ä ë ï ö ü (Windows logo key then release, then press before Shift together to 2 (button at the top with: 2 and ” ) and then: a, e, i, o, u)
      AltGr + ì to obtain ~

      Reply

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