How to Easily Type and Pronounce the 5 French Accents (With Alt Codes)

French accents are sneaky creatures.

They wait in the dark, looking for an innocent letter to jump onto 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 thans to the power of Alt codes.

The French Together guide to understanding and pronouncing French accents

French accents and accented letters go by several names. You might hear “French accents” or “French diacritical marks” for the linguists out there. Or when talking about a letter and accent combination, you’ll probably come across terms like “French characters” or “French symbols”.

Whatever you call them, they play a big role in the French language.

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 from the a silent or typical “e” pronunciation, to one that is distinctly pronounced. Here are some words with an é that you’re probably familiar with:

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

L’accent grave

L’accent grave (grave accent) 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.

Look at these two sentences:

Il a faim (he is hungry)

Il va à Paris (He is going to Paris)

In the first sentence, the lack of an 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.

This isn’t a major problem, though, because pronouncing the wrong accent rarely creates confusion.

L’accent circonflexe

L’accent circonflexe (circumflex)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 an “s”) in the word.

Words that have a letter with an accent circonflexe are often similar in French and in English.

In fact, often, the only difference (besides pronunciation) is that the French word has an accent circonflexe while the English word has an “s”.   For instance:

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 your French friends often forget to write it.

In fact, using the accent circonflexe with the letters ‘u’ and ‘i’ isn’t necessary anymore, except if the accent helps differentiate between similar words (for example, du and dû).

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 tréma

Le tréma (diaresis) 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. For example:

In these words, the tréma indicates that the “i” and “e” must be pronounced separately from the letter that comes just before them.

La cédille

La cédille (cedilla) indicates that the letter “c” should be pronounced /s/ and not /k/

The word leçon is the proof that French accents matter.

Forget the cedilla and you’re not saying leçon (lesson) anymore but le con (the idiot/asshole). 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

sunglasses
You’ll need more than one accent aigu to write”été” (summer).

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, in my opinion.

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

Still, everyone is different, so you may prefer ALT codes. Let’s have a look at both ways to type French accents in Windows and Microsoft Word.

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

Chrysanthème flowers
Chrysanthème: One of many French words written with an accent grave.

As I’ve said, ALT codes can be slow and annoying, but some people get used to them and even prefer them to other methods of typing French accents.

To use an ALT code to type a French accent:

1. Hold down the “Alt” key to the left of the space bar, and at the same time, type the number code that corresponds to a specific character. Note that this will only work if you type the numbers from the keypad, not the ones above the letters on the keyboard.

2. When you’ve finished typing the code, release the “Alt” button. The French character should appear.

Here are the French accented characters and their corresponding ALT code.

  • À : Alt – 0192
  • à : Alt – 133 or Alt – 0224
  • Â Alt – 0194
  • â Alt – 131 or Alt – 0226
  • Ä Alt – 142 or Alt – 0196
  • ä Alt – 132 or Alt – 0228
  • È : Alt – 0200 or Alt – 0200
  • è : Alt – 138 or Alt – 0232
  • É : Alt – 0201 or Alt – 144
  • é : Alt – 130 or Alt – 0233
  • Ê : Alt – 0202
  • ê : Alt – 136 or Alt – 0234
  • Ë : Alt – 0203
  • ë : Alt – 137 or Alt – 0235
  • Î : Alt – 0206
  • î : Alt – 140 or Alt – 0238 or Alt – 0206
  • Ï : Alt – 0207
  • ï : Alt – 139 or Alt – 0239
  • Ô : Alt – 0212
  • ô : Alt – 147 or Alt – 0244
  • Ù : Alt – 0217
  • ù : Alt – 151 or 0249
  • Ü : Alt – 154 or Alt – 0220
  • ü : Alt – 129 or Alt – 0252
  • Û : Alt – 0219
  • û : Alt -150 or Alt – 0251
  • Æ : Alt – 0198
  • æ : Alt – 0230
  • Œ : Alt – 0140
  • œ : Alt – 0156
  • Ç : Alt – 0199 or Alt -128
  • ç : Alt – 135 or Alt 0231

You can find ALT codes for additional French characters here.

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

loop
You can’t enquêter (investigate) without an accent circonflexe!

When I mentioned changing your keyboard to type French accents, the good news is that this is completely free and doesn’t involve buying a physical keyboard. Instead, using your computer’s settings, you can change how the keys are read.

Here is how to change your keyboard to a US International or UK Extended keyboard.:

  • 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.

For specific instructions for each version of Windows from Windows 95 to Windows 8, have a look at this article.

To change your current keyboard to a US International or UK Extended keyboard in Windows 10:

  • Open the Start menu
  • Click on the gear symbol (Settings)
  • Click on “Time & Language”
  • Choose “Language” from the list on the left side of the window.
  • Click “English (United States)” or “English UK”, depending on the language your computer is currently set to.
  • Click “Options”
  • Under “Keyboards,” click “Add a keyboard”
  • Select US International (or UK Extended)

If that seems complicated, don’t worry. Here’s a step-by-step guide with screen grabs.

If you want to change your keyboard back for some reason, here’s how to do that.

How to type French accents with the US international keyboard layout

woman writing in notebook
You’ll need a cédille to talk about your latest leçon.

Once you’ve changed your keyboard, here’s  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
  • tréma (example: ö ): ” (shift + ‘) then letter
  • French quotations marks : ctrl + alt + [ ]

Note that 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

christmas tree with decorations
You can’t wish someone <<Joyeux Noël>> wihtout a tréma.
  • ` : ` then letter
  • é : ALT GR + e
  • ç : ALT GR + c
  • ^ (example: ê) : ALT GR ^ then letter
  • tréma (example: ö ) : ALT GR + ” then letter

How to type French accents on Mac

Delicious cakes in bakery
Fellow sweet tooths know that you can’t write pâtisserie or gâteau without an accent circonflexe.

Mac OS makes it easy to type French accents out of the box with the option key. You can see a video demonstration of this here.

  • é : option key + e
  • è, à, ù : option key + ` then letter
  • ç : option key + c
  • â, ê, î, ô, û : option key + i then letter
  • ë, ï, ü : option key + u then letter
  • Œ, œ : option key + the “q” key

For some versions of Mac, as well as Apple devices like iPads and iPhones, by pressing or holding down a letter. A box with suggested characters will appear and you can select the one you want to use.  You can also choose a French keypad option along with your other keypads (for example, English, emoji…). The French keypad gives you some shortcuts, like typing a letter followed by an apostrophe, which will show up as the letter with an accent aigu.

Other ways to type French characters

letters puzzle

If none of these solutions speak to you, there are a few other ways to type French accents.  These include:

Online French accent typing screens and French accent software. These are websites that allow you to type in a text box and add French characters either by clicking on them or holding down a key and selecting which accent you want over a particular letter.  The French version of TypeIt is completely free, while Eàsy Type  has a free online version and also offers inexpensive software.   

Speaking of software options, as you can see in the comments section of this article, one of our own French Together readers has created an app called keyxpat, which you can read more about here.

• Use “insert” in Word.  Most versions of Microsoft Word have an “insert” option on the menu at the top of the screen. In Windows 10, Word features an “Insert” tab. Select this and you’ll find a “Symbol” option at the far right. Click on it to find a menu of accented letters. Click on the letter you want, and it will be inserted into the document you’re working on.  This feature has a memory function, so as you use it, the accented letters you input the most often will be at the top of the menu.

• Change your keyboard to French. Some operating systems or computers will allow you to change your current keyboard into a French one, the same way you can change your keyboard to US International or UK Expanded. The only problem here is that the keys won’t correspond to the ones you see in front of you, and that can make a big difference, since French keyboards are AZERTY instead of QWERTY. But if you’re familiar with French keyboards, this is an option worth considering.

• Change your keyboard to French Canadian. Yet another option is to change your keyboard to French Canadian. Many people who type in both English and French prefer this option, since the French-Canadian keyboard is nearly identical to US and UK QWERTY keyboards.  But there’s no need to use codes or any special keys to type accents. For example, to get à, type the apostrophe key and then the “a” key. You can read more about how to make French characters with the French-Canadian keyboard here.

• Autocorrect – In some cases, as with a very common French word or if your computer or mobile device is set up to have French as one of its language/keyboard options, you may be able to type a word without an accent and have it corrected automatically or when you run spellcheck. This isn’t completely infallible, though, especially for complex sentences. For example, your computer might not realize that an -er verb should be in the past tense. So this is probably the least effective strategy on the list.

• Copy/paste – If all else fails, type a French word into your internet search engine and copy the accented letter(s) you get in the results.

For example, if you need an “e” with an accent circonflexe, type a word like “la bete” (no need to add the accent, since that’s what you don’t have!) into your search engine. Then, copy the ê from one of the listed results. 

When it comes to writing in French, accents are a necessary evil. Luckily, as you can see, there are lots of solutions for typing them. Now it’s up to you to find the one that you like best.

Do you have a favorite way to type French accents? Feel free to share it with us in the comments.

Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.

41 thoughts on “How to Easily Type and Pronounce the 5 French Accents (With Alt Codes)”

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  1. WOW! What an “eye-opener” this lesson was! I know I am tech-challenged but I never knew my QWERTY keyboard, bought in Ireland, Mac could make French accents!

    Reply
  2. La section sur “le tréma” utilise tous les deux: l’accent grave et l’aigu sur le “e” de “tréma”. L’article est vraiment utile!

    Reply
  3. Hi Benjamin

    I recently had to buy a new laptop and took the opportunity to buy one with the AZERTY keyboard. It has dedicated keys for é è ç à and then a dedicated circonflex which is added to the next letter pressed â ê î û

    However I have not yet learned how to type the Tréma or wher the two letters are joined as in “oeuvres”. Any clues?

    There are of course lots of differences to the QWERTY keyboard as well the change of position of the letters. I am still getting used to it. When I return to work (currently confiné) I will have to change my work keyboard to AZERTY as well.

    Reply
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. 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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