Use of accents - Spelling and more - Speed Up Your French: Strategies to avoid common errors (2016)

Speed Up Your French: Strategies to avoid common errors (2016)

Chapter 9. Spelling and more

Use of accents

This section focuses on common problems with the acute, grave and circumflex accents and the cedilla, treated in that order.

1 Never use an acute accent on ‘e’ if it is followed by ‘s’ + another consonant, or by ‘x’. For example, the verbs espérer (to hope) and expédier (to send) do not have an acute accent on their first ‘e’.

2 Be careful with verbs ending in -éer, e.g. créer (to create), maugréer contre (to grumble about). They are perfectly regular, though the succession of vowels in the past participle may look surprising.

Elle a maugréé contre son patron.

(She grumbled about her boss.)

In the example above, it is perfectly correct to have two ‘e’s with an acute accent in succession; the first is part of the stem of the verb, the second is the regular ending of the past participle. If you do not write an acute accent on the ending of the past participle, you will end up with the present tense form instead, e.g. elle maugrée (she is grumbling), instead of elle a maugréé (she grumbled).

It is even possible to have three ‘e’s in succession, e.g.

Elle ne veut pas quitter la clientèle qu’elle a créée.

(She doesn’t want to leave the practice she has built up.)

In this example, the third ‘e’ marks the agreement with the feminine singular preceding direct object, la clientèle (the practice).

3 There is no grave accent on ‘a’ in the demonstrative pronouns ça and cela. Note the difference in meaning between ça (that) and çà with a grave accent, as used in the expression çà et là (here and there).

4 Remember to use a grave accent to distinguish the preposition à (to, at, in) from a, the third-person singular present tense verb form of avoir (to have), for example:

Elle a passé deux mois à Paris.

(She has spent two months in Paris.)

5 Remember also to use a grave accent to distinguish (where) from ou (or), for example:

est-il allé? Il se moque de nous, ou quoi?

(Where has he gone? Is he making fun of us or what?)

6 Remember to use a circumflex accent to distinguish , the past participle of devoir (to have to), from du (the contraction of de + le), for example:

Il a oublier l’heure du rendez-vous.

(He must have forgotten the time of the appointment.)

7 Take care with verbs ending in -aître, e.g. connaître (to know), paraître (to seem). You need a circumflex on the ‘i’ only when it is followed immediately by ‘t’. This occurs in the third-person singular of the present tense, e.g. il connaît, il paraît, in the infinitive, and throughout the future and conditional (which take the infinitive minus the final -e as their stem), e.g. je connaîtrai, il paraîtra, je connaîtrais, il paraîtrait.

8 Remember to use a cedilla under ‘c’ before ‘a’, ‘o’ or ‘u’, to indicate a soft ‘c’, e.g. ça (that) in contrast to car (for) with a hard ‘c’.

There is no need for a cedilla before ‘e’ or ‘i’, because ‘c’ is always soft before these two vowels, hence the difference between ça with a cedilla and cela without.


Mnemonic device

Think of the three vowels in the name, ADOLPHUS.

9 You will frequently see accents omitted on capital letters, particularly the grave accent on capital ‘A’, but you must never omit a cedilla, where needed, on a capital ‘C’. The title of the magazine Ça m’intéresse should serve as a useful reminder.