French Orthography
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French Orthography

French orthography encompasses the spelling and punctuation of the French language. It is based on a combination of phonemic and historical principles. The spelling of words is largely based on the pronunciation of Old French c. 1100-1200 AD, and has stayed more or less the same since then, despite enormous changes to the pronunciation of the language in the intervening years. Even in the late 17th century, with the publication of the first French dictionary by the Académie française, there were attempts to reform French orthography.

This has resulted in a complicated relationship between spelling and sound, especially for vowels; a multitude of silent letters; and many homophones--e.g., saint/sein/sain/seing/ceins/ceint (all pronounced [s]) and sang/sans/cent (all pronounced [s]). This is conspicuous in verbs: parles (you speak), parle (I speak) and parlent (they speak) all sound like [pa?l]. Later attempts to respell some words in accordance with their Latin etymologies further increased the number of silent letters (e.g., temps vs. older tans - compare English "tense", which reflects the original spelling - and vingt vs. older vint).

Nevertheless, there are rules governing French orthography which allow for a reasonable degree of accuracy when pronouncing French words from their written forms. The reverse operation, producing written forms from pronunciation, is much more ambiguous. The French alphabet uses a number of diacritics including the circumflex. A system of braille has been developed for people who are visually impaired.


The French alphabet is based on the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, uppercase and lowercase, with five diacritics and two orthographic ligatures.

Letter Name Name (IPA) Diacritics and ligatures
A a /a/ Àà, Ââ, Ææ
B /be/
C /se/ Çç
D /de/
E e /?/ Éé, Èè, Êê, Ëë
F effe /?f/
G /?e/
H ache /a?/
I i /i/ Îî, Ïï
J ji /?i/
K ka /ka/
L elle /?l/
M emme /?m/
N enne /?n/
O o /o/ Ôô, OEoe
P /pe/
Q qu /ky/
R erre //
S esse /?s/
T /te/
U u /y/ Ùù, Ûû, Üü
V /ve/
W double vé /dubl?ve/
X ixe /iks/
Y i grec /ik/ ?ÿ
Z zède /z?d/

The letters ⟨w⟩ and ⟨k⟩ are rarely used except in loanwords and regional words. The phoneme /w/ sound is usually written ⟨ou⟩; the /k/ sound is usually written ⟨c⟩ anywhere but before ⟨e, i, y⟩, ⟨qu⟩ before ⟨e, i, y⟩, and sometimes ⟨que⟩ at the ends of words. However, ⟨k⟩ is common in the metric prefix kilo- (originally from Greek khilia "a thousand"): kilogramme, kilomètre, kilowatt, kilohertz, etc.


The usual diacritics are the acute (⟨´⟩, accent aigu), the grave (⟨`⟩, accent grave), the circumflex (⟨^⟩, accent circonflexe), the diaeresis (⟨¨⟩, tréma), and the cedilla (⟨¸ ⟩, cédille). Diacritics have no effect on the primary alphabetical order.

  • The acute accent or accent aigu (é), over e, indicates uniquely the sound /e/. An é in modern French is often used where a combination of e and a consonant, usually s, would have been used formerly: écouter < escouter.
  • The grave accent or accent grave (à, è, ù), over a or u, is used primarily to distinguish homophones: à ("to") vs. a ("has"); ou ("or") vs. ("where"; note that the letter ù is used only in this word). Over an e, indicates the sound /?/ in positions where a plain e would be pronounced as /?/ (schwa). Many verb conjugations contain regular alternations between è and e; for example, the accent mark in the present tense verb lève [l?v] distinguishes the vowel's pronunciation from the schwa in the infinitive, lever [l?ve].
  • The circumflex or accent circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û), over a, e and o, indicates the sound /?/, /?/ and /o/, respectively, but the distinction a /a/ vs. â /?/ tends to disappear in Parisian French, so they are both pronounced [a]. In Belgian French, ê is pronounced [?:]. Most often, it indicates the historical deletion of an adjacent letter (usually an s or a vowel): château < castel, fête < feste, sûr < seur, dîner < disner (in medieval manuscripts many letters were often written as diacritical marks: the circumflex for "s" and the tilde for "n" are examples). It has also come to be used to distinguish homophones: du ("of the") vs. (past participle of devoir "to have to do something (pertaining to an act)"); however is in fact written thus because of a dropped e: deu (see Circumflex in French). Since the 1990 orthographic changes, the circumflex on most i's and u's may be dropped when it does not serve to distinguish homophones: chaîne becomes chaine but sûr (sure) does not change because it distinguishes the word from sur (on).
  • The diaeresis or tréma (ë, ï, ü, ÿ), over e, i, u or y, indicates that a vowel is to be pronounced separately from the preceding one: naïve [naiv], Noël [nl].
    • The combination of e with diaeresis following o (as in Noël) is nasalized in the regular way if followed by n (Samoëns [samw], but note Citroën [sit?o?n])
    • The combination of e with diaeresis following a is either pronounced [?] (Raphl, Isrl [a?]) or not pronounced, leaving only the a (Stl [a]) and the a is nasalized in the regular way if is followed by n (Saint-Sns [ss(s)])
    • A diaeresis on y only occurs in some proper names and in modern editions of old French texts. Some proper names in which ÿ appears include Aÿ [a(j)i] (commune in Marne, now Aÿ-Champagne), Rue des Cloÿs [?] (alley in the 18th arrondissement of Paris), Croÿ [k?wi] (family name and hotel on the Boulevard Raspail, Paris), Château du Feÿ [dyfei]? (near Joigny), Ghÿs [?i]? (name of Flemish origin spelt Ghijs where ij in handwriting looked like ÿ to French clerks), L'Haÿ-les-Roses [laj l? ?oz] (commune between Paris and Orly airport), Pierre Louÿs [luis] (author), Moÿ-de-l'Aisne [m?id?l?n] (commune in Aisne and a family name), and Le Blanc de Nicolaÿ [nik?lai] (an insurance company in eastern France).
    • The diaeresis on u appears in the Biblical proper names Archélaüs [aelay]?, Capharnaüm [kafa?na?m] (with the um pronounced [?m] as in words of Latin origin such as album, maximum, or chemical element names such as sodium, aluminium), Emmaüs [?mays], Ésaü [ezay], and Saül [sayl], as well as French names such as Haüy [a?i].[WP-fr has as 3 syllables, [ayi]] Nevertheless, since the 1990 orthographic changes, the diaeresis in words containing guë (such as aiguë [e?y] or ciguë [si?y]) may be moved onto the u: aigüe, cigüe, and by analogy may be used in verbs such as j'argüe.
    • In addition, words coming from German retain their umlaut (ä, ö and ü) if applicable but often use French pronunciation, such as Kärcher ([k] or [ka?], trademark of a pressure washer).
  • The cedilla or cédille (ç), under c, indicates that it is pronounced /s/ rather than /k/. Thus je lance "I throw" (with c = [s] before e), je lançais "I was throwing" (c would be pronounced [k] before a without the cedilla). The cedilla is only used before the vowels a, o or u, for example, ça /sa/; it is never used before the vowels e, i, or y, since these three vowels always produce a soft /s/ sound (ce, ci, cycle).

The tilde diacritical mark ( ~ ) above n is occasionally used in French for words and names of Spanish origin that have been incorporated into the language (e.g., El Niño). Like the other diacritics, the tilde has no impact on the primary alphabetical order.

Diacritics are often omitted on capital letters, mainly for technical reasons. It is widely believed that they are not required; however both the Académie française and the Office québécois de la langue française reject this usage and confirm that "in French, the accent has full orthographic value",[1] except for acronyms but not for abbreviations (e.g., CEE, ALENA, but É.-U.).[2] Nevertheless, diacritics are often ignored in word games, including crosswords, Scrabble, and Des chiffres et des lettres.


The two ligatures oe and æ have orthographic value. For determining alphabetical order, these ligatures are treated like the sequences oe and ae.


(French: oe, e dans l'o, o-e entrelacé or o et e collés/liés) This ligature is a mandatory contraction of ⟨oe⟩ in certain words. Some of these are native French words, with the pronunciation /oe/ or /ø/, e.g., choeur "choir" /koe?/, coeur "heart" /koe?/, moeurs "moods (related to moral)" /moe?, moe?s/, noeud "knot" /nø/, soeur "sister" /soe?/, oeuf "egg" /oef/, oeuvre "work (of art)" /oev?/, voeu "vow" /vø/. It usually appears in the combination oeu; oeil /oej/ "eye" is an exception. Many of these words were originally written with the digraph eu; the o in the ligature represents a sometimes artificial attempt to imitate the Latin spelling: Latin bovem > Old French buef/beuf > Modern French boeuf.

OE is also used in words of Greek origin, as the Latin rendering of the Greek diphthong , e.g., coelacanthe "coelacanth". These words used to be pronounced with the vowel /e/, but in recent years a spelling pronunciation with /ø/ has taken hold, e.g., oesophage /ez?fa?/ or /øz?fa?/, OEdipe /edip/ or /ødip/ etc. The pronunciation with /e/ is often seen to be more correct.

When oe is found after the letter c, the c can be pronounced /k/ in some cases (coeur), or /s/ in others (coelacanthe).

The ligature oe is not used when both letters contribute different sounds. For example, when ⟨o⟩ is part of a prefix (coexister), or when ⟨e⟩ is part of a suffix (minoen), or in the word moelle and its derivatives.[3]


(French: æ, e dans l'a, a-e entrelacé or a, e collés/liés) This ligature is rare, appearing only in some words of Latin and Greek origin like tænia, ex æquo, cæcum, æthuse (as named dog's parsley).[4] It generally represents the vowel /e/, like ⟨é⟩.

The sequence ⟨ae⟩ appears in loanwords where both sounds are heard, as in maestro and paella.[5]

Digraphs and trigraphs

French digraphs and trigraphs have both historical and phonological origins. In the first case, it is a vestige of the spelling in the word's original language (usually Latin or Greek) maintained in modern French, for example, the use of ⟨ph⟩ in words like téléphone, ⟨th⟩ in words like théorème, or ⟨ch⟩ in chaotique. In the second case, a digraph is due to an archaic pronunciation, such as ⟨eu⟩, ⟨au⟩, ⟨oi⟩, ⟨ai⟩, and ⟨oeu⟩, or is merely a convenient way to expand the twenty-six-letter alphabet to cover all relevant phonemes, as in ⟨ch⟩, ⟨on⟩, ⟨an⟩, ⟨ou⟩, ⟨un⟩, and ⟨in⟩. Some cases are a mixture of these or are used for purely pragmatic reasons, such as ⟨ge⟩ for /?/ in il mangeait ('he ate'), where the ⟨e⟩ serves to indicate a "soft" ⟨g⟩ inherent in the verb's root, similar to the significance of a cedilla to ⟨c⟩.

Spelling to sound correspondences

Some exceptions apply to the rules governing the pronunciation of word-final consonants. See Liaison (French) for details.

Consonants and combinations of consonant letters
Spelling Major value
Examples of major value Minor values
Examples of minor values Exceptions
-bs, -cs (in plural of words ending in silent ⟨b⟩ or ⟨c⟩), -ds, -fs (in oeufs and boeufs, and plural words ending with silent -⟨f⟩), -gs, -ps, -ts Ø plombs, blancs, prends, oeufs, cerfs, longs , draps, achats
b, bb elsewhere ballon, abbé
before a voiceless consonant absolu, observer, subtile
finally Ø plomb, Colomb Jacob
ç ça, garçon, reçu
c before ⟨e, i, y⟩ cyclone , loquace, douce, ciel, ceux
initially/medially elsewhere cabas , crasse, coeur, sac (before æ and oe in scientific terms of Latin and Greek origin) cæcum, coelacanthe second
finally lac, donc, parc Ø tabac, blanc, caoutchouc zinc
cc before ⟨e, i, y⟩ /ks/ accès, accent succion
elsewhere accord
ch chat , douche (often in words of Greek origin[6]) chaotique, chlore, varech Ø yacht, almanach
check-list, strech, coach
-ct /kt/ direct , correct Ø respect, suspect, instinct, succinct
d, dd elsewhere doux , adresse, addition
finally Ø pied , accord David, sud
f, ff fait , affoler, soif Ø clef, cerf, nerf
g before ⟨e, i, y⟩ gens , manger gin, management, adagio
initially/medially elsewhere gain , glacier
finally Ø joug, long, sang erg, zigzag
gg before ⟨e, i, y⟩ /??/ suggérer
elsewhere aggraver
gn montagne , agneau, gnôle /?n/ gnose, gnou
h Ø habite , hiver (intervocalic, to some speakers, but Ø for most speakers) Sahara ahaner (also Ø or /j/), hit
j joue, jeter jean, jazz fjord
jota, marijuana
k alkyler , kilomètre, bifteck
l, ll lait , allier, il, royal, matériel Ø (occasionally finally) cul, fusil, saoul Ø fils, aulne, aulx
(see also -il)
m, mm mou , pomme Ø automne, condamner
n, nn nouvel , panne
ng (in loanwords) parking , camping
p, pp elsewhere pain, appel
finally Ø coup, trop cap, cep
ph téléphone , photo
pt /pt/ ptérodactyle, adapter , excepter, ptôse, concept baptême, compter, sept Ø prompt (also pt
q (see qu) coq , cinq, piqûre (in new orthography, piqure), Qatar
r, rr rat , barre Ø monsieur, gars
(see also -er)
s initially
medially next to a consonant
or after a nasal vowel
sacre , estime, penser, instituer Alsace, transat, transiter
elsewhere between two vowels rose, paysage antisèche, parasol, vraisemblable
finally Ø dans , repas fils, sens (noun), os (singular), ours
sc before ⟨e, i, y⟩ science fasciste (also )
elsewhere /sk/ script
sch schlague , haschisch, esche /sk/ schizoïde, ischion, æschne
ss baisser, passer
-st /st/ est (direction), ouest, podcast Ø est (verb),
Jésus-Christ (also /st/), contest
t, tt elsewhere tout , attente nation (see ti + vowel)
finally Ø tant , raffut dot, brut, yaourt
tch tchat, match, Tchad
th thème, thermique, aneth Ø asthme, bizuth, goth
v ville, vanne
w kiwi , week-end (in new orthography, weekend), whisky wagon, schwa, interviewer (see also aw, ew, ow)
x initially
next to a voiceless consonant
phonologically finally
/ks/ xylophone, expansion, connexe /?z/ xénophobie, Xavier xhosa, xérès (also /ks/)
medially elsewhere /ks/ galaxie, maximum

soixante, Bruxelles
finally Ø paix , deux /ks/ index, pharynx six, dix, coccyx
xc before ⟨e, i, y⟩ /ks/ exciter
elsewhere /ksk/ excavation
z elsewhere zain , gazette
finally Ø chez gaz
Vowels and combinations of vowel letters
Spelling Major value
Examples of major value Minor values
Examples of minor value Exceptions
a, à patte, arable, là, déjà araser, base, condamner yacht (also )
â château, pâ dégât (also ), parlâmes, liâtes, menât (simple past and imperfect subjunctive verb forms ending in -âmes, -âtes, and -ât)
aa graal, Baal, maastrichtois /a.a/ aa
æ ex-æquo, cæcum
ae reggae /a/ groenendael, maelstrom, Portaels /a.?/ maestro
/a.e/ paella
/a.?/ Raphl, Isrl /a/ Stl
vrai, faite
ai, aiguille, baisser, gai, quai
lançai, mangerai (future and simple past verb forms ending in -ai or -rai) faisan, faisons,[7] (and all other conjugated forms of faire which are spelt fais- and followed by a pronounced vowel)
(in new orthography ⟨ai⟩) mtre, chne (in new orthography, maitre, chaine)
/a.i/ nf, hr /aj/ e, eul, he, pen
aie baie, monnaie /?j/ paie (also paye)
ao, aô elsewhere /a.?/ aorte, extraordinaire (also ) /a.o/ baobab faonne, paonneau
phonologically finally /a.o/ cacao, chaos curaçao
aou, aoû /a.u/ caoutchouc, aoûtien (in new orthography, aoutien), yaourt saoul, août (in new orthography, aout)
au elsewhere haut, augure
before ⟨r⟩ dinosaure, Aurélie, Laurent (also )
ay elsewhere /?j/ ayons, essayer (also /ej/) /aj/ mayonnaise, papaye, ayoye /ei/ pays (also /?i/)
finally Gamay, margay, railway okay
-aye /?.i/ abbaye /?j/ paye La Haye
/aj/ baye
e elsewhere repeser, genoux revolver (in new orthography, révolver)
before multiple consonants, ⟨x⟩, or
a final consonant (silent or pronounced)
est, estival, voyelle, examiner, exécuter, quel, chalet /?, e/
essence, effet, henné
recherche, secrète, repli (before ch+vowel or 2 different consonants when the second one is l or r)
mangez, (and any form of a verb in the second person plural that ends in -ez).
femme, solennel, fréquemment, (and other adverbs ending in -emment)[8]
Gennevilliers (see also -er, -es)
in monosyllabic words before a silent consonant et, les, nez, clef es
in a position where
it can be easily elided
? caisse, unique, acheter (also ), franchement (finally in monosyllabic words) que, de, je
é, ée clé, échapper, idée (in closed syllables) événement, céderai, vénerie (in new orthography, évènement, cèderai, vènerie)
è relève, zèle
ê phonologically finally or in closed syllables tête, crêpe, forêt, prêt
in open syllables /?:, e/ bêtise
ea (except after ⟨g⟩) dealer, leader, speaker (in new orthography, dealeur, leadeur, speakeur)
ee week-end (in new orthography, weekend), spleen pedigree (also pédigré(e))
eau eau, oiseaux
ei neige (also ), reine (also ), geisha (also /?j/)
rtre (in new orthography, reitre)
eoi /wa/ asseoir (in new orthography, assoir)
eu initially
phonologically finally
Europe, heureux, peu, chanteuse eu, eussions, (and any conjugated form of avoir spelt with eu-), gageure (in new orthography, gageüre)
elsewhere beurre, jeune feutre, neutre, pleuvoir
jne mes, t, (and any conjugated forms of avoir spelt with eû-)
ey before vowel /?j/ gouleyant, volleyer
finally hockey, trolley
i elsewhere ici, proscrire Ø business
before vowel fief, ionique, rien (in compound words) antioxydant
î gîte, épître (in new orthography, gitre, epitre)
ï (initially or between vowels) ïambe (also iambe), aïeul, païen ouïe
-ie régie, vie
o phonologically finally
pro, mot, chose, déposes sosie
elsewhere carotte, offre cyclone, fosse, tome
ô tôt, cône hôpital (also )
oe oeil
oesophage, foetus
oe /?.e/ coefficient /wa, w?/ moelle, moellon, moelleux (also moëlle, moëllon, moëlleux)
/wa, w?/ ple
/?.?/ Nl /?.e/ can, gmon (also canoé, goémon)
/w?/ fne, Planct
/wa/ Vvre
oeu phonologically finally noeud, oeufs, boeufs, voeu
elsewhere soeur, coeur, oeuf, boeuf
oi, oie /wa/ roi, oiseau, foie, quoi (also /w?/ for these latter words) /w?/ bois, noix, poids, trois oignon (in new orthography, ognon)
/?j/ séquoia
/o.i/ autoimmuniser
/wa, w?/ crs, Bent
/?.i/ ct, astérde /?j/ trka
oo /?.?/ coopération, oocyte, zoologie bazooka, cool, football alcool, Boskoop, rooibos
spéculoos, mooré, zoo
ou, où elsewhere ouvrir, sous, /o.y/ pseudouridimycine
/aw/ out, knock-out
before vowel or h+vowel ouest, couiner, oui, souhait (also /u/)
(in new orthography ⟨ou⟩) ct, gt (in new orthography, cout, gout)
-oue roue
oy /waj/ moyen, royaume /wa, w?/ Fourcroy /?j/ oyez (and any conjugated form of ouïr spelt with oy-), goyave, cow-boy (in new orthography cowboy), ayoy
/?.i/ Moyse
u elsewhere tu, juge tofu, pudding
club, puzzle
rhumerie (see also um)
before vowel huit, tuer pollueur cacahuète (also )
û (in new orthography ⟨u⟩) sûr, flûte (in new orthography, flute)
ue, uë elsewhere /??/ actuel, ruelle

(see below)
orgueil, cueillir
finally aig (in new orthography, aigüe), rue Ø clique
üe finally aigüe
-ui, uï /?i/ linguistique, équilateral ambig(in new orthography, ambigüité) /i/ équilibre
uy /?ij/ bruyant, ennuyé, fuyons, Guyenne /y.j/ gruyère, thuya /?i/ puy
y elsewhere cyclone, style
before vowel yeux, yole polyester, Libye
ÿ (used only in proper nouns) L'Haÿ-les-Roses, Freÿr
Combinations of vowel and consonant letters
Spelling Major value
Examples of major value Minor values
Examples of minor value Exceptions
am before consonant ambiance, lampe dam
finally /am/ Vietnam, tam-tam, macadam Adam
an, aan before consonant or finally France, an, bilan, plan, afrikaans /an/ brahman, chaman, dan, gentleman, tennisman, naan
aen, aën before consonant or finally Caen, Saint-Saëns
aim, ain before consonant or finally faim, saint, bains
aon before consonant or finally paon, faon /a./ pharaon
aw crawl, squaw, yawl /?s/ in the 18th century and still traditional French approximation of Laws, the colloquial Scottish form of the economist John Law's name[9][10]
cqu acquit, acquéreur
-cte finally as feminine form of adjectives ending in silent ⟨ct⟩ (see above) succincte
em, en before consonant or finally elsewhere embaucher, vent examen, ben, pensum, pentagone /?n/ week-end (in new orthography, weekend), lichen
/?m/ indemne, totem
before consonant or finally after ⟨é, i, y⟩ européen, bien, doyen (before t or soft c) patient, quotient, science, audience
eim, ein before consonant or finally plein, sein, Reims
-ent 3rd person plural verb ending Ø parlent, finissaient
-er aller, transporter, premier /??/ hiver, super, éther, fier, mer, enfer, Niger /oe?/ leader (also ??), speaker
-es Ø Nantes, faites , les, des, ces, es
eun before consonant or finally jeun
ew /ju/ newton, steward (also iw) chewing-gum
ge before ⟨a, o, u⟩ geai, mangea
gu before ⟨e, i, y⟩ guerre, dingue /?y, ??/ arguër (in new orthography, argüer), aiguille, linguistique, ambiguïté (in new orthography, ambigüité)
-il after some vowels1 ail, conseil
not after vowel /il/ il, fil outil, fils, fusil
-ilh- after ⟨u⟩[11] /ij/ Guilhem
after other vowels[11] /j/ Meilhac, Devieilhe /l/ Devieilhe (some families don't use the traditional pronunciation /j/ of ilh)
-ill- after some vowels1 paille, nouille
not after vowel /il/ mille, million, billion, ville, villa, village, tranquille[12] /ij/ grillage, bille
im, in, în before consonant or finally importer, vin, vînt /in/ sprint
oin, oën before consonant or finally /w/ besoin, point, Samoëns
om, on before consonant or finally ombre, bon /?n/ canyon
ow cow-boy (also [aw]. In new orthography, cowboy), show clown
/o.w/ Koweït
qu quand, pourquoi, loquace /k?/
aquarium, loquace, quatuor
/ky/ pire (in new orthography, piqure), qu
ti + vowel initially or after /s/ /tj/ bastion, gestionnaire, tiens, aquae-sextien
elsewhere /sj/, /si/ fonctionnaire, initiation, Croatie, haïtien /tj/, /ti/ the suffix -tié, all conjugated forms of
verbs with a radical ending in -t
(augmentions, partiez, etc.) or derived from
tenir, and all nouns and past participles derived
from such verbs and ending in -ie (sortie, divertie, etc.)
um, un before consonant or finally parfum, brun /?m/ album, maximum nuncupation, punch (in new orthography, ponch), secundo
ym, yn before consonant or finally sympa, syndrome /im/ gymnase, hymne
^1 These combinations are pronounced /j/ after ⟨a, e, eu, oe, ou, ue⟩, all but the last of which are pronounced normally and are not influenced by the ⟨i⟩. For example, in rail, ⟨a⟩ is pronounced /a/; in mouiller, ⟨ou⟩ is pronounced /u/. ⟨ue⟩, however, which only occurs in such combinations after ⟨c⟩ and ⟨k⟩, is pronounced /oe/ as opposed to //: orgueil, cueillir, accueil, etc. These combinations are never pronounced /j/ after ⟨o, u⟩ (except -⟨uill⟩-, which is /?ij/: aiguille, juillet); in that case, the vowel + i combination as well as the ⟨l⟩s is pronounced normally, although as usual, the pronunciation of ⟨u⟩ after ⟨g⟩ and ⟨p⟩ is somewhat unpredictable: poil, huile, équilibre [ekilib?] but équilatéral [ek?ilate?al], etc.

There are no longer silent k's in French. They appeared in skunks, knock-out, knickerbockers and knickers, but from now onwards, the ⟨k⟩ is also pronounced. The only consonants always pronounced equally in French are now ⟨k⟩ and ⟨v⟩. Also, ⟨ei⟩ is always pronounced , even in leitmotiv.

Words from Greek

The spelling of French words of Greek origin is complicated by a number of digraphs which originated in the Latin transcriptions. The digraphs ⟨ph⟩, ⟨th⟩, and ⟨ch⟩ normally represent /f/, /t/, and /k/ in Greek loanwords, respectively; and the ligatures ⟨æ⟩ and ⟨oe⟩ in Greek loanwords represent the same vowel as ⟨é⟩ . Further, many words in the international scientific vocabulary were constructed in French from Greek roots and have kept their digraphs (e.g., stratosphère, photographie).


The Oaths of Strasbourg from 842 is the earliest text written in the early form of French called Romance or Gallo-Romance.


The Gaulish language of the inhabitants of Gaul disappeared progressively over the course of Roman rule as the Latin language began to replace it. Vulgar Latin, a generally lower register of Classical Latin spoken by the Roman soldiers, merchants and even patricians in quotidian speech, and adopted by the natives, evolved slowly, taking the forms of different spoken Roman vernaculars according to the region of the country.

Eventually the different forms of Vulgar Latin would evolve into three branches in the Gallo-Romance language sub-family, the langues d'oïl north of the Loire, the langues d'oc in the south, and the Franco-Provençal languages in part of the east.[13]

Old French

In the 9th century, the Romance vernaculars were already quite far from Latin. For example, to understand the Bible, written in Latin, footnotes were necessary. With consolidation of royal power, beginning in the 13th century, the Francien vernacular, the langue d'oil variety in usage then on the Île-de-France, brought it little by little to the other languages and evolved toward Classic French.

The languages found in the manuscripts dating from the 9th century to the 13th century form what is known as Old French or ancien français. These languages continued to evolve until, in the 14th century to the 16th century, Middle French (moyen français) emerged.[13]

Middle French

Romant de la Rose, 14th century

During the Middle French period (c. 1300-1600), modern spelling practices were largely established. This happened especially during the 16th century, under the influence of printers. The overall trend was towards continuity with Old French spelling, although some changes were made under the influence of changed pronunciation habits; for example, the Old French distinction between the diphthongs eu and ue was eliminated in favor of consistent eu,[a] as both diphthongs had come to be pronounced /ø/ or /oe/ (depending on the surrounding sounds). However, many other distinctions that had become equally superfluous were maintained, e.g. between s and soft c or between ai and ei. It is likely that etymology was the guiding factor here: the distinctions s/c and ai/ei reflect corresponding distinctions in the spelling of the underlying Latin words, whereas no such distinction exists in the case of eu/ue.

This period also saw the development of some explicitly etymological spellings, e.g. temps ("time"), vingt ("twenty") and poids ("weight") (note that in many cases, the etymologizing was sloppy or occasionally completely incorrect; vingt reflects Latin viginti, with the g in the wrong place, and poids actually reflects Latin pensum, with no d at all; the spelling poids is due to an incorrect derivation from Latin pondus). The trend towards etymologizing sometimes produced absurd (and generally rejected) spellings such as sçapvoir for normal savoir ("to know"), which attempted to combine Latin sapere ("to be wise", the correct origin of savoir) with scire ("to know").

Classical French

Modern French spelling was codified in the late 17th century by the Académie française, based largely on previously established spelling conventions. Some reforms have occurred since then, but most have been fairly minor. The most significant changes have been:

  • Adoption of j and v to represent consonants, in place of former i and u.
  • Addition of a circumflex accent to reflect historical vowel length. During the Middle French period, a distinction developed between long and short vowels, with long vowels largely stemming from a lost /s/ before a consonant, as in même (cf. Spanish mismo), but sometimes from the coalescence of similar vowels, as in âge from earlier aage, eage (early Old French *edage < Vulgar Latin *aetaticum, cf. Spanish edad < aetate(m)). Prior to this, such words continued to be spelled historically (e.g. mesme and age). Ironically, by the time this convention was adopted in the 19th century, the former distinction between short and long vowels had largely disappeared in all but the most conservative pronunciations, with vowels automatically pronounced long or short depending on the phonological context (see French phonology).
  • Use of ai in place of oi where pronounced /?/ rather than /wa/. The most significant effect of this was to change the spelling of all imperfect verbs (formerly spelled -ois, -oit, -oient rather than -ais, -ait, -aient), as well as the name of the language, from françois to français.

Modern French

In October 1989, Michel Rocard, then-Prime Minister of France, established the High Council of the French Language (Conseil supérieur de la langue française) in Paris. He designated experts -- among them linguists, representatives of the Académie française and lexicographers -- to propose standardizing several points, a few of those points being:

  • The uniting hyphen in all compound numerals
i.e. trente-et-un
  • The plural of compound words, the second element of which always takes the plural s
For example un après-midi, des après-midis
  • The circumflex accent ⟨^⟩ disappears on all u's and i's except for words in which it is needed for differentiation
As in coût (cost) -> cout, abîme (abyss) -> abime but sûr (sure) because of sur (on)
  • The past participle of laisser followed by an infinitive verb is invariable (now works the same way as the verb faire)
elle s'est laissée mourir -> elle s'est laissé mourir

Quickly, the experts set to work. Their conclusions were submitted to Belgian and Québécois linguistic political organizations. They were likewise submitted to the Académie française, which endorsed them unanimously, saying: "Current orthography remains that of usage, and the 'recommendations' of the High Council of the French language only enter into play with words that may be written in a different manner without being considered as incorrect or as faults."[]

The changes were published in the Journal officiel de la République française in December 1990. At the time the proposed changes were considered to be suggestions. In 2016, schoolbooks in France began to use the newer recommended spellings, with instruction to teachers that both old and new spellings be deemed correct.[14]


In France, the exclamation mark, question mark, semicolon, colon, percentage mark, currency symbols, hash, and guillemet all require a non-breaking space before and after the punctuation mark. Outside of France, this rule is often ignored. Computer software may aid or hinder the application of this rule, depending on the degree of localisation, as it is marked differently from most other Western punctuation.


The hyphen in French has a particular use in geographic names that is not found in English. Traditionally, the "specific" part of placenames, street names, and organization names are hyphenated (usually namesakes).[15][16] For instance, la place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad (Square of the Battle of Stalingrad [la bataille de Stalingrad]); and l'université Blaise-Pascal (named after Blaise Pascal). Likewise, Pas-de-Calais is actually a place on land; the real pas ("strait") is le pas de Calais.

However, this rule is not uniformly observed in official names, e.g., either la Côte-d'Ivoire or la Côte d'Ivoire, but normally la Côte d'Azur has no hyphens. The names of Montreal Metro stations are consistently hyphenated when suitable, but those of Paris Métro stations mostly ignore this rule. (For more examples, see Trait d'union)

See also


  1. ^ Except in a few words such as accueil, where the ue spelling was necessary to retain the hard /k/ pronunciation of the c.


  1. ^ Académie française, accentuation Archived 2011-05-14 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Banque de dépannage linguistique - Accents sur les majuscules". Archived from the original on 6 November 2014. Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ See wikt:fr:Catégorie:oe non ligaturé en français
  4. ^ Didier, Dominique. "La ligature æ". Retrieved 2017.
  5. ^ wikt:fr:Catégorie:ae non ligaturé en français
  6. ^ See Ch (digraph)#French
  7. ^ "French Pronuncation: Vowel Sounds I -LanguageGuide". Retrieved 2017.
  8. ^ "French Pronuncation: Vowel Sounds II -LanguageGuide". Retrieved 2017.
  9. ^ "Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Law, John (1671-1729) - Wikisource, the free online library".
  10. ^ , p. 487 to 506, especially p. 501
  11. ^ a b "Dictionnaire de l'Académie française".
  12. ^ "Is LL Pronounced Like an L or like a Y in French?". Retrieved 2017.
  13. ^ a b Translation of Évolution de la langue française du Ve au XVe siècle. See also Langue romane (French) and Romance languages (English).
  14. ^ "End of the circumflex? Changes in French spelling cause uproar". BBC News. 2016-02-05. Retrieved .
  15. ^ "Charte ortho-typographique du Journal officiel [Orthotypography Style Guide for the Journal Officiel]" (PDF). Légifrance (in French). 2016. p. 19. On le met dans le nom donné à des voies (rue, place, pont...), une agglomération, un département... Exemples : boulevard Victor-Hugo, rue du Général-de-Gaulle, ville de Nogent-le-Rotrou. Summary ranslation: "Hyphenate name in roadways (streets, squares, bridges), towns, départements". See also "orthotypography".
  16. ^ "Établissements d'enseignement ou organismes scolaires [Educational institutes or school-related bodies]". Banque de dépannage linguistique (in French). Les parties d'un spécifique qui comporte plus d'un élément sont liées par un trait d'union [...] Exemples : l'école Calixa-Lavallée, l'école John-F.-Kennedy. Summary ranslation: "Multi-word "specifics" are hyphenated.".


External links

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