French uses several accent marks to guide pronunciation. These are the most commons ones.
1. L’accent aigu: The aigu accent points to the right and upward. Only appearing above the letter e, it changes the letter’s pronunciation to ay—for example,
médecin (may-deh-sehn, meaning doctor),
étouffer, (ay-too-fay, meaning to stifle),
marché (mar-shay, meaning market).
2. L’accent grave: The grave accent points to the left and upward. It can appear over any vowel, but it only alters pronunciation when over the letter e. While, depending on context, unaccented e‘s may be pronounced several different ways, e‘s with grave accents are always pronounced ehh, like the e in the English word set. Examples:
- très (treh, meaning very)
- deuxième (doo-zee-ehm, meaning second, as in second place).
3. Le circonflexe: The circonflexe looks like a little pointed hat over vowels. It doesn’t change pronunciation, but it must be included in written French.
- forêt (for-ay, meaning forest)
- hôtel (owe-tel, meaning hotel)
4. La cédille: In French, the cedilla is a little tail under the letter c: ç. It’s used to give the c an s sound instead of a hard k sound—for example:
- garçon (gahr-sohn, meaning boy)
- français (frahn-say, meaning the French language)
5. Le tréma: The tréma looks like two dots above a letter. It’s usually placed above the second of two consecutive vowels when both vowels are to be pronounced separately.
- Jamaïque (jam-eh-eek, meaning Jamaica)
- coïncidence (ko-ehn-see-dahns, meaning coincidence)