How to Type French Accent Marks: Keyboard Shortcuts

October 17, 2023
6 min read

French accent marks can seem intimidating. However, with the proper understanding and familiarity, you can master them. 

"C'est la vie" written in cursive on paper

Did you know that there are specific ways to type French accent marks on your keyboard? In this digital age, knowing these methods is key if you want to learn French and communicate effectively in the language. 

With the right keyboard shortcuts and an understanding of accent marks, you can add these diacritical symbols seamlessly to your French text. These methods are essential for clear and effective written communication in one of the world's most beautiful languages. So, let’s get into them.

Exploring French Accents

Accent marks in French, like é, è, ç, â, ê, î, ô, û, and others, serve three crucial functions in the French language. To start, these marks ensure that words are pronounced accurately, eliminating ambiguity in speech. For example, é always sounds like "ay," helping learners speak French correctly.

They also distinguish words that share the same spelling but have different meanings or pronunciations, enhancing clarity. For instance, "sur" and "sûr" are easily differentiated by the accent mark on "û."

Accent marks, particularly the circumflex, offer insights into the historical evolution of words. They indicate the presence of dropped letters (typically 's') in older forms, enriching the language's cultural context.

Mastery of these accents is integral to becoming proficient in French, as they not only facilitate communication but also deepen one's appreciation of the language's intricacies.

The 5 Accents in French Writing

There are five accents in French writing, and they serve specific purposes in the language.. 

  • L'accent aigu (Acute Accent): é
  • L'accent grave (Grave Accent): à, è, ù
  • La cédille (Cedilla): ç
  • L'accent circonflexe (Circumflex): â, ê, î, ô, û
  • L'accent tréma (Trema): ë, ï, ü

These accents play a crucial role in French orthography, helping to clarify pronunciation, differentiate between words, and maintain the correct stress patterns. Understanding and using these accents correctly is essential for effective communication in written French.

A Deeper Dive Into French Accent Marks

In this section, we’ll delve deeper into the world of accent marks, exploring their individual functions and nuances, which are essential for mastering the French language.

The Acute Accent (L’accent aigu)

The acute accent, represented by 'é,' is unique among French accents in that it exclusively pairs with the letter 'e.'

  • Pronunciation: 'é' is pronounced as a single sound, resembling the English letter "a" in words like "say" or "bay" but without the diphthong.


The accent aigu primarily serves as a pronunciation guide. It ensures that 'e' is pronounced with the "ay" sound, which is essential for clear enunciation in French. This accent is commonly used in conjugations, past participles, and various verb tenses, helping to distinguish between past and present forms. For instance, "je pense" (I think) vs. "j'ai pensé" (I thought).

The Grave Accent (L’accent grave)

The grave accent is versatile, used with 'a,' 'e,' and 'u' for distinct purposes.

  • Pronunciation: 'è' is pronounced as "eh," akin to the English words "get" or "ebb."


  • Pronunciation Guide: Similar to the acute accent, the grave accent (accent grave) provides pronunciation guidance, ensuring 'è' is pronounced correctly.
  • Differentiation: It plays a critical role in distinguishing between homonyms, such as 'là' (there) vs. 'la' (the), and 'à' (to) vs. 'a' (has). Additionally, 'ù' appears exclusively in 'où' (where or when) to differentiate it from 'ou' (or).

The Cedilla (La cédille)

The cedilla is an accent unique to the letter 'c' in French, signaling that 'c' should be pronounced as 's.'


Placed before 'a,' 'o,' and 'u,' it alters the 'c' sound from 'k' to 's.' This is evident in words like 'français' (French) and 'garçon' (boy).

The Circumflex Accent (L’accent circonflexe)

The circumflex accent has multiple functions, including indicating pronunciation, distinguishing between homonyms, and reflecting historical spelling changes.

  • Pronunciation: Depending on the vowel, it signifies different sounds. For instance, 'â' is pronounced as "ahh," 'ê' as 'è' ("eh"), and 'ô' as "oh."


  • Pronunciation Guide: The circumflex accent provides pronunciation cues for vowels and ensures their accurate enunciation.
  • Differentiation: It helps differentiate words that are spelled the same but have different meanings, such as 'sûr' (sure), 'mûr' (ripe), and 'dû' (due).
  • Historical Spelling: In some cases, the circumflex accent reflects the omission of an 's' in the word's historical development, as seen in 'forêt' (forest) and 'hôpital' (hospital).

The Trema (L’accent tréma)

The trema is used to indicate that two adjacent vowels should be pronounced individually, rather than forming a single sound.


  • Names: It is often seen in names like 'Zoë' and 'Noël,' signaling that the two vowels 'o' and 'e' should each be pronounced.
  • Feminine Endings: In some cases, it indicates that a word ending in '-gu' has become feminine, as in 'aigu' becoming 'aigüe.' The trema ensures the pronunciation of both vowels, which would typically be skipped in words like 'vogue' or 'langue.'

Overall, French accents are vital for pronunciation and distinguishing words and meanings. While some, like acute and grave accents, aid pronunciation, others like the cedilla and circumflex serve multiple roles, including differentiation and historical context. 

Understanding the purpose behind each accent mark will make allow you to learn French quickly and efficiently. 

Instructions written in French on window

Wrapping Up the French Accent Marks

Accent marks are indispensable elements of the French language, each with a specific role in ensuring accurate pronunciation, distinguishing words, and reflecting historical language changes. The acute, grave, cedilla, circumflex, and trema accents help us express ourselves effectively in both written and spoken French.

Mastering these accents helps us appreciate the richness of the French language. These marks give us a deeper understanding of its subtleties and help us become better at speaking and writing in French. While they may seem intricate initially, with practice and hard work, you can master them. 

And it’s worth it. Learning French has a range of benefits, like connecting with French culture, expanding job prospects, and enjoying art and food. So, don't be discouraged by accents; they're keys to a world of opportunities through the French language.

How to Type Accents in French

Typing accents in French is a straightforward process, whether you're using a Mac or a PC.. Here's a simple guide on how to type French accent keyboard shortcuts on both systems:


On a Mac computer, typing French accents is quite easy, thanks to a combination of key presses that allow you to easily add diacritical marks to your text.

  • L'accent aigu (é): Press and hold the Option (alt) key, then press the 'e' key. Release both keys and type the desired vowel ('e' in this case), and the accent will appear (é).
  • L'accent grave (à, è, ù): Press and hold the Option (alt) key, then press the '`' key. Release both keys and type the desired vowel ('a,' 'e,' or 'u'), and the corresponding grave accent will appear (à, è, ù).
  • La cédille (ç): Press and hold the Option (alt) key, then press the 'c' or 'C' key. Release both keys, and the cedilla will appear (ç).
  • L'accent circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û): Press and hold the Option (alt) key, then press the 'i' key. Release both keys and type the desired vowel ('a,' 'e,' 'i,' 'o,' or 'u'), and the circumflex accent will appear (â, ê, î, ô, û).
  • L'accent tréma (ë, ï, ü): Press and hold the Option (alt) key, then press the 'u' key. Release both keys and type the desired vowel ('e,' 'i,' or 'u'), and the trema accent will appear (ë, ï, ü).


If you're using a PC, typing French accents is simple. You just need to remember some key combinations to add them to your words.

  • L'accent aigu (é): Press Ctrl + ' (apostrophe) and then the desired vowel ('e' in this case).
  • L'accent grave (à, è, ù): Press Ctrl + ` (accent grave) and then the desired vowel ('a,' 'e,' or 'u').
  • La cédille (ç): Press Ctrl + , (comma) and then 'c' or 'C' to get the cedilla (ç).
  • L'accent circonflexe (â, ê, î, ô, û): Press Ctrl + Shift + ^ (caret) and then the desired vowel ('a,' 'e,' 'i,' 'o,' or 'u').
  • L'accent tréma (ë, ï, ü): Press Ctrl + Shift + : (colon) and then the desired vowel ('e,' 'i,' or 'u').

By using these key combinations, you can effortlessly add French accents to your text, ensuring accurate spelling and pronunciation in the French language.


It’s natural to have questions whenit comes to learning French. There’s a lot to take in. So keep reading for some answers to frequently asked questions. 

1. What Do French Accent Marks Mean?

French accent marks are used to identify which exact sound to make. Each of these diacritic marks guides speakers to produce the right sound for vowels and consonants. They help you understand the correct pronunciation and meaning of words and are vital tools for anyone learning or using French.

2. How Do You Remember Accent Marks in French?

To remember accent marks in French, it's helpful to study the rules, practice regularly, and use mnemonic devices or flashcards. Engaging with native speakers, doing writing exercises, and using online resources can also help to reinforce your memory. 

3. How to Type French Accents on Capital Letters?

To type French accents on capital letters, use keyboard shortcuts like Alt codes on Windows or key combinations on Mac. You can also set your keyboard to an international layout, or copy-paste accented capital letters as needed. These methods simplify the process of typing French accents on uppercase characters.

4. Are French Accent Marks Used in Other Languages?

Yes, accent marks are used in several other languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and German, to indicate pronunciation, stress, or meaning.

5. Can I Use Accent Marks in Informal Writing or Text Messages in French?

While formal writing in French requires accent marks, informal communication, like text messages, often omits them for convenience. However, including them is still considered correct and more precise.

Final Thoughts

French is a global language spoken by millions of people worldwide. So, don’t let the complexities hold you back. French accent marks may seem difficult, but with practice, you’ll get a hang of them. So, start typing away and integrating these keyboard shortcuts into your French language learning. 

If you need a helping hand as you learn French- consider signing up for our in-home and 1:1 Online French Language Tutoring. With our support, you’ll be fluent in French in no time. 

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