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French alphabet

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French alphabet

The modern French alphabet consists of the twenty-six letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Five diacritics are used in combination with some of the letters and two orthographic ligatures are used in French but none of these constitute distinct letters of the alphabet.

Letter names

Letter Name Phonetic transcription (IPA) Diacritics and ligatures
A a /ɑ/ Àà, Ââ, Ææ
B /be/
C /se/ Çç
D /de/
E e /ə/ Éé, Èè, Êê, Ëë
F effe /ɛf/
G /ʒe/
H ache /aʃ/
I i /i/ Îî, Ïï
J ji /ʒi/
K ka /kɑ/
L elle /ɛl/
M emme /ɛm/
N enne /ɛn/
O o /o/ Ôô, Œœ
P /pe/
Q qu /ky/
R erre /ɛʁ/
S esse /ɛs/
T /te/
U u /y/ Ùù, Ûû, Üü
V /ve/
W double vé /dubləve/
X ixe /iks/
Y i grec /iɡʁɛk/ Ÿÿ
Z zède /zɛd/

Diacritics

The usual diacritic marks are the acute ( ´ , accent aigu), the grave ( ` , accent grave), the circumflex ( ˆ , circonflexe), the diaeresis ( ¨ , tréma), and the cedilla ( ¸ , cédille). Diacritics have no impact on the primary alphabetical order.

  • Acute accent (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.
  • Grave accent (à, è, ù): Over a or u, used primarily to distinguish homophones: à ("to") vs. a ("has"), ou ("or") vs. ("where"; ù exists only in this word). Over an e, indicates the sound /ɛ/.
  • Circumflex (â, ê, î, ô, û): Over a, e or o, indicates the sound /ɑ/, /ɛ/ or /o/, respectively (the distinction a /a/ vs. â /ɑ/ tends to disappear in Parisian French). Most often 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 Use of the circumflex in French) Since the 1990 orthographic changes, the circumflex on most i and u may be dropped as there is no change in pronunciation, and it does not serve to distinguish homophones.
  • 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, Noël. 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 (commune in canton de la Marne formerly Aÿ-Champagne), Rue des Cloÿs (alley in the 18th arrondissement of Paris), Croÿ (family name and hotel on the Boulevard Raspail, Paris), Château du Feÿ (near Joigny), Ghÿs (name of Flemish origin spelt Ghijs where ij in handwriting looked like ÿ to French clerks), L'Haÿ-les-Roses (commune between Paris and Orly airport), Pierre Louÿs (author), Moÿ (place in commune de l'Aisne and family name), and Le Blanc de Nicolaÿ (an insurance company in eastern France). The diaeresis on u appears in the Biblical proper names Archélaüs, Capharnaüm, Emmaüs, Ésaü and Saül, as well as French names such as Haüy. Nevertheless, since the 1990 orthographic changes, the diaeresis in words containing guë (such as aiguë or ciguë) 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 use French pronunciation, such as Kärcher (trade mark of a pressure washer).
  • Cedilla (ç): Under c, this 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 c cedilla (ç) softens the hard /k/ sound to /s/ before the vowels a, o or u, for example ça /sa/. Ç is never used before the vowels e or i since these two vowels always produce a soft /s/ sound (ce, ci).

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. cañon, 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.

Ligatures

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

Œ

(French: o, e dans l'o or o, e collés/liés) This ligature is a mandatory contraction of ⟨oe⟩ in certain words. Some of these are native French words, with the pronunciation /œ/ or /ø/, e.g. sœur "sister" /sœʁ/, œuvre "work (of art)" /œvʁ/. Note that it usually appears in the combination œu; œil "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 bœuf.

Œ is also used in words of Greek origin, as the Latin rendering of the Greek diphthong οι, e.g. cœlacanthe "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. œsophage /ezɔfaʒ/ or /øzɔfaʒ/, Œdipe /edip/ or /ødip/ etc. The pronunciation with /e/ is often seen to be more correct.

The ligature œ 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]

Æ

(French: a, e dans l'a or a, e collés/liés) This ligature is rare, appearing only in some words of Latin and Greek origin like tænia, ex æquo, cæcum, æthyse (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]

Notes

  • The letters ⟨w⟩ and ⟨k⟩ are rarely used except in loan words or regional words; the /w/ sound is written ⟨ou⟩, the /k/ sound is usually written ⟨c⟩ (anywhere but before ⟨e, i⟩, ⟨qu⟩ (before ⟨e, i⟩) (⟨que⟩ is written in the ends of words that in English end with a ⟨c⟩. Examples: scientifique (scientific), spécifique (specific).), or ⟨cqu⟩. The letter ⟨q⟩ appears more frequently than in English.
    However, ⟨k⟩ is common in the metrological prefix kilo- (originally from Greek χίλια chilia "a thousand"): kilogramme, kilomètre, kilowatt, kilohertz, etc.
  • The vowels are ⟨a, e, i, o, u, y⟩, but see also Diacritics and Ligatures above.

See also

References

External links

  • Recording of 3 different voices pronouncing the French alphabet
  • Online editor for typing French accents
  • French alphabet pronounced by a native speaker (youtube)
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