Apprendre la langue Française (Part Neuf) – capital letters, accents, punctuations


Source: Berlitz French Grammar Handbook, Merriam-Webster’s French-English Dictionary

Capital letters are not used in French on the following:

  • Days of the week and months of the year
  • mardi, le 20 décembre Tuesday, December 20th

  • Adjectives of nationality, including names of languages (BUT a capital is required when adjectives of nationality are used as a noun)
  • Une voiture allemande. A German car.
    Cette lettre en espagnol. This letter is in Spanish.

    Il y ades Anglais dans l’hôtel. There are some English people in the hotel.

  • Nouns relating to places and used as part of the place nouns
  • la boulevard St Michel St. Michel Boulevard

  • Points of the compass (BUT a capital is required when it is used as a noun)
  • l’ouest (west), l’est (east), le nord-est (northeast)
    le Nord The North

  • Personal status and professions in titles
  • le docteur Dubois Doctor Dubois

  • Proper names widely adopted as standard names of products, except for nouns of geographic or national identity, which are usually capitalized e.g. les Antillais, une Vietnamienne.
  • le bordeaux, le beaujolais wines
    le gruyère, le hollande cheeses
    le scotch adhesive tape

  • Names of holidays composed of two or more words
  • la fête du Travail (Labor Day), mercredi des Cendres (Ash Wednesday)

French accents are:
´              accent aigu (acute accent)
`              accent grave (grave accent)
^             accent circonflexe (circumflex)
ç             cédille (cedilla)
¨             tréma (diaeresis)

When the letter e is spelled aloud with any accent (acute, grave, or circumflex), it is pronounced è accent grave, é accent aigu, etc. The cedilla occurs only with the letter c and in spelling aloud is c cédille. Accents are usually omitted with capital letters.

Accents serve two purposes in French. It indicates pronunciation and the other, it distinguishes words that have identical spelling but different meanings.

The only vowel whose pronunciation is affected by the addition of an accent is e. An acute accent on an e always has the same effect:

donné has the same sound as donner

A grave accent on an e is almost always a pronunciation marker, the pronunciation being different from the é acute:

père, mère, dernière all rhyme with paire
parallèle, modèle, Michèle all rhyme with elle

The presence of an acute, grave, circumflex accent on the other vowels (a, I, o, and u) can generally be ignored in pronunciation, though they are required to product correct written language.

The cedilla placed under a before a,o, or u means that the c is to be pronounced s and not k:

leçon      reçu      commençait

A c before e or i is always pronounced as s:

cité      recevoir

A diaeresis (¨) over a letter indicates that the vowel on which it is placed is separated in pronunciation from the vowel preceding it.

Noël      Moïses

The principal punctuation marks in French are:

.                le point period, full stop
,                le virgule comma
;                le point-virgule semi-colon
:               deux points colon
?               le point d’interrogation question mark
!               le point d’exclamation exclamation mark
–              le trait (d’union) hyphen
̶–            le tiret dash
…           points de suspension
()           les parenthèses (feminine)    brackets, parentheses
<< >>
“”          les guillemets (masculine)     inverted commas, quotation marks

In French, dash (–) is widely used to open direct speech. Inverted commas, which is used in English, are often ommitted altogether, or are included only at the start and finish of an exchange of direct speech.

–Venez donc ce soir! “Come this evening, then!”

Adding the speaker does not entail closing and reopening the direct speech with formal punctuation marks:

–Venez donc ce soir, répondit “Come this evening, then!”
Christophe, à partir de huit heures. Christophe replied, “from eight o’clock onwards.”

The use of the comma for the most part is the same as in English. However in presenting numbers there are important differences. In French, a comma is used in decimals:

L’inflation est de 3,8%. Inflation is at 3.8%.

Commas are not used with large numbers:

43 000 personnes 43,000 people

More useful tips about French accents courtesy of french.about.com.

There are four French accents for vowels and one accent for consonant.

The accent aigu ´ (acute accent) can only be on an E. At the beginning of a word, it often indicates that an S used to follow that vowel, for example:

étudiant (student)

The accent grave ` (grave accent) can be found on an A, E, or U. On the A and U, it usually serves to distinguish between words that would otherwise be homographs (or homonyms, in another term), for example:

ou (or) vis-à-vis (where)

It can be confusing on which between accent grave or aigu must be used on an E. Here’s the trick. If there are two Es that are separated by a consonant at the last syllable of a word and the second E is silent when read, place accent grave on the first E.

écolecinéma

littérature

étudiant

télévision

Genèvefrère

mère

père

très (an exemption)

The accent circonflexe ^ (circumflex) can be on an A, E, I, O, or U. The circumflex usually indicates that an S used to follow that vowel, for example:

forêt (forest)

It also serves to distinguish between homographs, for example:

du (contraction of de + le) vis-à-vis (past participle of devoir)

The accent tréma ¨ (diaresis or umlaut) can be on E, I, or U. It is used when two vowels are next to each other and both must be pronounced, for example:

naïve            Saül

The cédille , (cedilla) is found only on the letter C. It changes a hard C sound (like K) into a soft C sound (like S), for example:

garçon

The cedilla is never placed in front of E or I, because C always sounds like an S in front of these vowels.

It is essential to put accents in their proper places – an incorrect or missing accent is a spelling mistake just as an incorrect or missing letter would be. The only exemption to this is capital letters, which are often left unaccented.

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