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Get familiar with French peculiarities easily

By Jean
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Learning a new language is always an exciting journey, and when it comes to French, the experience is uniquely enriching. For foreign students just beginning their foray into this beautiful language, understanding and mastering French peculiarities, such as accents and special characters, is crucial. This guide aims to demystify French peculiarities and provide practical tips for beginners.

The most notable French peculiarities

Accents in French

French is known for its elegant sounds, much of which comes from its use of accents. Accents in French aren’t just decorative; they significantly alter pronunciation and sometimes even change the meaning of words. There are several types of accents, each serving a different purpose:

  • L’accent aigu (The Acute Accent): Exclusively used over the letter ‘e’ (é), it indicates a particular pronunciation, as in ‘café’ (coffee).
  • L’accent grave (The Grave Accent): Found on ‘a’, ‘e’, and ‘u’ (à, è, ù), it often distinguishes words that would otherwise be homophones, like ‘ou’ (or) and ‘où’ (where).
  • L’accent circonflexe (The Circumflex): This ‘hat’ shaped accent can appear over any vowel (â, ê, î, ô, û). It often denotes the historical presence of a now-omitted letter, typically an ‘s’.
  • Le tréma (The Diaeresis): Placed over a vowel (ë, ï, ü), it signals that the vowel should be pronounced separately from the one immediately before it, as in ‘Noël’ (Christmas).

Understanding these accents and their usage is essential for correct pronunciation and comprehension.

Special characters in French

French also employs a few special characters that are not found in English, which can be perplexing for beginners. The most notable ones are:

  • The French Cédille (Ç/ç): The cedilla under the letter ‘c’ changes its pronunciation from ‘k’ to ‘s’ in front of the vowels ‘a’, ‘o’, and ‘u’, like in ‘garçon’ (boy).
  • The Ligature Œ/œ: This character, a combination of ‘o’ and ‘e’, appears in words like ‘sœur’ (sister).
  • L’apostrophe (’): While also used in English, in French it’s often employed in elisions, where a vowel at the end of a word is dropped before another word starting with a vowel or h-muet (silent h), as in ‘l’homme’ (the man).

Liaison is a peculiar feature of French pronunciation where a normally silent consonant at the end of a word is pronounced at the beginning of the next word if it starts with a vowel or silent ‘h’. For example, ‘vous avez’ is pronounced ‘vou-z-avez’. This feature adds a melodious quality to spoken French but can be challenging for learners.

Some tips for mastering French peculiarities

  • Listen and Imitate: Exposure to native French speakers is invaluable. Listen attentively to the pronunciation of words with accents and special characters. Try to imitate what you hear in songs, movies, or conversations.
  • Practice Writing: Regularly writing in French will familiarize you with the use of accents and special characters. Start with simple sentences and gradually increase complexity.
  • Use Technology: Utilize French keyboards on your devices to get accustomed to typing accents and special characters.
  • Read in French: Reading French books, newspapers, and magazines will expose you to these peculiarities in their natural context, enhancing your understanding and retention.

French peculiarities

Silent letters

French is notorious for its silent letters, especially at the end of words. This can be puzzling for beginners as it affects pronunciation. For example, the ‘s’ at the end of ‘vous’ is usually silent unless followed by a word starting with a vowel, in which case it’s pronounced.


Mastering French peculiarities, such as accents and special characters, is a vital part of learning the language effectively. It may seem daunting at first, but with consistent practice and exposure, foreign students can quickly become adept. Remember, every language has its unique aspects, and embracing these is part of the joy and challenge of learning a new language. Bonne chance (good luck) on your journey to mastering these French peculiarities!

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