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12 Types Of Diacritical Marks And How To Type Them

Protégé. Señorita. Coup de grâce. What do all of these words have in common? No, it isn’t some weird logic puzzle. All of these words have strange lines and symbols above at least one of the letters. The non-linguists among us may know these lines and shapes as accent marks, but their true name is diacritical marks or diacritics. That’s nice and all, but you might be wondering what these marks actually mean and whether or not we ever use them in English. At the same time, you might want to know how you’d actually type any of these marks using a keyboard. Our quick guide should help you sort all of this out.

What is a diacritical mark?

A diacritical mark, also known as a diacritic, refers to any mark, shape, stroke, or sign added or attached to a letter for a particular reason. The specific reason behind the usage of a particular diacritical mark will depend on the mark itself and, often, which language it is used in. Some reasons that diacritical marks might be used include indicating which syllable of a word should be stressed, if a vowel is long or short, or to separate one word from another that has an identical spelling and/or pronunciation.

That being said, English rarely uses diacritical marks—even though it probably could really benefit from them. When writing English, you’ll typically only need to use them when writing loanwords from other languages, such as the French cliché or the Spanish piñata. Because English loves to be weird, though, foreign language loanwords sometimes drop their diacritical marks when written in English. For example, the French hôtel is simply hotel in English.

Even when writing in English, you may encounter loanwords or foreign language words that do make use of many different kinds of diacritical marks.

Types of diacritical marks

English is an odd language for many, many reasons, but its lack of commonly used diacritical marks is notable considering just how often they are used in other languages. Let’s take a look at different types of diacritical marks you might encounter. We should note that this list is not exhaustive and there are even more marks we won’t cover, such as the streg, which you may encounter in Denmark or the titlo you may see in Glagolitic manuscripts. (Or is that just us … and our light reading?)

Acute accent (é)

The acute accent is used over the letter e in French to indicate the vowel should be pronounced as ay. In Spanish, this character is used over vowels to indicate which syllable in a word is stressed. In English, a number of French loanwords may use this mark.

Examples of acute accents

  • café
  • purée
  • flambé

Read about more French loanwords like soirée here.

Grave accent (è)

The grave accent is another diacritical mark found in French loanwords. This left-leaning mark is used in French to indicate that e is pronounced as eh or is used over an a or u to distinguish between words with otherwise identical spelling and pronunciation.

Examples of grave accents

  • déjà vu
  • crème de la crème
  • pièce de résistance

Cedilla (ç)

The cedilla is a mark that is used in several different languages. It is used in French and Portuguese to indicate that a c should be pronounced like an s. In Turkish, this mark indicates a ch or sh sound. In English, some French loanwords might use this mark, although it is often dropped.

Examples of cedilla

  • façade (facade)
  • François (A French male first name)
  • çay (“tea” in Turkish)
  • şeker (“sugar,” in Turkish)
  • exceção (“exception” in Portuguese)

Circumflex (ê)

The circumflex is yet another diacritical mark used in French as well as some other languages. In French, it is used to indicate that vowels should be pronounced in specific ways. In English, this mark appears in a variety of French loanwords.

Examples of circumflex

  • coup de grâce
  • crème brûlée
  • Côte d’Ivoire

Diaeresis/umlaut (ë)

We’ve come to the last diacritical mark used in French: the dieresis or diaeresis. People familiar with German and/or heavy metal music might know this mark by a different name: the umlaut. These may look the same, but they are two distinct marks with different uses in each language. In German, an umlaut can change the meaning and pronunciation of a word; in French, the dieresis denotes that a vowel is pronounced as a separate syllable. In English, this mark is usually dropped from French loanwords that originally used it.

Examples of diaeresis

  • naïve (naive)
  • Noël (“Christmas” in French)
  • Äpfel (“apples” in German)

Breve (ŏ)

The breve is a mark used in a few different languages, such as Romanian and Vietnamese. In English, the breve is used in some pronunciation guides to indicate a short vowel or unstressed syllable.

Examples of breve

  • franţuzoaică (“French woman” in Romanian)
  • cái chăn (“blanket” in Vietnamese)
  • kŭt (one possible pronunciation guide to the English word cut)

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Haček (č)

The haček is a diacritical mark used in letters of the alphabet of certain Baltic and Slavic languages. (Learn more about the haček, which was featured as a Word of the Day!)

Examples of haček

  • kuře (“chicken” in Czech)
  • četvrtak (“Thursday” in Croatian)
  • žvaigždė (“star” in Lithuanian)

Macron/stress mark (ē)

The macron is a mark typically used in pronunciation guides to indicate long vowels.

Examples of macron

  • kāk (Possible pronunciation guide of cake)
  • skrēn (Possible pronunciation guide of screen)
  • lōn (Possible pronunciation guide of loan)

Tilde (ñ)

The tilde is a mark used in letters from the Spanish and Portuguese alphabets to indicate nasal sounds. Spanish or Portuguese loanwords sometimes retain their tildes in English.

Examples of tilde

  • piñata
  • mañana
  • São Paulo, Brazil

Tittle (i)

Finally, we get to a diacritical mark that is actually used in English. In English, a tittle is any dot or small mark used in writing. When speaking about English, the dot over the lowercase i and j is called a tittle.

Examples of tittle

  • jelly
  • inside
  • jiggle

Angstrom/circle (å)

The symbol Å or å is a letter that appears in the alphabets of some Scandinavian languages, such as Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian. In English, this symbol is used to represent the angstrom, a unit of measurement named after Swedish physicist Anders Jonas Ångström.

Examples of Å/å

  • åtta (“eight” in Swedish)
  • åben (“open” in Danish)
  • gå (“go” in Norwegian)

Ligature (æ)

In printing, a ligature is a character that combines multiple letters together. In English typing, characters such as Æ/æ or Œ/œ might be used as alternatives to ae or oe. In modern English, ligatures are rarely used besides for stylistic reasons. However, style guides might allow them to be used to write words or names from languages such as Old English or Old French.

Examples of ligatures

How to type diacritical marks

Usually, a writing program allows you to insert diacritical marks and the symbols that use them into text without actually typing them. For example, you may be able to insert a specific symbol using a dropdown or pop-up menu. As you are about to discover, this is usually the much easier method of putting diacritical marks into text.

Regardless of which diacritical mark you want to use, it isn’t going to be easy to type it. For one, most symbols that use a diacritical mark each have their own unique shortcut. This means that symbols like ä, ë, ö, ï, and ü that all use a dieresis may require you to know five different shortcuts to type each of them. Secondly, the keys you need to type will often depend on which operating system or keyboard you are using.

With that lengthy disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at some keyboard shortcuts you could use to type diacritical marks. For each of these diacritical marks, we’ll look at a specific symbol that uses it and give possible keyboard shortcuts for that particular symbol.

Diacritical Mark Example Of Diacritical Mark Example Of PC Keyboard Shortcut Example Of Mac Keyboard Shortcut
acute accent é [Alt] + 0232 [Option] + E (release) E
grave accent À [Alt] + 0192 [Option] + ` (release) A
cedilla ç [Alt] + 0231 [Option] + C
circumflex ô [Alt] + 0244 [Option] + I (release) O
diaeresis/umlaut ö [Alt] + 0246 [Option] + U (release) O
tilde Ñ [Alt] + 0209 [Option] + N (release) N
ligature æ [Alt] + 145 [Option] + [‘]

Do diacritics have a place in English baby names? Learn the rules and laws in place before you choose a name.

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