Accented characters

Accents, also known as diacritical marks, are marks appearing on words that English has borrowed or absorbed from other languages. The most common accents are the acute (é), grave (è), circumflex (â, î, ô), tilde (ñ), umlaut (ä, ö, ü), dieresis (ï) and cedilla (ç), but there are other accents and special characters, depending on the source language.

In general, accents indicate pronunciation in the original language:

café     crêpe     façade     naïve     tête-à-tête

However, as the loan words become more common in English, the accents are often lost:

fête  →  fete     jalapeño  →  jalapeno     naïve  →  naive     purée  →  puree     zoölogy  →  zoology

Consult your dictionary if you are unsure whether a word should still carry an accent. Microsoft Word will often automatically correct words to add the accents.

You will need to take care with accents in 2 particular cases:

  • If the meaning of a word would be different without the accent, you will need to add the accent to ensure that your meaning is clear (if it is not already clear from the context):
expose   vs   exposé    

resume   vs   résumé     

rose   vs   rosé

  • With names and other proper nouns, leaving out the correct accent marks or special characters can be seen as disrespectful. Be sensitive to your audience:
Schrödinger   vs   Schrodinger   

São Paulo   vs   Sao Paulo

Correct accents may be needed for screen readers to read out digital content accurately (see Making content accessible for more information about screen readers).

If your text is to be used online, take care that the accent marks appear correctly. You may need to use HTML entity codes to generate accented or other special characters (see HTML entity list for more information).

Did you know?
Acute (é) marks a closed pronunciation of the vowel.
Grave (è) marks an open pronunciation, with pitch usually lower than for closed (acute) sound.
Circumflex (â, î or ô) indicates long vowels or stressed vowels.
Cedilla (ç) is used, especially in French and Portuguese, to indicate that the c is pronounced like an s rather than a k.
Dieresis (ï) is a mark on a vowel that needs to be pronounced separately from the one before it.
Tilde (ñ)  indicates nasalisation – used on an n in Spanish when pronounced ny (as in señor), or on an a or o in Portuguese (as in São Paulo).
Umlaut (ä ö, ü) is a mark on a vowel, especially in German, to indicate a different sound.

Foreign diacritics on vowels rarely affect their pronunciation in English, except when they make e a separate syllable (eg in café).

User login

... or purchase now

An individual subscription is only A$60 per year

Group and student discounts may apply

Australian manual of scientific style Start communicating effectively