Grave Accent: à, è, ù

Accent grave

Only three French vowels can take the grave accent: à, è, and ù, and the purpose of the accent depends on the letter in question.

E accent grave

On the letter e, the grave accent is a pronunciation marker, indicating that the pronunciation is [ɛ]. In French, this sound is most commonly found in closed syllables. When spelling out loud, è is called e accent grave.

Par exemple…

è sound
une espèce   type, species
une lèvre   lip
une pièce   room, coin, play
très   very

  Note that there are other spellings which create the same e sound – see lesson on E.

Accent on grammar

1) È features in two types of stem-changing verbs:

  • é_er to è_er verbs: é (e accent aigu) changes to è in the affected conjugations.
gérer   je gère
répéter   je répète
  • e_er to è_er verbs: the first e changes to è in the affected conjugations.
acheter   j’achète
lever   je lève

2) È is the first letter of the third person plural passé simple ending of all -er verbs:

donner   ils donnèrent
aller   ils allèrent

3) È is added to the end of regular -er verbs in inversion with je:

parler   parlè-je
marcher   marchè-je

A accent grave and U accent grave

On the letters a and u, the grave accent has nothing to do with pronunciation; instead, it usually serves to distinguish between words that would otherwise be spelled identically.

Ù is found in just one word:

ou or (conjunction)   where (interrogative adverb)
where, when (relative pronoun)

À is found at the end of about a dozen short words:

Par exemple…

a third person singular of avoir   à to, at in (preposition)
la the (definite article)
her, it (direct object)
   there (adverb)

A few of these words don’t have an unaccented counterpart:

déjà already
holà hey, hello, hang on

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French grave accent
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2 Responses

  1. Gustavo Domínguez (@vitaprimo) 27 July 2018 / 12:50

    When I was studying French at l’Alliance Française several years ago, a professor made a quick comment about this rule when a word has three És in succession, I don’t recall any, something like “télépré–something”, then the second or middle, I’m not sure as if they were only three or starting three and I was saying, the middle one would then be changed to È, just for aesthetics. “Télèpré–somethingmadeup”. it would look so much better if I could type italics in here. 😅

    Anyway, he showed us some examples but it was the time were I was still taking notes in actual paper and I lost track of it. Do you perhaps know about this so you could point me if you feel charitable to a reference? 🙂 Or better yet, it would make a great post for your website that, I should say I was a big big fan when it was a section in About and I was waiting for the emails all the time for new content. Because of I started getting less time eventually it started to pile up and I ended up unsubscribing. 🙁

    I’d really like to thank you though, it was very enjoyable to read. When I discovered your column I was already getting to the advanced levels and they told me I could skip one and just reinforce; Lawless French felt like fell from heaven.

    Je vous remercie millions !