Tonic Accent

C'est la pomme qui n'est pas bonne - accent tonique
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Accent tonique

There’s no word stress in French (see rhythm lesson), so you have two options for emphasizing a particular word. One has to do with pronunciation (affective accent) and the other is grammatical: the tonic accent.

There are a few different constructions that you can use for the French tonic accent. The word that would be stressed in the English equivalent is in bold.

1) Repetition

Put the important word (name, noun, pronoun) at the beginning or end of the sentence, and also refer to it with a pronoun within the sentence.

Par exemple…

Je ne connais pas Anne. I don’t know Anne.
Anne, je ne la connais pas.
Je ne la connais pas, Anne.
 I don’t know Anne.
Ce n’est pas bon. That’s no good.
Ça, ce n’est pas bon.
Ce n’est pas bon, ça.
 That‘s no good.
Je l’ai fait. I did it.
Moi, je l’ai fait.
Je l’ai fait, moi.
 I did it.

2) C’est … que / qui

Put the word you want to emphasize between c’est and a relative pronoun:

  • que (if it’s the object of the verb)
  • qui (if it’s the subject)

Par exemple…

Je ne connais pas Anne. I don’t know Anne.
C’est Anne que je ne connais pas. I don’t know Anne.
La pomme n’est pas bonne. The apple is no good.
C’est la pomme qui n’est pas bonne. The apple is no good.
Je l’ai fait. I did it.
C’est moi qui l’ai fait.* I did it.

 * Why ai rather than a? See Verb misconjugation.

3) Supertonic accent

Use both of the above for even more emphasis.

Par exemple…

Anne, c’est elle que je ne connais pas. Anne, she’s the one I don’t know.
La pomme, c’est ça qui n’est pas bonne. The apple, that’s what’s no good.
C’est moi qui l’ai fait, moi ! Really, I did it!

 Related lessons

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French tonic accent

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