French Tonic Accent

Accent tonique

English speakers can emphasize one word in a sentence just by pronouncing it with more stress or by saying it more loudly, but this sort of word stress does not exist in French. (See my lesson on French rhythm.) Instead, the tonic accent, explained below, and the affective accent can be used to emphasize what the speaker wants to say.

There are three different ways to use the French tonic accent. The word that might be said louder in English in order to show emphasis is in bold.

1) Put the word to be emphasized at the beginning or end of the sentence
This seems repetitive in English, but is perfectly correct in French.

   Luc, je l'aime bien. / Je l'aime bien, Luc.
   I like Luc a lot.

   Ça, ce n'est pas juste. / Ce n'est pas juste, ça.
   That's not fair.

Note that when you are emphasizing people who are the subject of the verb or the object of a preposition, stressed pronouns are used.

   Moi, je n'en sais rien. / Je n'en sais rien, moi.
    I don't know anything about it.

   Lui, il n'a rien dit. / Il n'a rien dit, lui.
   He didn't say anything.

   Je lui ai donné le livre, à elle.
   I gave the book to her.

2) Use the construction c'est... que/qui

   C'est Luc que j'aime.
   I like Luc a lot.

   C'est moi qui les aime.
   I like them.

   C'est un collier qui a été volé.
   A necklace was stolen.

   C'est votre réponse qui n'est pas juste.
   Your response is not correct.

3) Use both of these constructions together for very strong emphasis

   Luc, c'est lui qui l'a fait !

   It's Luc, he's the one who did it! / It's Luc who did it!

Another way to provide emphasis in French is with the affective accent.