Humanities › Languages Examples of Diacritical Marks in English and Foreign Languages The symbols change letter sounds and word meanings Share Flipboard Email Print An Introduction to Punctuation Introduction Terminal Punctuation Periods Question Marks Exclamation Points Punctuation Within Sentences Apostrophes Brackets Colons Commas Dashes Diacritic Marks Ellipsis Parenthesis Quotation Marks Semicolons Check Your Knowledge: Punctuation Practice Spacing and Breaks Paragraph Breaks White Spaces and Spacing Typography Ampersands Asterisks Bullets Emoticons and Emojis Slashes Strikethrough Don't be fooled by this graphic: when letters are capitalized, diacritics generally aren't used. In addition, diacritics (or accent marks) are usually omitted in text messages and other forms of online writing. (mathisworks/Getty Images) by Richard Nordquist Richard Nordquist is a freelance writer and former professor of English and Rhetoric who wrote college-level Grammar and Composition textbooks. Updated July 07, 2018 In phonetics, a diacritical mark is a glyph—or symbol—added to a letter that alters its sense, function, or pronunciation. It is also known as a diacritic or an accent mark. A diacritical mark is a point, sign, or squiggle added or attached to a letter or character to indicate appropriate stress, special pronunciation, or unusual sounds not common in the Roman alphabet, according to L. Kip Wheeler, a professor at Carson-Newman University in Tennessee. Purpose While diacritical marks are more common in foreign languages, you do encounter them quite often in English. For example, diacritics are often used with certain French loanwords, words that are imported into one language from another language. Café and cliché are loanwords from French that contain a diacritical mark called an acute accent, which helps indicate how the final e is pronounced. Diacritical marks are used in dozens of other foreign languages, including Afrikaans, Arabic, Hebrew, Filipino, Finnish, Greek, Galician, Irish, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh. These marks can change not only the pronunciation but also the meaning of a word. One example in English is résumé or resumé versus resume. The first two terms are nouns that mean curriculum vitae, while the second is a verb meaning to return to or begin again. Diacritical Marks in English There are literally dozens of diacritical marks, but it is helpful to learn the basic diacritics in English, as well as their functions. Some of the marks and explanations are adapted from a list of diacritical marks created by Professor Wheeler. Diacritical Mark Purpose Examples Acute accent Used with certain French loanwords café, cliché Apostrophe * Indicates possession or the omission of a letter children's, don't Cedilla Attached to the bottom of the letter c in French loanwords, indicating a soft c façade Circumflex accent Indicates reduced primary stress élevàtor ôperàtor Diaeresis or Umlaut Used with certain names and words as a guide to pronunciation Chloë, Brontë, coöperate, naïve Grave accent Occasionally used in poetry to indicate that a normally silent vowel should be pronounced learnèd Macron or Stress Mark A dictionary notation to signify "long" vowel sounds pādā for payday Tilde In Spanish loan words, the tilde indicates a /y/ sound added to a consonant. cañon or piña colada Tilde In Portuguese loanwords, the tilde indicates nasalized vowels. São Paulo *Because marks of punctuation aren't added to letters, they're generally not regarded as diacritics. However, an exception is sometimes made for apostrophes. Examples of Diacritics Diacritical marks are plentiful in English-language articles and books. Writers and lexicographers have used the marks to great advantage over the years as these examples show: Acute accent: "Feluda handed over the blue attaché case before he sat down."- Satyajit Ray, "The Complete Adventures of Feluda" Apostrophe: " 'Let's go down to my house and have some more fun,' Nancy said." 'Mother won't let us,' I said. 'It's too late now.'" 'Don't bother her,' Nancy said."- William Faulkner, "That Evening Sun Go Down." The American Mercury, 1931 Diaeresis or Umlaut: "Five young activists were voted into office, bringing political validation to a youth-driven movement dismissed by establishment elders as naïve, unschooled, and untenable."- "Youthquake." Time, Oct. 6, 2016 Grave accent: "Margret stood in her chamber;She'd sewn a silken seam.She lookèd east an she lookèd west,An she saw those woods grow green."Tam Lin, "The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads" Macron: "neighbornoun neigh·bor \ˈnā-bər\"- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed., 2009 Diacritics in Foreign Languages As noted, there are literally dozens of diacritical marks in foreign languages. Wheeler gives these examples: "Swedish and Norse words may also use the circle marking above certain vowels (å), and Czechoslovakian words may use the hacek (ˆ), a wedge-shaped symbol to indicate a "ch" sound as in English chill." But unless you learn—or at least develop a proficiency—in those languages, you won't know how to read the words and letters altered by diacritical marks. You should, however, learn where these marks have become common in English—and where they have been dropped, notes Shelley Townsend-Hudson in "The Christian Writer's Manual of Style." It can be tricky to know when to retain the diacritical marks, she says: "The language is in flux. It is becoming more common, for example, to see the acute accent and diacritics being dropped from the words cliché, café, and naïve—thus, cliche, cafe, and naive." But dropping diacritical marks can change the meaning of a word. Townsend-Hudson argues that in many cases you should retain these crucial marks, particularly various accents, to ensure you are referring to the correct word, such as pâté instead of pate: The first use means a spread of finely chopped or pureed seasoned meat, while the second refers the crown of the head—certainly a great difference in meaning. Diacritical marks are also important when you are referring to foreign place names, such as São Paulo, Göttingen, and Córdoba and personal names such as Salvador Dalí, Molière, and Karel Čapek, she notes. 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