The issue of using French characters such as accents on an English keyboard is a question that crops up from time to time and indeed has frustrated me on occasion too. I regularly struggle trying to enter French accents and characters on my English keyboard. An English keyboard doesn’t have accents: do you end up writing your French language email, word-processed document or website content and just omit the accents? Are you happy it looks professional enough? Do you do as I used to and copy accented characters from other documents and websites, then paste them into your document? This last solution can prove a bit lengthy. Well, here is a quick way to enable you to type accented characters into your documents quickly and easily…

Using the numeric keypad on your English keyboard (make sure you have enabled it by pressing the “Num Lock” key first), hold down your keyboard “Alt” key. Type the 3 digit code for the character you want (see table right). Release the “Alt” key again. As a result, you should now see the character you want to appear in your document or email.

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Other ways to incorporate French characters in your text

There are other ways of incorporating French accents and characters into your typing on an English keyboard:

  • If you are using Microsoft Word (or similar) you can use the Insert menu and look for “Symbol” or “Special Characters”. This will depend on your product. Then, just look for the character you want and add it to your document.
  • You can change your keyboard configuration by going to Control Panel / Languages (Windows users). However, do be careful with this. We recommend reading more before going down this route.

The importance of accents in the French alphabet

There are 5 different accents in the French alphabet: 1 for consonants (the cédille for the letter ç), and 4 for vowels (the accent aigu for é, the accent grave for à, è, ù, the accent circonflexe for â, ê, î, ô, û and the tréma for ë, ï, ü). Accents are really important as using the wrong one will change the sound of a letter or the meaning of a word.

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Another point worth mentioning is that capital letters should always be accented in French (for example, É, À, etc). Not putting an accent on capital letters (or majuscules) when needed counts as a spelling error.

As we don’t particularly want to complicate things even further, we won’t go into too much detail but bear in mind that French characters also include punctuation marks, and these can also be different. For example, our English quote marks (“) are replaced by guillemets: « ».

Wish to know how to write those on your English keyboard? Ok , we’ll tell you: ALT+174 and ALT+175. Go on, give it a try!

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