One matter in the French-learning world that has been debated for years is whether or not to place accent on capital letters. The thing is that no matter which way you were taught to believe you have no doubt seen the exact opposite.Fortunately, there is an easy way to explain this dispute and why it even exists in the first place.
The short answer to this debate is yes, it is recommended to use accents on capital letters in French. L’Académie française has even stated that accents are spelling signs in their own right. This means that an argument can be made that if you don’t put accents on capital letters you are actually misspelling the word or words in question.
Why is This Even a Debate?
If the recommendation of L’Académie française wasn’t enough then also keep in mind that accents in many cases help comprehension and avoid any possible confusion between words. There are many situations in the French language where the difference in meaning falls heavily on whether or not there is an accent on a vowel such as with the words tue (kill) and tué (killed). Adding accents to capital letters can eliminate this type of confusion altogether.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering that if this is so simple then why is there any confusion regarding this subject to begin with? There are actually a few theories as to why this matter is even up for debate. The first reason is because in written cursive French accents are rarely added to capital letters. This may cause some to believe that this also carries over to typed French as well.
The second theory for this is because at one time, due to the evolution of the French printing press, it was simply impossible to add accents to capital letters. When printing, each line had a fixed height and adding an accent would have gone above the line intruding on the one above it. Because of this, accents were just left out. Of course nowadays issues regarding line height are no longer an issue.
Another theory as to why this is even up for debate may have to do with technology itself. When typing machines were becoming popular they were mostly made for the English language which of course doesn’t have accents. When these machines were adapted for the French language they often simply had the accents added, but only the lower case ones. As new keyboards came out it only makes sense that they took from this tradition and left them out when new keyboards were created.
Although it’s still possible to place accents on capital letters, such as through the autocorrect feature or simple copying and pasted them from elsewhere, the extra effort deters many people from even bothering to do so. This is more of an issue on the standard French Azerty keyboard than the French Canadian keyword as it is easier to create accents on capital letters with that one.
At the end of the day there are enough people out there who ignore accents on French capital letters that it’s not really a big deal if you decide to leave them off. Sometimes the best thing to do when learning a language is to do exactly what others around you do.
What is your experience? Do you always place accents on capital letters when you type or do you prefer to leave them off? Comment below and tell us all about it.