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Acute Accent

The acute accent refers to the accent mark that is sometimes placed over vowels (or occasionally other letters) in words in order to indicate that those letters are to be pronounced in a full and distinct way. In English, this is perhaps most common when one is using a loan word, especially from Spanish. It can also be used within the context of lyric poetry, where the acute accent may expand the syllable count of a given word and thus change the meter of a given line. 

Acute accent - Used to emphasize sounds

An acute accent (´) is a diacritic that is used in certain languages to emphasize vowel sounds in various words. Most famously, the French language uses the acute accent on assorted "e"-vowels (é). Many other languages based on the Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek alphabets also make use of acute accents. Read more about alphabets and its impact on language arts.

Even though acute accents do not appear in any native English words, diacritical loanwords from other languages—French in particular—have become commonplace in English conversation.

Using acute accent in foreign languages

When used in French words, the acute accent indicates that the letter e is actually supposed to represent the a vowel sound. Examples of such words that have made their way into common English vocabulary include blasé, cliché, café, décor, déjà vu, entrée, exposé, mêlée, fiancé, papier-mâché, passé, résumé, risqué, and toupée. However, some of these words have become modified in the English speaking world, where only the final accent is enunciated on loanwords with more than one diacritic mark. For example, the word résumé is spelled and pronounced resumé in English.

Several French phrases with dialectic words—including coup d'état and pièce de résistance—have also been assimilated into the English literary world, though they haven't gained widespread acceptance among the common speaker. Therefore, such phrases are generally italicized when used by English writers in books and articles.

Further rules and examples

Sometimes, an acute accent must be added to a loanword if its foreign spelling contradicts English phonetic principles. For instance, the Spanish word "mate" typically ends with a dialectic vowel in English usages to account for the fact that the e isn't silent in the word's native pronunciation. One of the more bizarre appropriations of an acute accent appears in the name Pokémon, a media franchise owned by the namesake Tokyo-based gaming company. Coined as a Western-friendly portmanteau of the words "pocket" and "monster," the dialectic marker is doubly unusual coming from a region where acute accents aren't used and where the native language isn't even based on the Latin alphabet. 

The majority of computer keyboards manufactured in the United States do not feature buttons for diacritic letters, but such letters can all be typed through codes on any keyboard with a numeric keypad. The following table features key codes for upper and lower-case letters with acute accents, which can be typed by pressing alt+(four-digit number) on the numeric keypad (usually at the right):

Á

0193 É

0201 Í

0205 Ó

0211 Ú

0218 Ý

0221

á

0225 é

0233 í

0237 ó

0243 ú

0250 ý

0253

Dialectic loanwords from the French language have benefited English in terms of literary elegance, the diction of words and word flow. Notice how the following sentences are much improved when certain phrases are replaced with applicable loan words:

  • At last night's party, I was feeling bored and unimpressed about the whole affair.
  • At last night's party, I was blasé about the whole affair.
  • The person that I was going to marry turned out to be a wanted felon.
  • My ex-fiancé turned out to be a wanted felon.
  • Today's music is full of secondhand melodies and trite lyrical ideas, while the fashions show no progress from a decade ago.
  • Today's music is full of clichés, while the fashions are utterly passé.

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