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French Capitalization - Accented Capitals

Should capital letters be accented in French?

You may have heard that capital letters are not supposed to be accented, when in fact whether or not to use accents on capital letters is entirely up to you. Most of the time they are not essential, and thus most French speakers leave them off. However, there are two instances where you should always use accents on capital letters:

  1. When the accent or lack thereof distinguishes between two words. Look at what happens when biscuits salés (salted crackers) is written in all caps:
    BISCUITS SALES (dirty crackers) - yum, yum! Definitely better to write BISCUITS SALÉS, n'est-ce pas? ;-)
    More examples
  2. In proper names, such as the name of a company or a person's name. I feel that it's important both to show respect to organizations/people by spelling their names correctly, as well as to make sure that the person who reads the name knows how it should be spelled. If you don't write the accent when the name is in all in caps, your reader may not realize that there is an accent when later writing the name in regular letters.

Personally, I nearly always use accents on capital letters - it just makes more sense to me. And the Académie française agrees:

On ne peut que déplorer que l'usage des accents sur les majuscules soit flottant. On observe dans les textes manuscrits une tendance certaine à l'omission des accents. En typographie, parfois, certains suppriment tous les accents sur les capitales sous prétexte de modernisme, en fait pour réduire les frais de composition.

Il convient cependant d'observer qu'en français, l'accent a pleine valeur orthographique. Son absence ralentit la lecture, fait hésiter sur la prononciation, et peut même induire en erreur. Il en va de même pour le tréma et la cédille.

On veille donc, en bonne typographie, à utiliser systématiquement les capitales accentuées, y compris la préposition À, comme le font bien sûr tous les dictionnaires, à commencer par le Dictionnaire de l'Académie française, ou les grammaires, comme Le Bon Usage de Grevisse, mais aussi l'Imprimerie nationale, la Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, etc. Quant aux textes manuscrits ou dactylographiés, il est évident que leurs auteurs, dans un souci de clarté et de correction, auraient tout intérêt à suivre également cette règle.

1. Introduction to Capitalization
2. Variable Capitalization
3. Accented Capitals
4. Capitalization of Titles

Accent homographs     Typing French accents

Writing lessons      French Grammar


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