Dear language enthusiasts and aspiring Francophiles, if you want to learn the language of love, understanding the French writing system is an essential step on your journey.

In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at the French alphabet and writing system. From accents and capitalization to handwriting styles, we’ll cover everything you need to know to improve your writing skills in French. So, let’s get started!

 

Alphabet

 
 

First things first, let’s talk about the French alphabet. Like English, the French alphabet has 26 letters, but there are some differences in pronunciation and spelling. Here are some examples:

 

French has nasal vowels, represented by letters such as “an,” “en,” “in,” “on,” and “un.” These vowels are pronounced through the nose, as in words like “champagne” and “vin” (meaning “wine”).

 

The French “u” sound is unique and may be challenging for English speakers. It is produced by rounding the lips tightly while pronouncing the sound, as in words like “lune” (meaning “moon”) or “sur” (meaning “on” or “over”).

 

The letter “w” is not used very often in French, and is typically only used in loanwords.

 

Additionally, the letter “y” is considered a vowel in French and is often used in combinations with other vowels, such as in the word “payé” (paid).

 

Last, but not least, English stresses individual syllables, but French has a more even distribution of stress across words and phrases. This may end up in different rhythmic patterns and emphasis in speech.

 
 

Silent Letters (less lettres muettes)

 
 
 

One of the most difficult aspects of learning French is spelling words and the silent letters don’t make it easier. They have a long history that we won’t get into, but here’s an infographic with the silent letters in French

 

E

The letter “e” is often silent at the end of words. In general, it does not receive a distinct sound but rather modifies the pronunciation of the preceding vowel. For example:

“parle” (speak): pronounced “parl” (without the final “e”)

“chante” (sing): pronounced “chant” (without the final “e”)

H

The letter “h” is always silent in French, regardless of its position in a word. It has no sound associated with it. Examples include:

  • “heure” (hour): pronounced “eur”

  • “homme” (man): pronounced “om”

S

The letter “s” is sometimes silent at the end of words and in certain consonant clusters. It affects the pronunciation of the vowel preceding it. For example:

  • “plus” (more): pronounced “plu” (without the final “s”)

  • “dans” (in): pronounced “dan” (without the final “s”)

X

The letter “x” is usually silent at the end of words and does not have a specific pronunciation. It often marks the plural form of nouns. Examples include:

  • “cheveux” (hair): pronounced “chev”

  • “oiseaux” (birds): pronounced “wazo”

T

The letter “t” is silent when it follows the letter “s” and precedes another consonant. The preceding vowel is pronounced as if the “t” were not there. For example:

  • “temps” (time): pronounced “tah” (without the “m” sound)

  • “buste” (bust): pronounced “buss” (without the “t” sound)

P

The letter “p” is silent when it appears at the beginning of certain words, particularly those borrowed from Greek. Examples include:

  • “psychologie” (psychology): pronounced “see-koh-loh-zhee”

  • “ptérodactyle” (pterodactyl): pronounced “teh-ro-dak-teel”

 

Z

The letter “z” is silent in a few select words. For instance:

  • “nez” (nose): pronounced “nay” (without the final “z”)

  • “chez” (at someone’s place): pronounced “shay” (without the final “z”)

Remember that liaisons (linking sounds between words) and the surrounding context can both influence how French words are pronounced. So, while these letters are silent, they frequently influence spoken French’s overall sound and flow.

Silent letters are quite useful for these reasons:

Disambiguation and Differentiation

Silent letters can help differentiate between homonyms, which are words with the same pronunciation but different meanings.

 
  • The words “sans” (without) and “sang” (blood) are pronounced the same way. However, the silent “s” in “sans” sets it apart from “sang.”

 

This subtle spelling distinction prevents confusion and ensures clarity in written communication.

 

Word Recognition and Spelling

Silent letters help with word recognition and spelling. Even though they are not pronounced, their presence in a word usually provides visual cues to help identify familiar patterns. As French readers and writers become accustomed to the conventions of silent letters, this improves reading comprehension and spelling.

 

Grammatical Functions

Silent letters can indicate verb tenses or plural forms, among other things. For example, the silent “s” in “manges” (you eat) refers to the second-person singular form of the verb “manger” (to eat). By retaining the silent letter, French maintains grammatical consistency.

 

Accents

 
 

The accents can change the pronunciation and meaning of words, and it’s important to learn how to use them correctly.

 
  • For example, the word “pâté” (pâté) has a circumflex accent over the “a” to indicate a change in pronunciation from “pa” to “pah”. Let’s take a closer look at each of these accents and their usage.

 

Acute Accent (l’accent aigu ) (é): This accent is used to indicate a “sharp” or “high” sound in French. It is often used to differentiate between words that would otherwise be spelled the same but have different meanings.

 
  • For example, the word “été” means “summer” in French, while “eté” (without the accent) means “was.”

 

Grave accent (l’accent grave) (è): This accent is used to indicate a “low” or “open” sound in French. It is often used to indicate the pronunciation of the letter “e” in a word.

 
  • For example, the word “père” (father) is pronounced with an “e” sound like in “bed” because of the grave accent.

 

Circumflex accent (l’accent circonflexe) (ê): This accent is used to indicate a change in the pronunciation of a vowel. It can also be used to differentiate between words that would otherwise be spelled the same but have different meanings.

 
  • For example, the word “forêt” means “forest” in French, while “foret” (without the accent) means “drill bit.”

 

Diacritics and Cedilla: The cedilla (la cédille) (ç) is a hook-like symbol that appears beneath the letter “c” to indicate that it is pronounced as an “s” sound, rather than a hard “k” sound.

 
  • For example, the word “garçon” (boy) is pronounced “gar-son” with a soft “s” sound, thanks to the cedilla. Without the cedilla, the word would be pronounced “gar-kon” with a hard “k” sound.

 

The diaeresis (le tréma) (ë) is two dots that appear above a vowel to indicate that it should be pronounced separately from the preceding vowel, rather than as a single sound.

 
  • For example, the word “naïve” (naive) is pronounced “na-eev” with two separate vowel sounds, thanks to the diaeresis. Without the diaeresis, the word would be pronounced “na-iv” with a single vowel sound.

 

Handwriting

 
 

Handwriting styles: There are many different styles of French handwriting, ranging from traditional cursive to more modern and simplified scripts. Some of the most popular styles include “Cursive Française,” “Écriture Calligraphique Française” and “Écriture Imprimée.”

 

Here are some additional details about the different styles of French handwriting:

 

Cursive Française

 

This is the traditional French cursive style that is commonly taught in schools. It features connected letters with loops and flourishes and is known for its elegance and sophistication.

 

French cursive can be quite different from English cursive. The slant and loops in the letters of English cursive, also known as “italic” or “looped handwriting,” are more prominent. It has a consistent slant of around 45 degrees, and the connections between letters are usually more angular. This writing style is suitable for legibility and efficiency, allowing for faster writing.

 

French cursive, known as “écriture cursive” or “écriture liée,” on the other hand, has a slightly different appearance. It emphasizes on the smooth and continuous flow of the pen and the rounded and flowing connections between letters rather than the slant. French cursive often features extra loops and curves, leading to an elegant and graceful script.

 

Écriture Calligraphique Française

 

French calligraphy, called “écriture calligraphique française,” is a special way of writing that’s very artistic and neat. It’s also important in French culture and different from regular handwriting, especially American cursive.

 

In French calligraphy, the writing looks smooth and pretty. Instead of sharp angles like in American cursive, French calligraphy has rounded and flowing lines. It’s all about making the letters look graceful and connected.

 

People who do French calligraphy, called “calligraphes,” pay a lot of attention to how they write. They focus on making each letter look just right, with fancy loops and swirls. It’s like turning writing into a beautiful picture.

 

Écriture Imprimée

 

Imprimée handwriting, also known as “imprimée,” is a style of writing that’s clear, simple, and easy to read. Unlike cursive writing where letters are connected, each letter in imprimée handwriting stands alone.

 

In imprimée handwriting, the letters are formed in a simple and consistent way. Each letter is distinct and easy to recognize. This makes it perfect for learning to read and write, especially for young students.

 

This style of handwriting is commonly used in France, especially in schools and official documents. It’s similar to printed text in books and newspapers, making it straightforward for everyone to understand.

 

Capitalization

 

Capitalizing the first letter of a sentence: Just like in English, the first letter of the first word in a sentence is capitalized in French.

 

Capitalizing proper nouns: In French, proper nouns (names of specific people, places, and things) are capitalized.

 
  • For example, “Paris” and “Louis” would both be capitalized in French.

 

Capitalizing titles: In French, titles such as “Monsieur” (Mr.), “Madame” (Mrs.), and “Mademoiselle” (Miss) are capitalized when used as forms of address.

 
  • For example, “Bonjour, Monsieur Dupont” (Hello, Mr. Dupont) or “Excusez-moi, Madame Lefèvre” (Excuse me, Mrs. Lefèvre). These titles are capitalized because they are considered proper nouns.

 

It is important to note, however, that the titles “monsieur” and “madame” are not capitalized when used as general terms rather than specific forms of address.

 

“Il parle français, monsieur” (He speaks French, sir) or “Elle est une madame très gentille” (She is a very kind lady). Because the titles are not being used to address someone directly in these cases, they are not capitalized.

 

Adjectives derived from proper nouns: In French, adjectives derived from proper nouns are not capitalized.

 
  • For example, “français” (French) and “américain” (American) are not capitalized even though they are derived from proper nouns “France” and “America”. However, if an adjective derived from a proper noun begins a sentence, it should be capitalized (e.g., “Français est ma langue préférée” – “French is my favorite language”).

 

Capitalizing acronyms: In French, acronyms are usually capitalized, with each letter of the acronym being capitalized.

 
  • For example, “OTAN” (NATO) and “UNESCO” (UNESCO).

 

Capitalizing first names and family names: First names and family names are capitalized.

 
  • For example, “Jean Dupont” and “Marie Lefèvre” would be written with capitalized first letters.

 

Punctuation

 

In terms of punctuation, French usage is generally similar to that of English. However, there are some differences to be aware of. For instance:

 

Quotation marks: In French, quotation marks are placed outside any punctuation marks.

  • For example: Elle m’a demandé : “Comment ça va ?” (She asked me, “How are you?”).

 

Colon and semi-colon: In French, the colon and semi-colon are often used more frequently than in English. A colon is used to introduce a list, explanation, or quote, while a semi-colon is used to separate two related but independent clauses.

 
  • For example: Je vais acheter des fruits : des pommes, des bananes et des oranges. (I’m going to buy some fruit: apples, bananas, and oranges.) / J’aime le café ; je ne bois pas de thé. (I like coffee; I don’t drink tea.)

 

Ellipsis: French uses the same three-dot ellipsis as English to indicate an omission or pause.

 
  • For example: Je ne sais pas… (I don’t know…).

 
 

Ligatures: French writing often employs ligatures, which are special characters that combine two or more letters into one. The most common ligatures in French are “æ” and “œ,” which are used to combine the letters “a” and “e” or “o” and “e,” respectively. Ligatures are not always used in modern French writing, but they can add a traditional and elegant touch to a piece of writing.

 
 

Writing conventions: French writing often follows specific conventions, such as using specific greetings and sign-offs in formal letters. It’s important to be aware of these conventions when writing in French, especially in more formal settings.

 

Specific greetings and sign-offs in formal letters: When writing formal letters in French, it is customary to use specific greetings and sign-offs.

 

For instance:

 
  • Greetings: Common formal greetings include “Cher Monsieur” (Dear Sir), “Chère Madame” (Dear Madam), or “Chers Collègues” (Dear Colleagues). The choice of greeting depends on the recipient and the nature of the letter.

 
  • Sign-offs: Formal sign-offs often include phrases like “Veuillez agréer, Monsieur/Madame, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués” (Yours faithfully), “Je vous prie d’agréer, Monsieur/Madame, mes salutations distinguées” (Yours sincerely), or “Cordialement” (Kind regards). These phrases express politeness and respect.

 

Use of formal language and politeness: In formal writing, it is important to use polite and respectful language. This includes using the appropriate pronouns (“vous” for “you” instead of “tu”) and employing formal verb conjugations. Politeness markers such as “s’il vous plaît” (please) and “merci beaucoup” (thank you very much) are also commonly used.

 

Avoiding contractions and abbreviations: In formal writing, it is preferred to avoid contractions and abbreviations.

 
  • For example, instead of using “c’est” (it is) or “j’ai” (I have), one would use the non-contracted forms “ce est” and “je ai.”

 

Spacing: French writing tends to use more spacing than English writing.

 
  • For example, there is often a space before and after certain punctuation marks, such as colons and semicolons. Additionally, French typically uses a wider space between sentences than English does.

 

Where to Start?

 

From accents to silent letters to cursive handwriting, there is a lot to learn and explore in French. If you’re interested in learning French handwriting, why not try your hand at learning some basic French words and practicing your cursive writing?

 

1. Choose the writing style

 

On Writey, explore the French section, and choose one of these styles

 
  • Écriture Élémentaire

  • Imprimer Alphabet

  • Neat Writing

  • Écriture Cursive

  • Calligraphie

2. Start with the Training Section

 

Start by practicing the basic strokes of French writing. This will help you get familiar with the shapes and movements involved in letter formation.

 
French Writing Imprimer Alphabet
Imprimer Alphabet
French Writing Neat Writing
Neat Writing
French Writing Écriture Cursive
Écriture Cursive
French Writing Calligraphie
Calligraphie
 

If you want to train your kids, Écriture Élémentaire training and alphabet would be the best place to start:

 
French Writing Écriture Élémentaire
Écriture Élémentaire
 

3. Write the Alphabet

 
 
 

Learn the individual letters of the French alphabet next. Depending on your favorite style. If you prefer to start with the easier ones, go for “Imprimer Alphabet” and if you want to be challenged, then start with “Écriture Cursive.” Follow the tracings and their exact orders to practice correctly forming each letter.

 

4. Practice Word Formation

 
 
 

Once you’re comfortable with letter formation, move on to writing words. Practice on Writey’s words section, gradually write the more complex words as you improve. In cursive writing, pay attention to letter proportions and connections between letters.

 

Learning the French alphabet and writing system is an exciting adventure that opens the door to a beautiful language and culture. Understanding these foundations will improve your writing skills and bring you closer to the richness of the French language, so, embrace the adventure and practice with passion. Bonne écriture!