In English, most ways of emphasizing parts of a sentence are based on tone. For example, the sentence "He stole the wallet" could be emphasized in one of four ways:

  1. He stole the wallet — Neutral, no particular emphasis
  2. He stole the wallet — It is he and no one else who stole the wallet
  3. He stole the wallet — He didn't borrow the wallet, he stole it
  4. He stole the wallet — He didn't steal the car, he "only" stole the wallet

In the above cases, the italics indicate a higher tone of voice than in the rest of the sentence.

What are the standard ways of emphasizing a certain part of a sentence in spoken and written French, with changes of word choice and order and with changes in tone?

  • 1
    To my experience, stressing parts of a sentence isn't prevalent in French language as it is in English. Emphasizing any part of a sentence is accomplished by the use of redundancy. As mentioned by Jeffrey, though I advise you to check my comment to his answer.
    – user11032
    Feb 1, 2018 at 8:04

2 Answers 2


The word order would not vary much, but the word choice would likely vary, as well as the tone.

General guidelines concerning the tone change would be the pitch getting higher, the volume getting louder, and potentially the speed of elocution getting faster. Somewhat similar as English, but remember always to emphasize more on the last syllable in French. Also, a short stop after the emphasis might increase its effect, but no need to go crazy on this effect, as if the stop is too long, it might have the opposite effect of sounding artificial and calculated.

The varying choice of words has been well covered by the previous answer. Let’s go with my own variations (any duplication is merely due to the fact my answer is exactly the one previously submitted, so it is counter-validated):

    1. Il a volé le portefeuille.
    1. C’est lui qui a volé le portefeuille !
    1. Il a volé le portefeuille !
      Il l’a volé, le portefeuille !
    1. Il a volé un portefeuille, là, pas une auto ! (pitch descending at the end, mitigating the fact)
      → Il a volé un portefeuille, là, pas un bouton de chemise ! (pitch rising, making it worse)
        And when the stolen object appears AFTER the object it is compared to, the worst case is higher pitched, the other only insisted upon a bit through articulation, slower speed, maybe a bit louder than its surrounding:
      → Il (n’)a pas volé une auto (higher), il a volé un portefeuille ! (more insistent, but same pitch)
      → Il (n’)a pas volé un bouton de chemise (more insistent, but same pitch), il a volé un portefeuille ! (higher)
  • +1 for describing both the wording and the corresponding tone Feb 4, 2018 at 0:58

For tone, those four italicized sentences would work just as well in French.

  1. Il a volé le portefeuille.

  2. Il a volé le portefeuille.

  3. Il a volé le portefeuille.

  4. Il a volé le portefeuille. (emphasize le too)

The second part I don't get. I would emphasize it this way, personally:

  1. C'est lui qui a volé le portefeuille.

  2. Voler! Il a volé le portefeuille.

  3. Ce qu'il a volé, c'est le portefeuille.

  • I agree with the gist of your answer, though I would've used different wording for your example sentences. Il a volé le portefeuille , C'est lui qui a volé le portefeuille , Il a bel et bien volé le portefeuille , Il n'a volé que le portefeuille .
    – user11032
    Feb 1, 2018 at 8:07
  • Another possibility for 4.: c'est le portefeuille qu'il a volé.
    – Greg
    Feb 2, 2018 at 4:53
  • I generally agree except that "Il a volé le portefeuille" doesn't quite carry the same amount of emphasis as in English. "C'est lui qui" matches a lot more. Also another way to do 3: "Ce portefeuille, il l'a volé"
    – qoba
    Feb 2, 2018 at 7:13

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