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I use the en-US keyboard, and as such, I lack access to any accents. I need to copy and paste letters with accents from Wikipedia every time I write French, which is very annoying.

Is it acceptable to just drop the accents when writing French in e.g. an (informal) email, a text, ...?

I understand French without any accents, but am not sure how others see it.

  • 6
    Slightly off-topic, but if you use a Mac, you can use Option key combinations (e.g. option-e then e makes é), and if you use a Windows computer, you can use Alt key combinations (e.g. Alt + 1-3-0 on the number pad makes é) – OldBunny2800 May 13 '18 at 12:26
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    Right, so "I use the en-US keyboard, and as such, I don't have access to any accents." is an incorrect premise. – Mr Lister May 13 '18 at 12:34
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    @ I use both Linux (Ubuntu 16.04 distribution) and Windows (version 7, 8 and 10). With the workaround I suggest to my answer you can type french characters with a QWERTY keyboard very quickly and efficiently. For instance '+c gives ç, `+a gives à shift+6+o gives ô and so on. I do not know nevertheless anything about Arch... – Dimitris May 13 '18 at 13:21
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    On Linux I generally use a compose key, with the additional benefit of being able to type other uncommon characters such as ç = Compose,c,,, Æ = Compose,A,E, ø = Compose,/,o, or even →= Compose,-,>. If you're using Gnome, there's an option for it in the advanced keyboard settings. – F.X. May 13 '18 at 18:10
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    Instead of copy-and-pasting every accent, I run my finished text through a spell-checker, which adds most of the necessary accents semi-automatically. – ChrisW May 14 '18 at 1:21
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It won't be correct French, but it is of course accepted in informal emails since the writer has a foreign keyboard. You are not expected to copy and paste letters. Some people add a P.S. explaining why they couldn't use accents when it's not obvious for the recipients (sometimes seen on internet forums), but you don't need to do it if the people you write to know you and know where you are.

If you had to write e.g. a Master thesis in French, now that would require you to use correct French, including accents. Then it would be best to invest in a French keyboard and save hours of tedious copy-paste.

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    While this answer's first part is correct, the recommendation isn't: You needn't buy an actual French keyboard and could instead just switch to a French layout and slowly learn that way: A physical keyboard may help you find where certain keys are, but it's not strictly necessary. Note, though, that the layout only works reliably on 105-key keyboards: Most keyboards in the US have in fact 104 keys and so might be missing some mappings. – errantlinguist May 13 '18 at 17:34
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    @errantlinguist When the OP says he "uses the en-US keyboard" I understand it meaning a physical US keyboard, with a small enter key and shift and Z next to each other. Otherwise the post wouldn't really make sense, if he's already using a European keyboard he could just switch the layout. – AndreKR May 13 '18 at 18:24
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    @errantlinguist "the recommendation isn't [correct]: You needn't buy an actual French keyboard" - My recommendation does not state that it is needed, even less that it is "strictly necessary". Surely your solution may work well for some people. – user8487873 May 13 '18 at 19:31
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    I have a German keyboard with spanish stickers in my work computer, which was a very inexpensive way to have both keyboards visible without extra hardware. I regularly write in 4 languages: Portuguese, Spanish, German and English. Whenever I want to change from German to spanish or portuguese (which I know without having to look), I just press Alt+Shift. – JoaoBotelho May 14 '18 at 13:53
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    Having to type 4 keys, one of them being hold while you type some random number the other three is hardly "not even noticing" to me. The compose key cuts that down to 3 keystrokes with no holding and intuitive keys ('e yields é, /= yields and so on). I bet there must be some windows software enabling this. – spectras May 14 '18 at 19:23
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With a QWERTY keyboard I would suggest (valid for the Windows and Ubuntu operational systems alike) the International Keyboard.

You can type very efficiently all the accents (not only for the French language; I use it, for instance, to type German diacritics as well). It suffices to learn some shortcuts and voilà. Everything is thoroughly explained in the following link:

http://sites.psu.edu/symbolcodes/windows/codeint/

For Ubuntu users see

https://www.wikihow.com/Change-Keyboard-Layout-in-Ubuntu


Regarding the second part of your question, may be I am a little bit purist, but I consider inacceptable writing French (even in text messages) without diacritics. In this way one will never master the French orthographe. French accents play a crucial role in the language and their absence may change completely the meaning of words (common examples: a/à, ou/où, du/dû and so on...).

Of course, this is my point of view. I am not a natif speaker but I know that many people (especially the younger ones) do avoid accents or use some astuces in order to decrease the time necessary for typing the message.

cc ca va? Jspr ke tu va bi1

http://www.ikonet.com/fr/blogue/technologies/langage-texto-francais/

Français 2.0...


EDIT (Mac) For Mac users (following the comment of Larme) see: https://support.apple.com/kb/PH25643?locale=en_US

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    For Mac users: support.apple.com/kb/PH25643?locale=en_US – Larme May 13 '18 at 11:36
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    Great answer. As a native speaker, I second the view that it is preferable not to drop accents when writing formal emails, as people tend to be quite tedious about the rules. Even in fora people are now more and more encouraged to write correctly. Also, when I see "ca va", I tend to read "ka va"... – Paul-Benjamin May 13 '18 at 12:09
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    @Paul-Benjamin That's interesting, as I'm also native, but I'd never read "ka va". :) – Rakete1111 May 13 '18 at 12:50
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    I thought the "..." made the irony clearer :) – Paul-Benjamin May 13 '18 at 14:28
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    @Rakete1111 Oui, cava n'est pas terrible et il me semble plus souvent lire sava qui est meilleur phonétiquement parlant, ou simplement cv qui est plus court... – jlliagre May 14 '18 at 9:05
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I recommend using a Compose key. It's built-in in Mac OS and Linux(usually activated somewhere in Settings→Keyboard) and there's a very good open-source Compose key for Windows called WinCompose.

How it works is that you press a key chosen by you as the Compose key(I like to use menu; between alt gr and ctrl) and then a sequence of characters to combine. Then Compose→e→'⇒é and such; a lot of different symbols can be produced this way.

5

As a native French speaker and French teacher to foreigners, I would definitely recommend that you use the accents. If you don't, it is no longer French, even in an informal email or a text.

3

To add to the personal experience, I've spent a lot of time on English keyboards not knowing the tricks to do accents under Linux and writing to French people or participating on French forums. All very informal contexts. I did get people complaining and pleading with me to get some accents already.

It can get wearing to read unaccented French, because a lot of common words are distinguished only by their accents - où/ou, à/a, conjugations of verbs of the first group... It makes it an extra effort to parse the text, like when someone makes lots of spelling mistakes. If the person is likely to make language mistakes on top of that it might get downright hard to understand.

I'd say that you "can" do it, in that you won't be the first or last person to do it and plenty of people won't care, but some will.

(to add to the ASCII codes info, if you don't want to write them down or memorize them, know that they follow a specific pattern. Knowing it you can find the correct letter in a few tries, and over time you can end up learning the codes that way.)

2

It heavily depends on the person you're writing to: I'm a Belgian (Flemish) and I've worked for several years in the French speaking part of the country, where I've done a large effort to speak/write the French language as correct as possible.
If anybody would have written me a French e-mail without any accent, I would have replied "Pardon?", meaning "I don't understand what you are writing.", just to make the point.
Even using an AZERTY keyboard, I did have some issue writing French text (the characters 'Ç' and 'œ' are not present there too), but I've solved this by learning the ASCII codes by heart (199 and 156 in the mentioned cases), and in order to type those characters, I type ALT+0199 or ALT+0156. You might do this for the normal accent characters (just write them on a piece of paper, and put it in front of you, after a short while you'll know them by heart).

For your information:

é  ALT+0233
è  ALT+0232
ê  ALT+0234
à  ALT+0224
â  ALT+0226
ù  ALT+0249
û  ALT+0251

(You might find all those back using the Windows program "Character Map")

Good luck

  • 1
    Nice answer. Also writing capital letters with accents is an issue when one works with the AZERTY keyboard. I prefer the QWERTY:-)!. `+shift+A and you have very quickly À without the need to memorize ASCII codes. By the way, following the French Academie even the capital letters should be accentuated: academie-francaise.fr/… – Dimitris May 14 '18 at 8:28
  • QWERTY but with International Keyboard activated of course. – Dimitris May 14 '18 at 8:59
  • The use of codes is Windows-specific. Unix (and Linux) uses a "Compose" key, much easier to use and works on all keyboard layouts. Regarding "even using AZERTY keyboard", I don't need Compose on Linux, even for capital accented letter: pressing "é" when "Caps Lock" is activated yields "É" where Windows yields "2". Same for ÇÀÉÙÈ. So much easier than learning codes in Windows. There are also shortcuts like Alt-Gr , C yielding Ç or Alt-Gr , o yielding œ, depending on the exact layout. All in all one never has to copy-paste anything when typing French, whatever the physical keyboard. – Stéphane Gourichon May 14 '18 at 11:48
  • @StéphaneGourichon Ok I will try it in Linux. Thanks for the comment. – Dimitris May 14 '18 at 12:31
  • Note that I have added the following optional feature in WinCompose for French users, even if you do not use the main Compose feature: if you press é while Caps Lock is on, it will type É (instead of 2). Same for other accented letters. – sam hocevar May 15 '18 at 10:11
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I strongly recommend using the spell checker as much as possible (it's not hard to add the languages you need and switch between them). It should be available either in your browser or in whatever mailing software you're using.

That should work for most accented words.

Then I think it's important to use accents with participe passé, to differentiate between "mange" and "mangé" for example.

But basically, if a native can deduct the accents the spell checker will, and if not there's an ambiguity and you probably should copy and paste.

  • 1
    +1 for mentioning the spell checker. Nevertheless, I want to point out that spell checkers are far from being perfect. There is an excellent section in the book MAÎTRISER LES DIFFICULTÉS DU FRANÇAIS POUR RÉUSSIR SES ÉTUDES DE DROIT-ECONOMIE-GESTION (editions-harmattan.fr/…) that highlights exactly this issue. – Dimitris May 14 '18 at 8:56
0

When I was having exchanges in French in environments that did not provide support for accented letters, I was taught to write the accents after the letters. You can definitely get used to it.

So instead of "ma chère, un hôtel en été ça coûte !", you'd write "ma che`re, un ho^tel en e't'e c,a cou^te !".

Of course using accented characters is preferred.

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