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Although I've always known about it, I have never bothered to actually write the œ character in the words that use it, instead always just writing oe. Nobody has ever commented on it, but I'm just wondering -- do native speakers in their text messages write œ or do you just write oe? Is it perceived as a mistake or is œ perceived as formal/traditional?

Is it akin to how in English contractions should have an apostrophe, but in casual contexts like text messages are often written without them? E.g. isnt, arent, doesnt, which nobody thinks twice about or even notices unless written that way in a more formal piece of writing.

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    Perhaps like the English... it depends on who you ask :) To me the dropping of the apostrophe is the mark that I'm talking to one of my students... and even when i'm being more casual and not bothering with much punctuation or capitalization it's still hard for me not to write apostrophes because they can change the meaning as we're seeing here
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Apr 22 at 23:36
  • While it's true that the apostrophe distinguishes between it's/its, we'll/well, and we're/were, I struggle to think of an example where it wouldn't be obvious from context anyway. I suppose "We'll go ahead" and "well go ahead" turns on the apostrophe, but that's pretty much all I can think of. Commented Apr 23 at 0:10
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    Indeed, but it's the principle of the thing :)
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Apr 23 at 1:01
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    To me it is not perceived as a "mistake", I expect most people just don't bother when handwriting or just don't know (have forgotten since they've left school), and I expect some people don't know how to change [oeufs] into [œufs] on a keyboard. But La ligature œ est obligatoire, écrire coeur à la place de cœur est une faute d'orthographe..., and on Le portail linguistique du Canada](noslangues-ourlanguages.gc.ca/fr/chroniques-de-langue/…).
    – None
    Commented Apr 23 at 5:48
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3 Answers 3

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We learned how to write these words at school so when handwriting, I believe ligatures are still common.

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The main issue is that nowadays we mostly use keyboards to write text but unfortunately the orthographical œ ligature was forgotten when the French keyboards were standardized.

That's the reason why oe is very often found in text messages. There is simply no straightforward way to type it. If I have to write œuf, I type oeuf and then use the spellchecker (if any) to fix it. That's the same issue that leads to the uppercase à being too often written A because there is no single key for À.

Virtual keyboards like the ones provided by smartphones allow to enter whatever ligature and many other characters with little effort but often orthography isn't a top priority when messaging so careless spelling is still common.

Nobody commented on your lack of ligatures because it's not a grammatical mistake, the words stay perfectly comprehensible and it's the lightest kind of orthographical mistakes, the kind that is more than often unnoticed. Missing an accent or a cedilla would be more of a problem. On the other hand, using that ligature in a word that doesn't use it (e.g. writing *mœlle and *cœfficient instead of the expected moelle and coefficient) are more likely to be noticed.

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    "there is no key for À" - Just want to mention, that depends on the keyboard layout. On Canadian French, you press grave then Shift+a.
    – wjandrea
    Commented Apr 23 at 17:07
  • @wjandrea Yes, technically still not a single key but nevertheless the Canadian French keyboard includes five convenient dead keys, and a direct É. A typical French keyboard only supports the circumflex and the umlaut dead keys.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Apr 23 at 19:53
  • Oui, merci, ça ressemble plus à ça en effet. Ça se peut qu'on ait tenté de m'encourager à rapprocher ces lettres comme ça enfant, mais on n'a certainement pas employé le mot, probablement que je ne l'avais même pas encore entendu à l'adolescence à part avec des trompes. Je pensais que c'était un usage typographique. Généralement le propos est surprenant pour moi, remarque on ne m'a jamais enseigné les guillemets français non plus etc. Commented Apr 23 at 22:58
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Well, it depends on lot of things... On a hand written document, writing oe instead of the ligature œ would be seen as a mistake. But even there it would not be a very serious one because in French the ligature is only a typographic usage and we still spell it o, e or more exactly o, e dans l'o but there are two characters.

On a printed document, it is even less evident. Not all orthographic engines are aware of ligatures, and some would mark them as incorrects. And finding the correct way to input them in a document depends on the text editor. Said differently most users just lazily type the separate characters as then can find them on their keyboard, without spending more time finding the correct unicode character.

But if you really want a correct typography you should use the ligatures.

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    Telling that ligatures are only a typographic usage is misleading. The œ ligature is not just typographic but also orthographic. Mœlle and cœfficient would definitely be spelling mistakes.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Apr 23 at 11:20
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Writing oeuf instead of œuf is an orthographic mistake in French. Of course, it's allowed to write oeuf when it is not possible to write œuf for technical reasons. That was the case with the old typewriters. With the modern computers, there is no insurmountable difficulty to insert a character œ (U+0153) or a character Œ (U+0152).

In typography, there exist also typographic ligatures, which depend on the font used, the main examples (for typesetting French) are ff, fi, fl, ft, ffl and ffh (with the font used in this post, these ligatures are not done).

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  • Thank you, but I'm not asking if it's a mistake. I know it's a mistake. I'm asking how the mistake is perceived, whether it's a mistake in the sense that it isn't "formally correct" and would only really stand out in a business context, or whether it's a mistake that someone would notice in any context. For example, in English if someone leaves out an apostrophe in a text message, nobody will even notice it - it doesn't even really count as a mistake, it's expected/normalized. But if someone wrote a grammatical error like "i does not want it" then it would stand out egregiously in any context. Commented Apr 29 at 3:36

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