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THE orthographical signs used in the French language are, the accents, the apostrophe, the hyphen, the diaresis or dialysis, the cedilla, the parenthesis, and the different marks of punctuation.


Accents are small marks placed upon vowels, either to point out their true pronunciation, or to distinguish the meaning of one word from that of another which is spelt alike, but has a different meaning.

There are three accents in the French language,— the acute, the grave, and the circumflex.

The acute accent (') is never used but over the vowel e, as in vérité, truth; été, summer.

The grave accent (`) is used over the vowels, a, e, u, as in voilà, there is; père, father; règle, rule.

The grave accent is placed

Over the preposition à, to, in order to distinguish it from the third person singular of the verb avoir, il a, he has;

Over the adverb là, there, to distinguish it from the article la, the, or the pronoun la, her, it;

Over the adverb or pronoun où (where, in which, to which, etc.), to distinguish it from the conjunction ou, or;

Over the preposition dès, from, since, to distinguish it from the compound article des, of the, some.

The circumflex accent (^) is used with any of the vowels, the sound of which it always lengthens; as in âge, age; tête, head; épître, epistle; dôme, cupola; flûte, flute.

The circumflex accent is placed

Over the adjective sûr, sure, to distinguish it from the preposition sur, upon;

Over the adjective múr, ripe, to distinguish it from the substantive mur, wall;

Over dû, participle past of devoir, to owe, to distinguish it from the compound article du, of the, some; but the accent is only used in the singular masculine of the participle, as there can be no mistake in the feminine singular, nor in the plural of either gender;

Over cru, participle past of croître, to grow, to distinguish it from cru, participle past of croire, to believe.


The Apostrophe is a small mark in the form of a comma (), which is placed over the line between two letters, to denote the elision or suppression of a vowel at the end of one word before another beginning with a vowel, or h mute, as in l'âme, the soul; l'homme, the man; instead of la âme, le homme.

A, E, I, are the only vowels liable to be thus cut off. The A is suppressed only in la, article or pronoun. The I suffers elision only in the conjunction si (if) before the pronoun il and its plural ils, but never before elle or elles, or any other word whatever.

The elision of the E occurs, not only in the masculine article and pronoun le, but also in the monosyllables je, me, te, se, ce, de, ne, que, and moreover :

1. In jusque, before à, au, aux, ici.

2. In puisque and quoique, before il, ils, elle, elles, on, un, une, or a word with which these conjunctions are immediately connected; as-Puisqu'ainsi est.—Puisqu'il le veut. Quoiqu'elle soit.

However we write :-Puisque aider les malheureux est un devoir. Quoique un peu fier.-Quoique étranger.— Quoique invisibles, il est toujours deux témoins qui nous regardent: Dieu et la conscience.

3. In quelque, before un, une; as, quelqu'un, quelqu'une; and also in quel qu'il soit, quelle qu'elle soit.

4. In presque, in the compound word presqu'ile; and likewise in grande, in the words grand'mère, and grand'


But no elision of the a or e takes place in le, la, de, ce, que, before oui, huit, huitaine, huitième, onze, and on

zième; neither in the pronouns le or la, after a verb in the imperative mood, nor in the adverb là: so we say, le oui et le non; le huit ou le onze du mois; menez-le à Paris ; ira-t-il là avec vous ?

The final e of the preposition entre is retained before the pronouns eux, elles, and before autres; but it is always retrenched when entre forms a compound word with another word beginning with a vowel; as-entr'acte, s'entr'aider, s'entr'accuser, entr'ouïr, entr'ouvrir.


The Hyphen (in French tiret or trait d'union) is a short horizontal line, thus (-), which is used principally in connecting compound words, and between a verb and a pronoun, when a question is asked, as in arc-en-ciel, a rainbow; chef-d'œuvre, a master-piece; parlez-vous ? do you speak? avez-vous? have you?


The Diaresis (in French tréma or diérèse) is a mark of two points, thus (), put over the vowels e, i, u, to intimate that they form a distinct syllable from the vowels that precede them, as in the words ciguë, hemlock; Moïse, Moses; Saül, Saul; which are pronounced Ci-gu-e, Mo-ise, Sa-ul.


The Cedilla is a kind of comma placed under the letter c, when it is to be pronounced like s, before the vowels a, o, u, as in Français, French; garçon, boy; reçu, received.

All other marks and characters used in writing French are the same as in English.


THE French language has only two genders, the masculine and the feminine. The gender of animate or living beings presents no difficulty, as all males are masculine, and all females are feminine; but it is only by practice that one can learn the gender of inanimate objects, and of animals whose names are the same for the male and female, such as éléphant, an elephant; buffle, a buffalo; cygne, a swan; perdrix, a partridge; baleine, a whale: truite, a trout; saumon, a salmon.

It is not possible to give general and precise rules by means of which one may, on every occasion, distinguish, by the mere aspect of a substantive, of what gender it is. Several Grammarians, however, have given treatises on the genders; but those treatises are extremely incomplete; some of their rules are vague, and above all liable to a great many exceptions. The truth is, the perfect knowledge of the gender of substantives can only be the work of time. It is by reading with attention, and by having recourse, in cases of doubt, to dictionaries, that one will acquire insensibly a complete acquaintance with the genders. Nevertheless in cases of doubt, and in the absence of a dictionary, it may be of some practical utility to know that about nine-tenths of nouns ending in e not accented are feminine; the final e mute being, in French, the distinctive mark of the feminine gender. Nouns ending in ion are also for the most part feminine.

To the student who understands Latin, perhaps it may not be unimportant to know, that of nouns derived from that language, those from feminine nouns are mostly feminine, and those from masculine or neuter nouns, masculine; as foi from fides, loi from lex, fourmi from formica, génie from genius, college from collegium, poëme from poëma, incendie from incendium, &c.

We have generally marked the gender of Nouns in the Exercises throughout this work, in order to facilitate the acquirement of this part of French Grammar.


THERE are two numbers in French; the singular and the plural. The singular refers to one person or thing, and the plural refers to more than one.


THERE are no Cases, and consequently no declensions in the French language; and the Grammarians who have admitted some, have failed in accuracy. We express by prepositions, and especially by de (of or from), and à (to or at), the relations which the Greeks and the Romans marked by the different terminations of their


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