Take an expression like déjà vu. This is a French term which is frequently seen in English. In fact, it is included in English dictionaries. But it is often seen in English in a variety of forms:

déjà vu

déjà vu

deja vu

Now, one would probably not consider using frisson or soupçon, both proper unanglicized French words [uh-oh, see edit], without italics to indicate that they were foreign words. But once anglicized, do the words require non-English diacritical marks? Or, if such are used, does that push the word back into foreign status, so that italics are again required?

There's probably a continuum in operation here, during which a word goes from foreign with foreign markings to English with only English markings (or lack thereof). What I want to know is how one can tell where to draw the line. Does anybody have any useful information about this? Guidelines? Or is it on a case-by-case basis?

Honestly, I feel affected writing à la carte when every damn diner you walk into has an "a la carte" (or "ala carte" or "a la cart") category on the menu.

Edit: For example, see the Free Online Dictionary's schizophrenic listing for soupçon:

Soup`con´ n. 1. A suspicion; a suggestion; hence, a very small portion; a taste; as, coffee with a soupçon of brandy; a soupçon of coquetry.

and then in the Thesaurus part:

soupcon - a slight but appreciable amount; "this dish could use a touch of garlic"

So if dictionary entries can't even remain consistent within the same definition, what chance does a mere mortal have?

  • 2
    Related #1 (using foreign Latin-based letters), related #2 (spelling of various forms of naive), related #3 (diaeresis), related #4 (when to italicize phrases).
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Feb 19, 2011 at 19:34
  • 1
    Free Online Dictionary is actually a collection of dictionaries which might explain it's multiple-personality-disorder listing. The former coming from the 1913 version Webster's and the latter coming from the 21st century WordNet which is almost crowd-sourced. It's a bit much to expect a collection of dictionaries spanning a century to be consistent. Commented May 5, 2011 at 2:23
  • I don't think italics and diacritics are related. You'd be hard pressed to find someone who'd italicise café, but it's still often written with the acute accent.
    – TRiG
    Commented May 23, 2011 at 18:08
  • @Robusto See this answer.
    – tchrist
    Commented Sep 2, 2012 at 18:00

6 Answers 6


I would say that my answer about when to italicize loaned words and phrases is also the most appropriate answer to this question:

I think this is a case where authors can decide for themselves where to draw the line. Or, if the writing is for a certain publication, the editors will have a policy for whether a given word should or should not [have diacritics].

(However, that answer got zero votes, so who knows? I still think it is a good answer.)

Various publications will have strict rules about what diacritics are used and when. For example, The New Yorker always uses diaeresis. Each publication seems to have its own rules for bolding, headers, section numbering, hyphenation, capitalization, reference citation, and so on. And there is no definitive format.

I believe that diacritics fall into this category, as evidenced by their generally inconsistent use (though internally consistent within many publications).

  • Good answer(s) and good advice, and while it's probably not the easy answer that my lazy side wanted to hear, it's probably the right one. (I also upticked your linked answer, btw, so you don't have to endure that goose egg there any longer.)
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 14:27

In general, if it's worthy of italics, it's worthy of diacritics (and vice versa). (Note that I left "vice versa" unitalicised. It's as English as spotted dick these days, even if it comes to us unmodified from elsewhere.)

I think it's likely time to stop pretending that "a la carte" has not been completely incorporated into the English lexicon. Once it makes it into the greasy spoon, it's not French cuisine anymore -- it's just a somewhat less unfriendly way of saying, "that costs extra, Mac." You might want to keep it italicised when referring to a list of alternates on a fine dining menu.

My rule of thumb is that if I can imagine it being used anywhere that beer is going to be served more often than Chablis, it's safe to treat it as English unless there is a style guide in effect dictating otherwise. If you are writing for publication, there is usually a house style guide to follow with a list of words that are not yet sufficiently English. If you find façade there, then you might as well keep the ol' character map open at all times.

  • +1: This is good commonsense advice, and it's about where I naturally come down on this issue anyway. The English language involves a lot of messiness, and I always wish there were easy ways to clean those up. Mostly I find that the only workable answer is "Just deal with it." Welcome to English.SE, by the way. I sense you are going to be a strong contributor here.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 14:24
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    Personally, I find the cedilla in "façade" completely necessary, because I don't believe one finds that "s" sound spelled similarly anywhere else in the English lexicon -- its presence is a good guide to its pronunciation for the uninitiated. Do you agree with my preference here, or do you see that as overly stodgy?
    – Uticensis
    Commented Feb 27, 2011 at 5:10
  • The pronunciation of the ç in façade is common to many cide words (homicide, cider).
    – sjy
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 4:42
  • 1
    @sjy ...and the rules of English spelling (such as they are) would lead the reader to pronounce a c followed by either an e or an i as if it were an s. Before the letters a, o and u, it's normally pronounced as a k. The cedilla informs the reader that the letter c is to be pronounced as an s when the rules would otherwise indicate that it should be pronounced as a k. Facade is a bit of a special case in that it is relatively common (and a term of art in several disciplines); it is one of the very few instances where the cedilla could go missing without being missed.
    – bye
    Commented Mar 31, 2015 at 2:09

Historically, diacritics were dropped to save money. If you had a printing press, you could buy the extra characters with the markings or save money by using the plain characters. Those little character blocks were expensive.

Today, writers have less of an excuse. You can take an extra few seconds and learn to type in the characters with the diacritics (on OS X), or be lazy and type the letters in plainly.

That aside, I do encourage use of fully using the diacritics as to preserve the meaning of the words. To use your example of à la carte, a and à have different meanings in French: the phrase a la carte would translate as he/she/it has the menu instead of the intended from the menu.

  • 7
    Yes, those two things have different meanings in French, but so do other French words that have been digested by the English language. Since we don't distinguish between a la carte / à la carte in English, does it really matter? We're not writing for a French audience, after all.
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 20, 2011 at 14:21

Generally, accents, diacirtics, and ligatures seem to be going out of fashion. But in certain circles some words using them seem to be on the rise.

In online communities such as Wikipedia I've seen little fights and edit wars insisting on forms like Māori and Devanāgarī as the only correct forms even in English. Related is the use of Hawaiʻi even in English or at least its more font-friendly variants Hawai`i and Hawai'i despite the ʻokina not being part of English orthography otherwise.


But once anglicized, do the words require non-English diacritical marks?

It depends from the word, in which context the word is used, and how much anglicized the word is.

Taking as example déjà vu, I would write it with the diacritics because déjà vu is still pronounced as a French word: compare the pronunciation of the j in déjà vu, which is pronounced /ˌdeɪʒɑ ˈv(j)u/ or /ˈdeɪʒɑ ˈv(j)u/, from the pronunciation of the same letter in deject, which is pronounced /dəˈdʒɛkt/ or /diˈdʒɛkt/. In informal writing, the word is probably written without any diacritics, as it is normally understood that who writes is referring to déjà vu, and not to different English word.

Taking as example a word that derives from the Greek, I would think that nobody is expecting the word to be written using Greek letters, or the plural of the word to be written as it is written in Greek (even without using Greek letters).

Or, if such are used, does that push the word back into foreign status, so that italics are again required?

It depends from the context.

Taking as example déjà vu, I would normally not write it in italics, but I would write it in italics in sentences like

Déjà vu in French means already seen.

Differently, I would write

I have a sense of déjà vu.


Sometimes dropping the diacritic may result in a change in pronunciation. A two seater sports car can be described as a 'coupé' pronounced 'coopay', it means 'cut' as bits have been cut off (like 2 seats and 2 doors).

Drop the accent and it becomes 'coupe', pronounced 'coop', which is an old fashioned champagne glass or an ice cream bowl.

Drop the 'e' and it becomes 'coup', pronounced 'coo', as in coup d'état or coup de grâce.

So to aid correct pronunciation and avoid ambiguities, the accent should be retained, it's a coupé and is pronounced 'coopay'.

BTW, my (American) spellchecker is saying coupé is misspelled. While the common, but confusing, coupe spelling may be in the dictionary, the correct spelling, coupé, should always be there. Faulty spell checker.

  • So how do you pronounce "cafe" -- like "cape" but with an F sound?
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 1:53
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    Personally it's a computer thing for me. In handwriting I'd use the diacritics (when I remember where they go), but on the keyboard i simply can't be bothered to change font. Which may in part explain why they're fall ing out of use quite quickley around here. Commented Jun 16, 2020 at 4:15
  • Hot Licks - in British English café is becoming Caff. But yes, standard rules (and they DO exist) would suggest cafe is pronounced in the same way as cape. Hence the need for the accent.
    – kiwi-ian
    Commented Jun 17, 2020 at 2:08

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