When I first read Romeo and Juliet in high school, I remember being intrigued by pairs of words such as,




where there's an accent grave on the 'e' of the last syllable of one of each pair of word.

One thing I've always thought is that, strictly interpreted, beloved can really only be used as an adjective; if one wants to refer to the noun, as in my beloved, it should properly spelt as belovèd. Similarly, I've always thought that learned is, strictly speaking, only acceptable as the past tense of the verb to learn, and that if one wanted to refer to the adjective form meaning "educated", as in learned scholar, it would properly be spelt as learnèd. I don't remember where exactly I got these impressions from, and I don't know if they are correct.

So my question is: Were there or is there any semantic difference between such pairs of words, or is it just a spelling idiosyncrasy? If there were such differences, do any persist to the present day?

Addendum: These aren't the only such pairs; there are others, I distinctly remember seeing many in lots of Shakespeare's plays...

  • 7
    I'd add blessed / blessèd as another common example of this. Apr 14, 2011 at 13:13
  • 4
    As noted in the comments to Pete Wilson's answer, thee is indeed a usage difference between the two pronunciations. There is no need to spell the words with an accent (according to common practice and the dictionary), though this is occasionally done to guide the reader as to which variant was intended - especially, in my experience, in song lyrics, where it's important to be able to find the rhythm of the words quickly in order to make it fit the tune :)
    – psmears
    May 6, 2011 at 8:59
  • 3
    Simpsons quote: Boy: "Oh Papa Homer, you are so learnèd." Homer:"'Learned', son. It's pronounced 'learned'."
    – Urbycoz
    Aug 24, 2012 at 10:51
  • 2
    You know, I pronounced the third syllable of beloved in all cases. I don't think I'm alone on that.
    – Angelos
    Jul 28, 2016 at 0:18
  • 1
    Abashed / unabashèd
    – DyingIsFun
    Jul 28, 2016 at 17:48

6 Answers 6


There is definitely a difference in the meaning of dogged (verb past tense, one syllable) and doggèd (adjective, two syllables), even though they're both generally spelled without the accent.

Shakespeare used both forms, and seems to have pronounced dogged with one syllable, and doggèd with two.

Whose reputation will be dogg'd with curses; —Coriolanus.
And dogged York that reaches at the moon, —Henry VI.

  • I like to think that adverb form of some words mostly insist on the same accented pronunciation: doggèdly, for example.
    – CIFilter
    Apr 9 at 15:07

Shakespeare was also known to omit words or provide superfluous wording in order to achieve iambic pentameter. The accent was merely a means to achieve iambic pentameter as well, providing accents to correct pronunciation.

I wouldn't look much beyond that.


I have been noticing that in my church, a Lutheran one in Dallas, TX, persons reading scripture are more often than in the past pronouncing "blessed" with one syllable. For instance, I always used to, and still do, use 2 syllables for the beatitudes ("Blessed are the poor...") but I've noticed many readers just using one. I would use one syllable in saying "I have been blessed" or "He has led a blessed life" though I think some people might use two in the second example. I haven't seen any Bibles with accent marks on "blessed."

  • Hi Becky, welcome to English Language & Usage. Thanks for your contribution :-). It's worth noting, though, that your post falls more into the category of "comment" than "answer". You'll be able to post comments when you have 50 "reputation points" - but it only takes a few good questions or answers to achieve this. If you think you might use our site again (and I hope you do!), please make sure you take the Tour. Sep 5, 2016 at 23:07

The reflects an interesting and, in my opinion, underused aspect of the English language— accents. The grave accent (à) is used to denote a pronounced vowel, hence learned is pronounced /lɜrnd/, while learnèd would be pronounced /lɜrnɪd/. The accent isn't used for a particular kind of word, just to assist with the pronunciation.

Also, if you're interested, there are other accents used occasionally in English:

  • An acute accent (á) marks a stressed syllable, for example: rébel v. rebél.
  • A circumflex was used as over the letter O to abbreviate 〈ough〉 (when the 〈gh〉 wasn't pronounced) so that thorough might be spelt thorô. This usage, however, was mostly confined to 18th century British English.
  • Diaeresis are used to denote a separate vowel sound, they can be used in words such as zoology, which can be written as zoölogy so the reader knows to say z͞oo-ŏlōgy, not z͞oo-lōgy. Diaeresis are also somtimes used in the name Zoë, when pronounced /ˈzoʊ.i/, to to diferentiate it from Zoe, when pronounced /ˈzoʊ/.

Off the top of my head:

  • Banished/banishèd (a Shakespearean word, actually from Romeo and Juliet)

Pinched from Wikipedia:

  • Lēad/lĕad
  • Mate/maté

Pinched from other answers here but which I agree with:

  • Dogged/doggèd
  • Blessed/blessèd

It's most interesting to note how different the meanings are despite the words being spelt the same. Even the difference between beloved and belovèd caught me by surprise.

I would agree that these words are only properly spelt with accents, but I wonder as to the difficulty of knowing all the instances for which accents should be used. Within that issue is the sometimes confusing use of the diaeresis.

On the other hand, diacritics should certainly be used where present in the original language word on which an English word is predicated.

The next problem is how to pronounce loanwords that are incorrectly pronounced in English.

  • 1
    I don't see how "lēad/lĕad" and "mate/maté" are relevant... they have a different kind of accent mark, and don't have the "ed" suffix.
    – herisson
    Aug 23, 2016 at 21:24
  • Yes, but my answer doesn't have to be that narrow. I have included examples of what was specifically asked, and the asker would probably welcome my voluntary expansion of the parameters. Aug 24, 2016 at 0:04
  • The use of the grave accent appears to be limited to "-èd", unless anyone can think of a counterexample.
    – user438135
    Mar 12, 2022 at 1:04
  • @user438135 ‘Blessèd’ is still used occasionally, even in some modern song titles. I’m not sure that the grave accent was ever abundantly used as an indicator of pronunciation, however. Jun 5, 2022 at 5:13

There is no semantic difference between word pairs like “beloved”/“belovèd”, “learned”/“learnèd”. One of the few rules of English usage that has no exceptions, special cases, or irregular forms :-)

The grave accent tells a speaker to sound the accented syllable rather than to swallow it.

  • 10
    I don't think that is correct. "Learned" (one syllable) means "which has been learned by somebody", and is fairly rare: the phrase "learned response" comes to my mind. "Learned" (two syllables, and normally written the same way), means "full of, or characterised by, learning". Semantically very different.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 14, 2011 at 12:03
  • @Colin: The distinction you are pointing out seems to be disappearing in the US. "Learn-ed" is really only used as a joke and the one syllable variation has taken all meanings of the spelling. I don't have any sources to back that up; just experience.
    – MrHen
    Apr 14, 2011 at 13:21
  • 8
    @MrHen, I disagree. Although not as common as the single syllable version is more common, the two syllable version is not what I would call rare in US English.
    – Kevin
    Apr 14, 2011 at 17:45
  • 6
    @MrHen: So you would pronounce "He is learned" monosyllabically? That must be a regional thing: I would certainly pronounce it bisyllabically, and expect to hear it that way.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 15, 2011 at 14:45
  • 2
    "Mangle" and "butcher" are value-laden words that most linguists try to avoid in discussions on pronunciation. Your dialect will be different from mine: that does not mean that either of us is "butchering" anything.
    – Colin Fine
    Apr 18, 2011 at 12:39

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.