Why does English omit diacritics from foreign names that still use the Latin alphabet? For example, why are the Czech tennis player Tomáš Berdych, the Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø, or the Polish city of Łódź so often simply spelled as Tomas Berdych, Jo Nesbo, and Lodz?

Within their native languages these are often separate letters, and in the Netherlands they would always use these diacritics where possible. So what’s the reason that English often omits these?

Two examples:

(Note: I am only talking about names using the Latin alphabet, I am not talking about transliterated names)

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    Laziness, impatience, and ignorance. Sorry, but that's the reason.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:21
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    Probably the same reason we spell it "Germany" instead of "Deutschland"; when foreign words are imported, they are often transformed, sometimes extensively. In the particular case of diacritics, the alphabet used in English lacks these (except in some old-fashioned and increasingly rare cases), to the extent that it's often not even obvious how to type such letters, outside of professional typesetting contexts. Where those contexts do prevail (e.g. established news media), often a style guide will determine whether and where to use inflected letters in foreign names and words.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:24
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    The letters á, š, ø, ł, ó, and ź are not part of the English alphabet. There’s no rule against using them in foreign words (I personally always write złoty rather than zloty, for example), but there’s also no particular reason to use them in an English setting. I don’t really see how the script using in the source language is particularly relevant—you always have the option of including non-standard letters or not when writing in English. (Note: if you’re talking Norwegian, the letter ø doesn’t have any diacritics. It’s a simple, uncompounded letter like i or f.) Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:28
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    Please don't answer in comments. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:31
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    The British policy about accents and foreign words is that British pronunciation and spelling is to be preferred in every case. Including speaking French fluently with a strong English accent, which irritates the hell out of the French, and has been policy for centuries because of that. The British royal family has spoken French since the Norman conquest, for instance, no matter what Shakespeare said in Henry V. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 17:16

8 Answers 8


I, an ignorant, lazy, hubristic, and (most-importantly) impatient American, need to add this preface, so I will have enough letters for this to be counted as an answer.

One word:


Please, before you take offense at my use of adjectives, read the second-to-last paragraph before the note about dıacrıtıcs ın English.

Now that I've made this answer longer anyway, I shall give some exposition. As an English-as-a-first-language American who has worked with diacritics and accent marks and slashed letters quite a bit, I give the explanation that the US English keyboard (at least with the Windows default) contains no letters wıth dıacrıtıcs, with the possible exception of the tittle1.

Neither does the United Kingdom keyboard have any differentiating/distinguishing diacritics, unless you use the Alt Gr key, but I'll just show the American, <hubris>because it's American!</hubris> Check it out!

United States Keyboard Layout

(attribution / source)

Let's see it with the lower-case letters. (Note that there's no Alt Gr option for us default, ignorant American users of Windows.)

US English Keyboard Layout with lowercase letters


Most English-speakers English-typers [sic] use only one keyboard layout. There are people such as I, who, for purposes including genealogy work, has a-dozen-or-so keyboard layouts set up on my computer.

Let's go through a stream of consciousness that I might have whilst using diacritics in genealogy: "OK, Lithuanian, that means push Ctrl+Shift ... hmm ... seven times, then I have to hit Caps Lock. Now, push Shift ... umm ... it's above the ... 3? No ... 4? No ... 5? No ... 6? There it is!" On my computer screen pops us an Š, and I can write the place-name, Šiauliai.

Most who do have extra keyboard layouts aren't as OCD as I am. Let's say that I want to talk about a couple of composers. Back to my thoughts: "Oh, shoot, I don't have Czech set up on my computer. Time for Google Translate. Choose to translate from Czech. Click the drop-down keyboard. Who cares what I translate to ..." Some typing and then copy ... Go back to my document about music and money and paste the name, Leoš Janáček. Back to my train of thought, "Shoot, I can't find the u with a circle over it. (Note to future self, it's where the American English keyboard has a semicolon.) Forget that, I'm heading to Wikipedia. Type the name - yes, without diacritics ... There he is! Copy, paste. Boom!" Hooray, now we have Bohuslav Martinů on the page. "Okay, most everything uses Alt Gr+E for Euro. Good. Shoot! Where's the percent symbol? Dang, I switched back into French instead of English..."

I hope I've illustrated a bit the reason why we lazy, impatient, and ignorant (@tchrist♦) as well as hubris-ful (@hunterhogan) American English speakers don't use diacritics.

By the way, I have no arguments with those characterizations for Americans, but I won't claim them for the Brits. (It's all in good fun, friends, no offense taken or meant.)

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to read this site, entitled Orthographic diacritics and multilingual computing, while listening to some Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin, - the Polish version, so I don't have to use those funny ink splotches that one often sees near the letters of his name, or that "Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric Fran%C3%A7ois Chopin" version ... dang (verb version of "dang") his French father who moved to Poland and then sent his prodigious, 21-year-old son back to Paris ... It's as if he didn't foresee English-speakers from around the world discussing his son on the keyboard-layout-dependent Internet ...

Note 1: Dıacrıtıcs ın English

There is the tittle, which I, as well as others, do consider a diacritic. However, as was well stated in Evertz, Martin, Visual Prosody: The Graphemic Foot in English and German, Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG, Jun 25, 2018, p.43,

The dots in <i, j>[,] ... in contrast to other diacritics, ... do not bear any function [and] do not even distinguish letters from each other in the writing system under consideration.

The emphasis is mine. Opposing argument link. ... My rant, which @ChrisH correctly pointed out was extraneous. (Sorry, I got excited.)

  • 6
    +1 for perl content :) But you seriously need a Mac, where it’s a lot easier to do all that.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 3:01
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    Honestly, I think you have a good answer in here which is ruined by the fact it's embedded in a rant where you argue with nobody in particular about whether or not the dots on i and j are diacritics.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 7:44
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    Point well-taken @ChrisH. I'll cut that out now. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 17:42
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    @tchrist♦ , you have an excellent point. However, I couldn't have made my point as well if I were using a Mac (or Linux.) I actually had to get my Windows Laptop out to remember the hard way of doing stuff, so I could write out my streams of consciousness. Also, I need to thank you for your "Sorry, but that's the reason," comment to the OP, partly because it contains a lot of truth, and partly because it made it a lot of fun to write this answer. Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 17:44
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    Cute, but it really goes back to the need to meet deadlines in the era of manual typesetting. Everything else is just inertia in the educational system.
    – Spencer
    Commented Sep 4, 2019 at 10:49

The answer is obvious: Modern Standard English does not have diacritics. Why would you expect English copy to include non-English characters? If someone wants to write my English name in a non-English language I expect the writer to do just that, and I don't complain if my name looks different when written in that language.

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    Well, except that you do see diacritics in English writing. Do you turn in a resume or a résumé with your job application? Some use the former, some the latter.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 6, 2018 at 16:37

As mentioned in comments, since the diacritical markings (and crossed-letter letters) don't (generally and currently) have an analog in English language, the markings will be ignored for the common English speaker who will make a best guess at what the characters resemble from A-Z and what they sound like from their closest A-Z analog.

To an English speaker, the closest thing that is learned in school to a diacritical marking is an apostrophe used as a stressed syllable indicator, and (IPA aside) the "long vowel" marking (āēīōū) or "short vowel" marking (ăĕĭŏŭ). And those are pronunciation guides, not spelling guides.

  • 1
    Some English speakers may be familiar with the diaeresis used in words such as coöperate. It does have a distinctly old-fashioned feel, though.
    – Brian Tung
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 21:25
  • @BrianTung ... or a potentially metal-like taste 😁 Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 9:12

I think it is an attempt to appropriate the word (into English), and I believe it is quite common (in the sense that this is what language users do and will do).

For example, the name of the German town of Meißen was -- as far as I'm aware -- always spelled 'Meissen' outside Germany. This is the same phenomenon.

One might take the view that a word is more than just its spelling, and consequently, spelling is not all-important. In case, for example, there is a spelling in the target language that better approximates the pronunciation in the source language, the new spelling is often used. This is not the case here; the problem here is that there's no easy way to render, or approximate, the pronunciation.

It is quite difficult to do full justice to a foreign word or two within a phrase, pronunciation-wise. Ignorance put aside, a mighty reason for this is the different articulation basis for the source vs. the target language. At best, there's a slight stammer, at worst, it's a farce.

Anyway, we Czechs counter the humiliation of being deprived of our diacritics by maiming foreign proper names in our own fashion, often beyond recognition. Thus 'Paris' becomes 'Paříž'; 'London' becomes 'Londýn' and 'in London' becomes 'v Londýně' (locative); 'Serena Williams' becomes 'Serena Williamsová' (female surname, nominative). (To abide by tennis players...)

  • 3
    How would the Czechs write Lech Wałęsa, as neither of these diacritics are used in Czech?
    – TallArnie
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 16:48
  • In established media, books etc., as you do. Pending availability of the diacritics also elsewhere. But even with Polish, which is quite close to Czech, the major problem is not how to spell it correctly but how to read the word from its (correct) spelling.
    – anemone
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 18:34
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    That'll teach us arrogant non-Czechs. (On a serious note - great answer.) Commented Nov 5, 2018 at 20:34
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    @anemone But Meissen would be fine to use in German as well (substituting the ss for ß). It would not be ideal, but okay. In all-uppercase scenarios this would be the normal case, even though a capital ß has been introduced (ẞ). It's the same with Strasse (street) which used to be spelled with ß - Straße - before the several spelling reforms and re-reforms of the past 30 or so years. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 9:03

In a note appended to the question, the OP says 'I am only talking about names using the Latin alphabet, I am not talking about transliterated names'. This implies that the OP regards it as unproblematic that Japanese, Russian, Israeli, or Greek names appear in English contexts in a form that is different, sometimes vastly different, from the original. What the OP perceives as the problem is supposed to be somehow created by the fact that English uses the same alphabet as Danish, Czech, or Polish.

In some sense it is true that these languages use the same, that is Latin alphabet. However, looked at in another way, the alphabets they use are not quite the same: if they were exactly the same, there would be no problem. One can thus think of English alphabet as, in a way, different from (although similar to), say, Polish or Danish alphabets. If one takes that stance, the fact that Polish and Danish names change their form when they appear in an English context, can be thought of as transliteration. It is not clear why transliterating names from a similar alphabet, such as Polish, would be any more problematic than transliterating names from a less similar one, such as Greek.

This answer articulates the argument that was, in a more casual way, already made in the comments by Dan Bron, Janus Bahs Jacquet, and Mitch.

  • Also the Turkish 'ı' which is the roman 'i' missing the tittle. What about the Icelandic thorn 'þ'. All these foreign diacritics are foreign in English, and therefore very rare. The argument should be in the other direction - why should any typesetting system for print media (in any language script) spend resources on foreignisms? (of course Unicode reduces the problem considerably and we should be seeing more non-English letterforms.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 2:33
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    There is probably a good reason for a writer to take the trouble to follow the original spelling when writing for an audience that is sufficiently bilingual to be able to make sense of the non-English symbols. But it is indeed unclear what is supposed to be the point of doing so when one knows that one's readers have no idea what to do with them. It should thus not be surprising if, say, Turkish names are handled differently in general-circulation newspapers than in scholarly books on Turkish history that are written for specialists in that field.
    – jsw29
    Commented Nov 7, 2018 at 17:50
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    I think this approach is very valuable, i.e. the idea that, each time we use a name that was originally used in a language other than that which we are speaking, we can consider composed from a different alphabet. It's like learning the ABCs (or aąbcćs or АБВs) for different languages. I think most of ah bay say in the Spanish alphabet with its extra ñ. All these alphabets have at their base the Latin (Roman) alphabet with added diacritics and other marks (such as the with-a-stroke mark.) However, I think it a great statement that they are different alphabets, if only because of pronunciation. Commented Nov 27, 2018 at 2:50
  • There are so many shades of this. Given your example of Danish vs. Polish think of Pelle vs. Paweł. Same name. Derived from the same root. Spelled and pronounced differently in either language. And in German history books you'll find Charlemagne (that is: Charles the Great) written as Karl der Große. The thing, however, is that transliteration usually attempts to keep the pronunciation close enough. Take Russian Ж which is usually transliterated into English as Zh. The same should be done for Polish ż then. So my point: transliteration is not mere removal of diacritics. Commented Jun 3, 2020 at 9:09

Broadly agree with @tchrist (lazy, impatient, ignorant). I would add as well, however, that English speakers are extremely comfortable with impenetrable and unfathomable pronunciation differences. Memorising an enormous variety of irregular pronunciation is part of what we are used to doing. As such, we don't expect to be given guidance on pronunciation from the page, and diacritics almost get in the way of having a good 'run up' to a word (and if you're lucky enough to have heard it spoken, trying to recall how it sounded) !

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    I doubt most native English-speakers would allow diacritics to really affect their pronunciation of a foreign word. Most people seeing the name Łódź would probably pronounce it [lɒʣ] whether it had diacritics or not, whereas the Polish (and presumably thus more ‘correct’) pronunciation is [wuʥ], more or less like ‘woodge’ would be pronounced in English. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 13:53
  • Very closely related.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 14:10
  • Hmm. It's an interesting question. I reckon most native English speakers are seriously put off by diacritics, even grave and acute accents (which they most likely ignore - unless they also speak the language in question). If the diacritic is not there to confuse matters the standard approach to learning a new word can more easily take place (ie compare to similar letter combination and have a go). Usually the result is an anglified mangulation. I suppose the point is that English is not, and never will be as simple and clear to pronounce as, say, Spanish.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 14:10
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    Au contraire mon ami, it is diacritics that require memorizing pronunciations. We are content to guess, and we abide abominable guesses gallantly.
    – ScotM
    Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 19:09
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    It's a common trope in English character comedy for someone to be prone to pronounce words as they are written, indicating to the audience that they have only read them in books, not heard them in conversation, indicating a great deal about class and education. That this idea seems rare in other European languages, I think that illustrates that the letters used are only guidelines to pronunciation, even in native English words. As Dan suggests, when a foreign word comes along we use the letters at hand as they are merely aide memoir as to the word itself.
    – Dan
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 23:39

One of your examples was from the BBC, so I attempted to find any mention of diacritics in the BBC Style Guide, but I could not find anything.

I did find an incredible page on Wikipedia that is not an article, but is rather a User Page, and it has an unbelievably detailed explanation of diacritical marks, including recommended usages from most major style guides and many specialized style guides.

In short, the consensus of professional editors is to preserve diacritical marks. The Columbia Journalism Review has a short article that adds a little more clarity: use the diacritical marks as found in contemporary English language dictionaries.

Why not use diacritical marks?

A few verifiable reasons were offered:

  1. You are directly quoting a source and the source did not use the marks
  2. English has fully assimilated the word without the marks (see CJR's advice, "use the dictionary")
  3. For proper nouns, there is an established Anglicized version (my favorite example was Napoléon vs Napoleon)
  4. The Associated Press is a notable dissenter and their reason is pragmatic: "Do not use them; they cause garbled copy in some newspaper computers."
  5. Habit

My completely unsupported opinion

I believe that a significant reason why most writers in English, especially native speakers of English, do not preserve diacritical marks is simple: hubris. For a couple hundred years now, the British Empire and then the United States empire have dominated multiple aspects of public life. The dominance of the USA is unprecedented. The USA is either the undisputed heavyweight or a significant player in nearly every sphere of public life: armed conflict; politics; film, music, television, and prose, hence language; capital; education; immigration; and possibly more. The only area that I can think of that the USA does not dominate is religion.

To this near-universal dominance, add the geographic isolation of the USA and add the fact that compared to equally developed countries, citizens of the USA are shockingly mono-lingual, and I believe the inevitable result is the general attitude, "I am right because I am American." (Please note that most citizens of the USA call themselves American and bristle at the suggestion that anyone from Latin America is also American.)


There seems to be a gap between suggested usage by the majority of style guides and the majority of native-English writers, but most people who have considered the issue suggest using the diacritical marks.

  • 4
    I completely agree. In the case of proper nouns, omitting the diacritic in journalism may well lead to a case of mistaken identity. Here the BBC is lowering the bar on accuracy. Unlike places, the names of people should not be Anglicized, except in the case where the alphabet is completely different (e.g. Cyrillic) or perhaps the name of the person is internationally recognized (e.g. Napoleon) and the context is unlikely to be mistaken. It's likely that the diacritic is unseen by most English readers because they consider these marks nothing more than visual garnish. Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 2:08
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    Why has no one addressed the simple fact that US keyboards do not have diacritics, and most users (justifiably, since the need is so rare) don't know the key combinations to make them.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 3:39
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    "Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence, accomplishments or capabilities." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubris Hubris is a form of ignorance. Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 6:51
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    @HunterHogan - How is "the lack of simplicity" another example of "American-English hubris"? Fact of the matter is, the keyboard is simple, by design, and changing US keyboards to look more like French ones would only add complexity that 99% of users have no need for. It's only those in the literary and journalism professions that would need the characters, and even then it's a small subset of those. What I'm seeing here is a "holier than thou" attitude because "Nayh nayh nayn -- I use diacritics and you don't!"
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 13:15
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    @TallArnie it's not just the people who write that matters, it is also those that read it. So, now that the Internet is all global and stuff some random group of people will claim inverse superiority complex (It's not my hubris. I'm right. It's theirs! Their wrong, and not just wrong because of didn't know better, but intentionally being wrong because they think they know better.) Meanwhile, there's this large swath of people who read an English source, expecting English letters, and can't literally (and I mean literally, literally) parse the diacritical markings into something legible.
    – SrJoven
    Commented Jan 30, 2015 at 15:32

Any author should consider his audience. Thus a scholarly book would use all the diacritical marks, etc. A book aimed at the popular press or the general reading public should stay away from them and render them in English (or American). For example, I am writing a book which includes a section on the architecture of early human dwellings of the Neolithic Age. I must necessarily must discuss early ruins and city sites in Turkey and Iran. For my readers, I believe that use of diacritical accents and letters would disrupt the reading flow as the reader's eye stops at the word with diacritics. Either that or the simply skip over the word, which makes it useless.

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