Could be trivial but would like to know, what is the difference between déjà vu and deja vu

Is it primarily the pronunciation difference or something else?


1 Answer 1


You should always spell phrases from other languages correctly if you can. In the past it was sometimes difficult to find the correct symbol on your keyboard or printing device. For example it was impossible to write déjà vu on a standard English-language typewriter.

The accents make a difference to the pronunciation using either English or French rules. In this particular example they do not help you much if you cannot read French but at least they remind you not to try to read it as English.

It makes a much bigger difference with e at the end of a word as this is silent, in both English and French, so cafe has one syllable but café two. There are complications though as some words have entered the English language without accents. Cafe and café both exist but often with different meanings and pronunciations.

Things are further complicated by different rules sometimes being applied. The BBC was notable for deliberately misspelling words by leaving out all accents on their website, so even people's names were misspelt such as *Beyonce but I am pleased to see that this rule is being quietly dropped.

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    The accent on the à in déjà makes no difference to the French pronunciation. And in fact, even French speakers don't entirely know why it's there. See this question and answer in French stackexchange. Nov 13, 2018 at 12:34
  • @PeterShor, I was wondering about that. Thank you for the link. But it would still be more difficult to read in French without the accent, simply because we are used to the accent and your brain would do a double take if it were not there. And the same applies in English. We recognise the word with the accents, but it is not so easily recognisable as the French word without both accents. Nov 13, 2018 at 14:19
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    "You should always spell phrases from other languages correctly if you can." - вздор! Or should I say, 廢話! It's very easy to cut and paste Cyrillic, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc. but that doesn't mean one should do so in English text except in very special circumstances. Even for the minority of languages that use the Roman alphabet, it's possible to carry this advice too far. For example, Turkish dotless ı and dotted capital İ may be confusing even though technically "accurate". Nov 13, 2018 at 16:25
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    Thank you, @markbeadles. You have to strike a balance between making the word recognisable at all and making it represent the correct word and pronunciation. I don't know if there is any agreed solution to this. Adding a diacritic never makes things worse as far as I can see. Using a modified letter where the underlying letter is obvious may lead to a mispronunciation but may be the least bad option. So I would always use ı, ø and ł even though this last generally leads to the mispronunciation of Lutosławski as *Lutoslawski. Nov 13, 2018 at 18:18
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    The next stage is unrecognisable additions to the Roman alphabet such as ð in The Tale of Auðun of the West Fjords. Even here you might recognise it as like a d (which is not too far off). Þórr would be even more difficult to read so everyone writes Thor. The place where you really have to stop is when you get beyond the Roman alphabet all together this is totally unreadable to the non-expert. Nov 13, 2018 at 18:25

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