Sadly, I don’t have much to add from the title to this question: does œ exist in English, such as in the word manœuvre?

The same question may also apply to what the French call the “e dans l’a” (e in the a), the æ, in addition to what they call the “e dans l’o” (e in the o), the œ — at least as far as the French part is concerned.

  • Wikipedia has a comment "Æ comes from Medieval Latin, where it was an optional ligature in some words, for example, "Æneas". It is still found as a variant in English and French, but the trend has recently been towards printing the A and E separately. Similarly, Œ and œ, while normally printed as ligatures in French, can be replaced by component letters if technical restrictions require it."
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 14:26
  • well in french the trend as been to remove all non ascii characters from the charset while printing industry wasn't up to speed. It's not a problem anymore so I hope it won't go on further on this path.
    – Mog
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 14:31
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    Does œ exist in English? Yes! Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 14:33
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    @AndrewLeach, œ is not an ASCII character, nor is there any ASCII characters above 127. For a long time France made use of ISO 8859-1 (Latin 1) but that didn't have a œ character either (it did have a æ for the Scandinavian languages that have it as a fully separate letter). CP-1252 (Windows Latin 1) does have œ at 9C (156 decimal) but it wasn't widely supported on non-Windows machines for quite some time, by which time Unicode made such worries obsolete anyway.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 14:56
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    @mplungian. Well, that settles it then. Wikipedia is never wrong. Sorry.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 15:09

3 Answers 3


First, be aware that manoeuvre is now normally spelled maneuver in America, and indeed, has fallen behind maneuvre in England. Even the Economist (but not the Œconomist :) uses maneuvre now.

Rendering Typographic Ligatures Correctly

The general answer is that œ is considered a mere typographic ligature in written English, not a lexical ligature as it is in French. See this answer for more about all that.

It is the modern custom to print all instances of œ as oe in English. Indeed, the OED switched its custom from the ligated digraph to the separated form when it went from its 2nd to its 3rd edition.

Therefore, for example, these words are all now typically printed differently. Notice how in some instances, the oe reduces to e. Although increasingly common, that reduction is by no means universal, and does not occur in all words, either.

  • amœbæ > amoebae
  • apnœa > apnoea, apnea
  • cœlacanth > coelacanth
  • diarrhœa > diarrhoea, diarrhea
  • homœopathic > homoeopathic, homeopathic
  • manœuvre > manoeuvre, maneuvre, maneuver
  • melopœïa > melopoeia
  • Mœbius > Moebius, Möbius, Mobius
  • œdema > oedema, edema
  • Œdipus > Oedipus
  • œnologist > oenologist
  • epopœia > epopoeia
  • œsophageal > oesophageal, esophageal
  • œstrous > oestrus, estrus
  • Phœbus Apollo > Phoebus Apollo
  • Phœnician > Phoenician
  • phœnix > phoenix
  • subpœna > subpoena

Two Exceptions: Lexical Ligatures and the IPA

There are two important exceptions to this.

The first is in terms taken from the French and considered “unassimilated” into English. These are typically set in italic. Since œ is a lexical not a typographic ligature in French, when printing French terms it is imprescindible that the ligature be maintained. For example:

  • à contre-cœur
  • bœuf
  • casus fœderis
  • chef d’œuvre
  • cri de cœur
  • hors d’œuvre
  • mœurs
  • œil-de-bœuf
  • œuf en cocotte
  • œufs sur le plat
  • œuvre
  • vœu, vœux

Whether to preserve it in Latin terms like casus fœderis or subpœna is more controversial. Usually, it is not.

The other important exception is when printing phonetic or phonemic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). There are two glyphs that mean something special in IPA, and which must be preserved:

Unicode Considerations

The relevant code points in Unicode are:

        = ethel (from Old English eðel)
        * French, IPA, Old Icelandic, Old English, ...
        x (latin small letter ae - 00E6)
        x (latin letter small capital oe - 0276)
        * low front rounded vowel
        x (latin small ligature oe - 0153)

Note that these are the only code points whose names include the word LIGATURE but which are generally considered lexical not typographical ones. Unlike the others with LIGATURE in their names, these have no decomposed forms that produce two glyphs, nor are they casewise equivalent to the two-glyph version they are currently spelled with in most English words. This is because you would get the wrong results under certain conditions if you did so.

These are the other Latin ligatures in Unicode; all are considered typographic in most languages, and have special decomposition and casing rules:

        # 0049 004A
‭ ij  0133       LATIN SMALL LIGATURE IJ
        * Dutch
        # 0069 006A
        # 0066 0066
        # 0066 0069
        # 0066 006C
        # 0066 0066 0069
        # 0066 0066 006C
        # 017F 0074
        # 0073 0074

Note that all of those are there for legacy round-tripping, and no more such things shall ever be added to Unicode. That is because unlike lexical ligatures, typographic ligatures belong in the font, not the code points.

That is why the typographical ligatures given above get split up under decomposition and caseless matching, but the lexical ligatures do not.

The exception to this is when using the (default, untailored) Unicode Collation Algorithm (UCA) for sorting. Now these code points sort next to the two-glyph version, and count as equivalent at the primary strength (that is, whether they are the same letters or different ones, and without regard to case or diacritics).

Here then is the result of sorting the various words pointed out above using the default UCA:

à contre-cœur, amoebae, amœbæ, apnea, apnoea, apnœa, bœuf, casus fœderis, chef d’œuvre, coelacanth, cœlacanth, cri de cœur, diarrhea, diarrhoea, diarrhœa, edema, epopoeia, epopœia, esophageal, estrus, homeopathic, homoeopathic, homœopathic, hors d’œuvre, maneuver, maneuvre, manoeuvre, manœuvre, melopoeia, melopœïa, Mobius, Möbius, Moebius, Mœbius, mœurs, oedema, œdema, Oedipus, Œdipus, œil-de-bœuf, oenologist, œnologist, oesophageal, œsophageal, œstrous, oestrus, œuf en cocotte, œufs sur le plat, œuvre, Phoebus Apollo, Phœbus Apollo, Phoenician, Phœnician, phoenix, phœnix, subpoena, subpœna, vœu, vœux.

  • 3
    How did “Mœbius” land on that list? That spelling is quite puzzling since the Möbius strip (that is probably referred to here) is named after German mathematician Möbius whose name’s spelling I’ve never seen written differently, and proper names usually have no legitimate alternative spellings (bar transliterations). Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 17:06
  • @KonradRudolph Isn’t that weird? It is in the OED2.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 18:02
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    @Ben Not really: “ö” in German (/ø/) maps to the exactly same sound as “œ” in French (although in French it may also be open: /œ/, compare French “vœux” (closed) and “cœur” (open)) and corresponds closely to the “i” in “bird”. The other words are similarly pronounced in varying fashions – it’s just that the closed form (ø) doesn’t have a very good correspondence in most English accents so the words are distorted accordingly. Commented Jan 23, 2013 at 19:02
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    Could it be because of the notion that "typographical ligatures belong in the font"? Fonts generally don't have a vocabulary in order to decide when to use ligatures. Human typesetters did have a vocabulary, but wouldn't necessarily think a word like "Moebius" should be treated specially if the general rule is that ligatures are typographical. One possible consequence of this notion is that all instances of "oe" in English typesetting could be rendered "œ", regardless of how they were produced including from German "ö". It's just hyper-active kerning ;-) Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 10:37
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    (Moebius being a standard transliteration of Möbius, just as Gauss is of Gauß). Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 10:52

It's not unheard of to see Πin English orthography, and was once much more common than it is now. These days though, it would be so rare as to be only barely acceptable, unless the word was clearly being used as a foreign word (e.g. with italics). (I personally use it privately, but I'll change it in anything being sent to an editor even if I'm not writing to a particular style-guide).

Generally British English spellings change it to oe (manoeuvre, foetus) while American spellings change it to e (maneuvre, fetus), this being one of Noah Webster's reforms. This can't be depended upon: Foederal is almost never found anywhere (any later than the 18th Century or so, anyway), and conversely while subpena is found in American spellings, sub poena is more common there.

Æ is mostly similar, though note that the existance of Æ in a modern word can be from two sources - one is from ligatures the same as with Œ, while the other is a separate vowel letter independent of A and E that was once used in Old English and is still used in Danish, Norwegian, Faroese and Icelandic (In Swedish and German it mutated into Ä). If a word is borrowed from one of those languages, but changed to use the English alphabet, then it would be common to see its spelling become ae rather than e even in American spellings.

One place ligatures remain in modern English is the name Encyclopædia Britannica, since that's the way they spell it, and trademarks and personal and company names are not normally re-spelled between different English orthographies.

  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – mplungjan
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 15:06
  • 2
    Note that the OED calls the fetus spelling “etymologically preferable”. The foetus (mis-)spelling was an old error that got retransmitted. Sadly.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 15:24
  • 7
    @mplungjan Yes, it's an interesting case of hyper-correction. The Latin is fetus, but some people in the 16th Century that knew (or correctly guessed) it was from Latin got it into their heads that it should have been foetus / fœtus in the Latin, and "fixed" the spelling not just in Latin, but also in English, Dutch and German (in which fetus, foetus and fötus are all found). For extra fun, the modern en-US fetus might be a simplification of the hyper-correction that just arrived at the original by chance.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 15:41
  • 1
    Are you quite sure? The only “American” spelling of poena > pena I have ever seen is in the Spanish “so pena de muerte” and such. Writs of subpoena are always spelled that way. I am pretty sure that subpena would be considered an error.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:06
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    "Mediæval" isn't all that uncommon in British English either. I speculate because the word itself inclines some people to prefer an old-looking spelling. Commented Nov 10, 2014 at 10:42

The ligatures can certainly be found in English, although their use is becoming less common — probably due to the rise in personal computers and the difficulty in using ligatures with a standard keyboard.

OED gives a recent citation showing the ligature:

1977 Lancet 28 May 1140/1: “In shallow diving an over-forceful Valsalva manœuvre may give rise to neuro-sensory hearing loss, with or without vertigo.”

Their citations after 1977 all have separate letters.

  • 1
    Difficulty with the standard keyboard? Not at all. Press option-q or option-' on the Mac keyboard and you will easily obtain the œ and the æ, respectively.
    – Richard
    Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:16
  • 1
    I think the comment about difficulty in using ligatures with a standard keyboard was aimed directly at lazy Microsoft Windows OS users who can't be bothered to find out about their keyboard characters :) Those of us on Macintosh have never had this problem. Commented Jan 11, 2013 at 16:35

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