The modern French alphabet is derived from the Latin alphabet. It includes all 26 letters.
Vowels are "a"," e", "i", "o" and "u". In some cases, the "y" may function as a vowel. The consonants "w" and ‘k" do not form part of French words. They appear only in words borrowed from other languages.
The ligatures, "æ" and "œ", are used in some words.
Digraphs and Trigraphs
French digraphs and trigraphs may emanate from either of two sources, or a combination of the both: the spelling of the word in its original language and/or archaic pronunciation that has become obsolete. A combination of these two rationalizations might occur when a word would be mispronounced based on the spelling.
Digraphs fall under three categories: vowels, nasalized vowels and consonants. Vowel digraphs are "ai", "au", "ei", "eu", "oi" and "ou". Nasalized vowels are "an", "en", "in", "on" and "un". Consonant digraphs are "ch", "ge", "gn", "ph", "ss" and "th".
Common trigraphs are "aon", "aou", "aoû", "eau", "ien" and "ion".
French orthography utilizes five accents. The purpose of the accents is to distinguish the proper sound value of letters.
The grave (`) accent is used with the letter "e" to indicate it is pronounced in a certain fashion when it is followed by a consonant. The grave accent on the letters "a" and "u" does not change the pronunciations of these symbols, rather it differentiates between homonyms (words spelled and pronounced exactly alike but with different meanings).
The acute accent (`) is only used with the letter "e" to signify the vowel is pronounced as a long "e". There can be confusion, however, as the acute accented "e" is not always pronounced in this manner. The 1990 spelling reform has attempted to change the accent in these cases to that of the grave, but this has not been adopted in general.
The cedilla (¸) is used in conjunction with the letter "c" when it is followed with an "a", "o" and "u". The cedilla signals the "c" is to be pronounced with an "s" sound, rather than a "k".
The circumflex (^) is used over any of the vowels. It does not affect pronunciation in "i" and "u". In some instances, it may change the pronunciations of "e" and "o", dependent on the dialect. The circumflex came into being in the 1800's to symbolize a dropped "s" or other unpronounced letter. The 1990 spelling reform advocates discontinuation of the circumflex accent, but it has not been implemented.
The diaeresis (¨) may accent all five vowels and, on occasion, the "y". The diaeresis shows that two vowels together are each pronounced individually. It is placed on the second vowel, except in situations where it distinguishes feminine adjectival endings ("güe") from masculine ("gu") and is located over the "u". The "ÿ" only appears in proper names.
Letters commonly used in French with accents are á, â, ç, è, é, ê, ë, î, ï, ô, û, ü, ÿ.
Although accents are not required on capital letters, they are being used more frequently due to computer technology advances.
Accents are not taken into account when French words are alphabetized, as accented letters are not treated as separate letters in the French alphabet.
One additional diacritic used in French, the tilde (~), is placed above the letter "n" in proper nouns of Spanish origin.