Le Circonflexe ou l'Accent Circonflexe
The circumflex in French is the little Chinese hat on the top of certain French vowels. The most common reason for its presence is that it usually represents a letter that has been dropped over the centuries. Usually this is the letter 's'. Knowing this will help you figure out quite a number of French words when you read them.
When the Normans from Normandy, Northern France invaded Blighty (England) back in 1066 under the command of Big Bill (a.k.a William the Conqueror ... or Guillaume to his mother and friends ...) they brought the French language with them. And for the next 400 years the language of the English aristocracy (i.e. the Normans) was Norman French. They brought with them many, many thousands of words which then blended into the Anglo-Saxon language of the commmoners (English).
The Old French word for hospital was hospital. Forest was forest... as it remains to this day in English. These words were imported (free of charge) from French.
But back in the motherland, la Belle France, the French themselves started slanging a bit with the letter 's' in their day to day conversation.
Over time, back in France, no doubt to the consternation of their mothers and teachers, they stopped pronouncing the letter 's' in many words (in the same way as contemporary East Londoners drop the letter 't' in many English words) so that in French...
... hospital became hopital,
forest became foret and
host became hote ... in spoken French back in France.
For a long while the monks who did all the writing and recording in those dim dark days, continued to include the 's' while spelling. However they eventually succumbed to the power of spoken speech, and dropped the silent letters in written French. They decided however to 'pay tribute' to those lost letters and put a circumflex over the preceding vowel to indicate that there had previously been an 's' (or other letter).
Likwise many other words followed suit:
Sometimes a letter other than 's' was dropped in French, and later replaced by a circumflex in French words such as:
Over the centuries the Norman French of England blended into English, and retained the 's' in many of the imported French words while the French in France developed down a different track to become ... well ... French as in the modern French language in its various forms.
So you can often figure out the meaning of a French word with a circumflex by knowing that the circumflex indicates a missing letter after the vowel ... usually the letter 's'.
Of course here at 200 Words a Day! headquarters we don't like to just leave a little fact as a fact. We have to create a Memory Trigger©. Because we believe that this is the key to long term rememberability (what a word!).
So we have an animated cartoon of:
Despite the disappearing letter, it often reappears in derivative words, like adjectives etc that have derived from the root word. (Or should we say - never disappeared from derivative words). Examples are:
Some words have circumflexes for which language experts can track no historical reason. Some chroniclers argue that it gave an image of respectability, worn like a crown. Such words in this category are:
When the letter 'i' is followed by the letter 't', a circumflex accent is sometimes added. This happens with French verbs ending in aître like and oître . Examples are:
The French word dîner, to dine, comes from the Latin disjejunare. This means to 'discontinue the fast.' Hence the 's' and a bit more was dropped off in this case!
Typing a circumflex in French writing is fairly standard across most Microsoft programs.
Hello - I loved this page. As a life-long language-learner, (approaching 66 - years, not languages) I have always tried to have enough words to be polite in all the countries I have visited (still quite a lot!) and have bought a number of Michel Thomas courses to further this aim. I was recently having a chat with a maths teacher who is similarly interested and when we got onto the subject of the circumflex, I explained, as you have here, that it normally replaces a letter that has been dropped over time and I was fairly certain that there were other letters than 's' that had suffered this fate. I can now report back to my pal with this brilliant explanation.
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One little Correction: mur and mûr
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I loved this page also. I am an old surgeon, born 1929, and I was in conversation with my friend who speaks Italian as well as English and knows Latin. …
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Your technique does not seem to work using Word on an iMac, what do you suggest please?
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I wanted to be polite and write the words in french correct and I found most of the accents in the french keyboard. I had no idea that I would find "le …
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Hello, I fear your method of typing in the circumflex accent seems to work only in Microsoft Word. It does not work in Notepad nor does it work on this …
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Our French teachers, many who were native Frenchmen, told us that l'accent circonflexe was also referred to as "chapeau chinois", Chinese hat.
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What is a Circumflex in French and what does it do?
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The Circumflex in French - l'accent circonflexe.