accented charactersDon’t ignore them

I as­sume you’re writ­ing in Amer­i­can Eng­lish, but you might still en­counter ac­cented char­ac­ters in for­eign words. For­eign words arise in two situations:

  1. In proper names, like peo­ple and places (Al­brecht Dürer, François Truf­faut, Plá­cido Domingo). In names, ac­cented char­ac­ters must al­ways ap­pear ac­cu­rately. Oth­er­wise, the name is misspelled.

  2. In loan­words used in Amer­i­can Eng­lish. Some of these words have be­come nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens and should be spelled with­out ac­cents—naive for naïve, melee for mêlée, coupe for coupé. Oth­ers have not and should not—cause célèbre, piña co­lada, Göt­ter­däm­merung. Check a dic­tio­nary or us­age guide.

How do you type these? Con­sult the chart of com­mon ac­cented char­ac­ters.

by the way
  • Proper names are not ital­i­cized, but loan­words some­times are, de­pend­ing on their de­gree of as­sim­i­la­tion. Again, check a dic­tio­nary or us­age guide.

  • The Ger­man let­ter Es­zett (at left), for­merly a spe­cial lig­a­ture, in 2017 be­came a full mem­ber of the Stan­dard Ger­man al­pha­bet. Orig­i­nally, it took the place of ss in a word like Straße. But in to­day’s Stan­dard Ger­man, words like Masse and Maße are dis­tinct. Switzer­land, how­ever, has al­ways ig­nored the Es­zett, and just uses ss. And no one uses the Es­zett with all caps. Ex­cept those who do. Your best bet—fol­low Switzer­land’s lead and ig­nore it. Even if you place the Es­zett cor­rectly, it’s less com­mon to read­ers of Amer­i­can Eng­lish than the usual ac­cented char­ac­ters, and it can eas­ily be mis­taken for a let­ter B or a Greek beta (β).

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