Lost Letters in French

The letters a, e, i, o, and u are shown with the circumflex.
Letters with the circumflex

In French orthography, there are diacritics, such as the acute accent, the grave accent, and the circumflex.

A function of the circumflex accent in French is to denote letters, usually the letter s, that used to be in the spelling of words but no longer.

Let us see what happens when we replace the letter e with a circumflex with the letters ‘es’ in certain words.


forêt “forest” = forest

hôpital “hospital” = hospital

hôtel “hotel” = hostel

Anglophones can use this knowledge to guess the meaning of French words that have a circumflex. However, this method will not be always accurate due to changes in meaning since the French word was first imported into English.

In other cases, a circumflex exists in words, so there is no ambiguity between similar words.


du vs. dû

The former means “of the” while the latter is the past participle of the French verb devoir “to have to do something”.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Shay Chu

Shay Chu

1 Follower

Product Designer | Multilingual | Fan of the Oxford Comma & Oxford Spelling | LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shaychu Portfolio: https://shaychu.com