Font Dictionary – Accents

Accents and Diacritics

Font Dictionary : Accents and Diacritics

If you are a native English-speaker, accent marks or diacritics may be a foreign concept.  Outside of English, accent marks are extremely common in foreign languages like French, German, Italian, Spanish and other languages.  In a nutshell, an accent mark or diacritic is an addition to some characters that helps to note a specific pronunciation. 

The history of the use of accents and diacritics is actually very interesting.  The word diacritic comes from the Greek word, diakritikos, which means “distinguishing” and that is exactly what these unique characters do.  Accents distinguish stressed syllables from non-stressed syllables, short vowels from long vowels and in some languages, the accent mark or diacritic can create entirely new sounds that can’t be created with the standard alphabet.  

Whatever the use, many accent marks or diacriticals have a fascinating history.  For instance, in French, accent marks were adopted over time as a way to distinguish the upper, more learned people from the general public.  This distinction was seen as so critical to the French that it was used as one of the core reasons to establish l’academie francaise in 1635.  The stated goal of l’academie was to protect the rich history of the French language, but much of the work was dedicated to marking the separation of “the educated from the ignorant”.  Members of the academy purposely chose more complicated spellings, with particular emphasis on accents and diacritics so that it would be easier to separate the working class, who favored simpler spellings, from the intellectuals.  The history of Spanish and Italian accent marks is also similar.

Within the area of typography and font design, accents and diacritics can pose a challenge if the designer is not an experienced reader or writer of the particular language in which the accents are employed.  It is critical the accent marks within a font bear the correct weight, height and alignment with their primary characters.  While accent marks should hold some of the key style characteristics of the entire font, it is vitally important that the accent marks remain clear and detached from the primary character set.  Diacritics should never collide with any character, which could confuse and blur the overall shape, which would affect the meaning.

Accent Marks & Diacritics Illustrated:  

There are many different types of accent marks and diacritics depending on the language.  Accent marks can vary from being a mark or an addition to a primary character to an entirely new character.  Below are some common examples illustrated:


Àà  Áá  Ãã Āā Ăă
Grave Acute  Tilde Macron Breve








Dot Circumflex Caron Ogonek Umlaut











 Thorn Slash  Cedilla Ring Double