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. As 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. As loan­words. 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 is tech­ni­cally a lig­a­ture, not an ac­cented char­ac­ter: it takes the place of ss in a word like Straße. Un­like lig­a­tures in Eng­lish, its use in Ger­man is not dis­cre­tionary—Ger­many has adopted rules for when it must ap­pear and when it must not. (To the sur­prise of no one.) Switzer­land, mean­while, dis­re­gards the Es­zett and just uses ss. And al­most no one uses the Es­zett with all caps.

    It’s best to fol­low Switzer­land’s lead and ig­nore it. Even if you place the Es­zett cor­rectly, it’s less com­mon to Eng­lish speak­ers than the usual ac­cented char­ac­ters, and it can eas­ily be mis­taken for a let­ter B or a Greek beta (β). If you really must type one, on Win­dows it’s alt 0223; on Mac OS it’s op­tion + s.

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