English language

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English (English)
Spoken in: United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, and others
Region: Primarily Western Europe, North America and Australasia
Total speakers: First language: about 380 million
Second language: 150 to 1000 million
Ranking: 3 or 4 as a native language (in a near tie with Spanish) and 2 in overall speakers.
Genetic classification: Indo-European
  West Germanic
Official status
Official language of: United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, most other Commonwealth countries, Ireland. Not an official language in the United States, but the official language of many member states. See: English-only movement.
Regulated by: None
Language codes
ISO 639-1 en
ISO 639-2 eng
See also: LanguageList of languages

English is a West Germanic language that originates from England and is also spoken as a native language in the other home countries of the United Kingdom, in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, South Africa, and numerous other countries. English is now the third most spoken native language worldwide (after Chinese and Hindi), with some 380 million speakers. It has lingua franca status in many parts of the world, due to the military, economic, scientific, political and cultural influence of the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries and that of the United States from the mid 20th century to the present. Through the global influence of native English speakers in cinema, airlines, broadcasting, science, and the Internet in recent decades, English is now the most widely learned second language in the world. Many students worldwide are required to learn some English, and a working knowledge of English is required in many fields and occupations.



Main article: History of the English language

English is a West Germanic language that originated from languages brought to Britain during the first half of the first millennium A.D. by Germanic settlers from various parts of north-west Germany. The original Old English language was subsequently influenced by two successive waves of invasion. The first was by speakers of languages in the Scandinavian branch of the Germanic family, who colonised parts of Britain in the eighth and ninth centuries. The second wave was of the Normans in the 11th century, who spoke a variety of French. These two invasions caused English to become highly 'creolised'; creolisation arises from the cohabitation of speakers of different languages, who develop a hybrid tongue for basic communication. Cohabitation with the Scandinavians resulted in a significant grammatical simplification and lexical enrichment of the Anglo-Friesian core of English; the later Norman occupation led to the grafting onto that Germanic core a more elaborate layer of words from the Romance branch of European languages; this new layer entered English through use in the courts and government. Thus, English developed into a 'borrowing' language of considerable suppleness and huge vocabulary.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, around the year 449, Vortigern, King of the British Isles, invited the "Angle kin" (Angles, led by Hengest and Horsa) to help him against the Picts. In return, the Angles were granted lands in the south-east. Further aid was sought, and in response "came men of Ald Seaxum of Anglum of Iotum" (Saxons, Angles, and Jutes). The Chronicle talks of a subsequent influx of settlers who eventually established seven kingdoms, known as the heptarchy. Modern scholarship considers most of this story to be legendary and politically motivated.

These Germanic invaders dominated the original Celtic-speaking inhabitants, whose languages survived largely in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and Ireland. The dialects spoken by the invaders formed what would be called Old English, which resembled some coastal dialects in what are now the Netherlands and north-west Germany. Later, it was strongly influenced by the North Germanic language Norse, spoken by the Vikings who settled mainly in the north-east (see Jorvik). The new and the earlier settlers spoke languages from different branches of the Germanic family; many of their lexical roots were the same or similar, although their grammars were more distant, including the prefixes, suffixes and inflections of many of their words. The Germanic language of these Old English inhabitants of Britain would be partly creolised by the contact with Norse invaders. This resulted in a stripping away of much of the grammar of Old English, including gender and case, with the notable exception of the pronouns; thus, the language became simpler and plainer. The most famous work from the Old English period is the epic poem "Beowulf," by an unknown poet.

For the 300 years following the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Norman kings and the high nobility spoke only a variety of French. A large number of Norman words were assimilated into Old English, with some words doubling for Old English words (for instance ox/beef, sheep/mutton). The Norman influence reinforced the continual evolution of the language over the following centuries, resulting in what is now referred to as Middle English. Among the changes was a broadening in the use of a unique aspect of English grammar, the 'continuous' tenses, with the suffix '-ing'. During the 15th century, Middle English was transformed by the Great Vowel Shift, the spread of a standardised London-based dialect in government and administration, and the standardising effect of printing. Modern English can be traced back to around the time of William Shakespeare. The most well-known work from the Middle English period is Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales.

Classification and related languages

The English language belongs to the western sub-branch of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The closest living relative of English is Scots (Lallans), a West Germanic language spoken mostly in Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland. Like English, Scots is a direct descendant of Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon.

After Scots, the next closest relatives are Frisian—spoken in the Netherlands and Germany—and Low Saxon, spoken primarily in northern Germany. Other less closely related living languages include Dutch, Afrikaans, German and the Scandinavian languages. Many French words are also intelligible to an English speaker (pronunciations are not always identical, of course), because English absorbed a tremendous amount of vocabulary from French, via the Norman language after the Norman conquest and directly from French in further centuries; as a result, a substantial share of English vocabulary is quite close to the French, with some minor spelling differences (word endings, use of old French spellings, etc.), as well as occasional differences in meaning.

Geographic distribution

Distribution of native English speakers by region (1997)
Distribution of native English speakers by region (1997)

English is the second- or third-most widely spoken language in the world today; a total of 600-700 million people use English regularly. About 377 million people use English as their mother-tongue and an equal number of people use it as their second or foreign language. It is used widely in either the public or private sphere in more than 100 countries all over the world. In addition, the language has occupied a primary place in international academic and business communities. The current status of the English language compares with that of Latin in the past.

English is the primary language in Australia (Australian English), the Bahamas, Barbados (Caribbean English), Bermuda, Dominica, Gibraltar, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica (Jamaican English), New Zealand (New Zealand English), Antigua and Barbuda, St. Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom (British English), the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the United States (American English). Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish are also indigenous languages in the United Kingdom.

English is also one of the primary languages of the Belize (with Spanish), Canada (Canadian English; with French), India (with Hindi and 21 other state languages), Ireland (with Irish), Malaysia & Singapore (with Malay, Mandarin and Tamil), the Philippines (along with Tagalog), Israel (along with Hebrew and Arabic), South Africa (along with 10 other languages, including Zulu and Afrikaans), Uganda, Rwanda (along with French and Kinyarwanda).

In Hong Kong, English is an official language and is widely used in business activities. It is taught from kindergarten level, and is the medium of instruction for a few primary schools, many secondary schools and all universities. Substantial numbers of students acquire native-speaker level. It is so widely used and spoken that it is inadequate to say it is merely a second or foreign language, though there are still many people in Hong Kong with poor or no command of English.

The majority of English native speakers (67 to 70 percent) live in the United States. Although the U.S. federal government has no official languages, it has been given official status by 27 of the 50 state governments, most of which have declared English their sole official language. Hawaii, Louisiana, and New Mexico have also designated Hawaiian, French, and Spanish as official languages in conjunction with English, respectively.

In many other countries where English is not a major first language, it is an official language; these countries include Cameroon, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, Ghana, Gambia, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

English is the most widely learned and used foreign language in the world, and, as such, many linguists believe it is no longer the exclusive cultural emblem of "native English speakers," but rather a language that is absorbing aspects of cultures worldwide as it grows in use. Others believe that there are limits to how far English can go in suiting everyone for communication purposes. It is the language most often studied as a foreign language in Europe (32.6 percent), followed by French, German, and Spanish. It is also the most studied in Japan, South Korea and in the Republic of China (Taiwan), where it is compulsory for most high school students. See English as an additional language.

English as a global language

See also: English on the Internet

Because English is so widely spoken, it has been referred to as a "global language." While English is not the official language in many countries, it is the language most often taught as a second language around the world. It is also, by international treaty, the official language for aircraft/airport communication. Its widespread acceptance as a first or second language is the main indication of its global status.

There are numerous arguments for and against English as a global language. On one hand, having a global language aids in communication and in pooling information (for example, in the scientific community). On the other hand, it excludes those who, for one reason or another, are not fluent. It can also marginalize populations whose first language is not the global language, and lead to a cultural hegemony of the populations speaking the global language as a first language. Most of these arguments hold for any candidate for a global language, though the last two counter-arguments don't hold for languages not belonging to any ethnic group (like Esperanto).

A secondary concern with respect to the spread of global languages (English, Spanish, etc.) is the resulting disappearance of minority languages, often along with the cultures and religions that are primarily transmitted in those languages. English has been implicated in a number of historical and ongoing so-called 'language deaths' and 'linguicides' around the world, many of which have also led to the loss of cultural heritage. In the Americas, Native American nations have been most strongly affected by this phenomenon.

Dialects and regional variants

Main article: List of dialects of the English language
English dialects
British Isles
English English
Highland English
Mid Ulster English
Scottish English
Welsh English
Irish English
United States
AAVE (Ebonics)
American English
Hawaiian English
Spanglish/Chicano English
Canadian English
Newfoundland English
Quebec English
Australian English
New Zealand English
Hong Kong English
Indian English
Malaysian English
Philippine English
Singaporean English
Sri Lankan English
Other countries
Bermudian English
Caribbean English
Jamaican English
Liberian English
Malawian English
South African English
Basic English
Commonwealth English
International English
Plain English
Simplified English
Special English
Standard English

The expansiveness of the British and the Americans has spread English throughout the globe. It is now the second- or third-most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese; whether English or Spanish has more native speakers depends on who is doing the counting and how they count. Due to its global spread, it has bred a variety of English dialects and English-based creoles and pidgins.

The major varieties of English in most cases contain several sub-varieties, such as Cockney within British English, Newfoundland English within Canadian English, and African American Vernacular English ("Ebonics") within American English. English is considered a pluricentric language, with no variety being clearly considered the only standard.

Some consider Scots as an English dialect. Pronunciation, grammar and lexis differ, sometimes substantially. The Scottish dialect retains many German aspects including guttural pronunciations.

Due to English's wide use as a second language, English speakers can have many different accents, which may identify the speaker's native dialect or language. For more distinctive characteristics of regional accents, see Regional accents of English speakers. For more distinctive characteristics of regional dialects, see List of dialects of the English language.

Many countries around the world have blended English words and phrases into their everyday speech and refer to the result by a colloquial name that implies its bilingual origins, which parallels the English language's own addiction to loan words and borrowings. Named examples of these ad-hoc constructions, distinct from pidgin and creole languages, include Engrish, Wasei-eigo, Franglais and Spanglish. (See List of dialects of the English language for a complete list.) Europanto combines many languages but has an English core.

Constructed variants of English

  • Basic English is simplified for easy international use. It is used by some aircraft manufacturers and other international businesses to write manuals and communicate. Some English schools in the Far East teach it as an initial practical subset of English.
  • Special English is a simplified version of English used by the Voice of America. It uses a vocabulary of 1500 words.
  • English reform is an attempt to improve collectively upon the English language.
  • Seaspeak and the related Airspeak and Policespeak, all based on restricted vocabularies, were designed by Edward Johnson in the 1980s to aid international cooperation and communication in specific areas.
  • European English is a new variant of the English language created to become the common language in Europe.


Main article: English phonology


IPA Description word
i/iː Close front unrounded vowel bead
ɪ Near-close near-front unrounded vowel bid
ɛ Open-mid front unrounded vowel bed
æ Near-open front unrounded vowel bad
ɒ Open back rounded vowel bod 1
ɔ Open-mid back rounded vowel pawed 2
ɑ/ɑː Open back unrounded vowel bra
ʊ Near-close near-back rounded vowel good
u/uː Close back rounded vowel booed
ʌ/ɐ Open-mid back unrounded vowel, Near-open central vowel bud
ɝ/ɜː Open-mid central unrounded vowel bird 3
ə Schwa Rosa's 4
ɨ Close central unrounded vowel roses 5
Close-mid front unrounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel
oʊ/əʊ Close-mid back rounded vowel
Near-close near-back rounded vowel
Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-front rounded vowel
Open front unrounded vowel
Near-close near-back rounded vowel
ɔɪ Open-mid back rounded vowel
Close front unrounded vowel


It is the vowels that differ most from region to region.

Where symbols appear in pairs, the first corresponds to the sounds used in North American English, the second corresponds to English spoken elsewhere.

  1. North American English lacks this sound; words with this sound are pronounced with /ɑ/ or /ɔ/. According to The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998), this sound is present in Standard Canadian English.
  2. Many dialects of North American English don't have this vowel. See cot-caught merger.
  3. The North American variation of this sound is a rhotic vowel.
  4. Many speakers of North American English don't distinguish between these two unstressed vowels. For them, roses and Rosa's are pronounced the same, and the symbol usually used is schwa /ə/.
  5. This sound is often transcribed with /i/ or with /ɪ/.
  6. The letter U can represent either /u/ or the iotated vowel /ju/.


This is the English Consonantal System using symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).

  bilabial labio-
dental alveolar post-
palatal velar glottal
plosive p  b     t  d     k  g  
nasal m     n     ŋ 1  
flap       ɾ 2        
fricative   f  v θ  ð 3 s  z ʃ  ʒ 4   x 5 h
affricate         tʃ  dʒ 4      
approximant       ɹ 4   j    
lateral approximant       l, ɫ        
approximant ʍ  w6
  1. The velar nasal [ŋ] is a non-phonemic allophone of /n/ in some northerly British accents, appearing only before /g/. In all other dialects it is a separate phoneme, although it only occurs in syllable codas.
  2. The alveolar flap [ɾ] is an allophone of /t/ and /d/ in unstressed syllables in North American English and increasingly in Australian English. This is the sound of "tt" or "dd" in the words latter and ladder, which are homophones in North American English. This is the same sound represented by single "r" in some varieties of Spanish.
  3. In some dialects, such as Cockney, the interdentals /θ/ and /ð/ are usually merged with /f/ and /v/, and in others, like African-American Vernacular English, /ð/ is merged with /d/. In some Irish varieties, /θ/ and /ð/ become the corresponding dental plosives, which then contrast with the usual alveolar plosives.
  4. The sounds /ʃ/, /ʒ/, and /ɹ/ are labialized in some dialects. Labialization is never contrastive in initial position and therefore is sometimes not transcribed.
  5. The voiceless velar fricative /x/ is used only by Scottish or Welsh speakers of English for Scots/Gaelic words such as loch /lɒx/ or by some speakers for loanwords from German and Hebrew like Bach /bax/ or Chanukah /xanuka/, or in some dialects such as Scouse (Liverpool) where the affricate [kx] is used instead of /k/ in words such as docker /dɒkxə/. Most native speakers have a great deal of trouble pronouncing it correctly when learning a foreign language. Most speakers use the sounds [k] and [h] instead.
  6. Voiceless w [ʍ] is found in Scottish, Irish, some upper-class British, some eastern United States, and New Zealand accents. In all other dialects it is merged with /w/.

Voicing and Aspiration

Voicing and aspiration of stop consonants in English depends on dialect and context, but a few general rules can be given:

  • Voiceless plosives and affricates (/p/, /t/, /k/, and //) are aspirated when they are word-initial or begin a stressed syllable and are not part of a consonant cluster - compare pin [pʰɪn] and spin [spɪn].
    • In some dialects, aspiration extends to unstressed syllables as well.
    • In other dialects, such as Indian English, most or all voiceless stops may remain unaspirated.
  • Word-initial voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects.
  • Word-terminal voiceless plosives may be unreleased or accompanied by a glottal stop in some dialects (e.g. many varieties of American English) - examples: tap [tʰæp̚], sack [sæk̚].
  • Word-terminal voiced plosives may be devoiced in some dialects (e.g. some varieties of American English) - examples: sad [sæd̥], bag [bæɡ̊]. In other dialects they are fully voiced in final position, but only partially voiced, in initial position.

See also

International Phonetic Alphabet for English


Tone groups

English is an Intonation language. This means that the pitch of the voice is used syntactically, for example to convey surprise and irony, or to change a statement into a question.

In English, intonation patterns are on groups of words, which are called tone groups, tone units, intonation groups or sense groups. Tone groups are said on a single breath and as a consequence, are of limited length, more often being on average five words long or lasting roughly two seconds. The structure of tone groups can have a crucial impact on the meaning of what is said. For example:

-/duː juː niːd ˈɛnɪˌθɪŋ/ Do you need anything?
-/aɪ dəʊnt | nəʊ/ I don't, no
-/aɪ dəʊnt nəʊ/ I don't know

Characteristics of intonation

Each tone group can be subdivided into syllables, which can either be stressed (strong) or unstressed (weak). There is always a strong syllable, which is stressed more than the others. This is called the nuclear syllable. For example:

That | was | the | best | thing | you | could | have | done!

Here, all syllables are unstressed, except the syllables/words "best" and "done", which are stressed. "Best" is stressed harder, and therefore, is the nuclear syllable.

The nuclear syllable carries the main point the speaker wishes to make. For example:

John had stolen that money. (... not me)
John had stolen that money. (... you said he hadn't)
John had stolen that money. (... he wasn't given it)
John had stolen that money. (... not this money)
John had stolen that money. (... not something else)

The nuclear syllable is spoken louder than all the others and has a characteristic change of pitch. The changes of pitch most commonly encountered in English are the rising pitch and the falling pitch, although the fall-rising pitch and/or the rise-falling pitch are sometimes used. For example:

When do you want to be paid?
Nów? (rising pitch. In this case, it denotes a question: can I be paid now?)
Nòw (falling pitch. In this case, it denotes a statement: I choose to be paid now)


Main article: English grammar

English grammar is based on its Germanic roots, though some scholars during the 1700s and 1800s attempted to impose Latin grammar upon it, with little success. English is just slightly inflected, much less so than most Indo-European languages. It compensates for this by placing more grammatical information in auxiliary words and word order. Unlike most other Indo-European languages, modern nominal groups (nouns) in English do not carry gender, although an archaic form of gender is technically assigned as either masculine, feminine, neuter or common. Engendered nouns are only apparent in special cases, such as "I loved that ship as if she were my own." where the noun "ship" is referred to by its feminine pronoun.


Almost without exception, Germanic words (which include all the basics such as pronouns and conjunctions) are shorter, and more informal. Latinate words are often regarded as more elegant or educated. However, the excessive use of Latinate words is often mistaken for either pretentiousness (as in the stereotypical policeman's talk of "apprehending the suspect") or obfuscation (as in a military document which says "neutralize" when it means "kill"). George Orwell's essay Politics and the English Language gives a thorough treatment of this feature of English.

An English-speaker is often able to choose between Germanic and Latinate synonyms: "come" or "arrive"; "sight" or "vision"; "freedom" or "liberty"—and sometimes also between a word inherited through French and a borrowing direct from Latin of the same root word: "oversee", "survey" or "supervise". The richness of the language is that such synonyms have slightly different meanings, enabling the language to be used in a very flexible way to express fine variations or shades of thought. List of Germanic and Latinate equivalents

In everyday speech the majority of words will normally be Germanic. If one wishes to make a forceful point in an argument in a very blunt way, Germanic words will usually be chosen. A majority of Latinate words (or at least a majority of content words) will normally be used in more formal speech and writing, such as a courtroom or an encyclopedia article.

English is noted for the vast size of its active vocabulary and its fluidity. English easily accepts technical terms into common usage and imports new words which often come into common usage. In addition, slang provides new meanings for old words. In fact this fluidity is so pronounced that a distinction often needs to be made between formal forms of English and contemporary usage. See also sociolinguistics.

Number of words in English

As the General Explanations at the beginning of the Oxford English Dictionary state:

The Vocabulary of a widely diffused and highly cultivated living language is not a fixed quantity circumscribed by definite limits.... there is absolutely no defining line in any direction: the circle of the English language has a well-defined centre but no discernible circumference.

The vocabulary of English is undoubtedly vast, but assigning a specific number to its size is more a matter of definition than of calculation. Unlike other languages, there is no Academy to define officially accepted words. Neologisms are coined regularly in medicine, science and technology; some enter wide usage, others remain restricted to small circles. Foreign words used in immigrant communities often make their way into wider English usage. Archaic, dialectal, and regional words might be considered 'English' or not.

The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edition) includes over 500,000 headwords, following a rather inclusive policy:

It embraces not only the standard language of literature and conversation, whether current at the moment, or obsolete, or archaic, but also the main technical vocabulary, and a large measure of dialectal usage and slang. (Supplement to the OED, 1933).

The difficulty of defining the number of words is compounded by the emergence of new versions of English, such as Asian English.

Word origins

Main article: Lists of English words of international origin

One of the consequences of the French influence is that the vocabulary of English is, to a certain extent, divided between those words which are Germanic (mostly Old English), and those which are "Latinate" (Latin-derived, mostly from Norman French but some borrowed directly from Latin).

A computerised survey of about 80,000 words in the old Shorter Oxford Dictionary (3rd edition) was published in Ordered Profusion by Thomas Finkenstaedt and Dieter Wolff (1973) which estimated the origin of English words as follows:

  • French, including Old French and early Anglo-French: 28.3%
  • Latin, including modern scientific and technical Latin: 28.24%
  • Old and Middle English, Old Norse, and Dutch: 25%
  • Greek: 5.32%
  • No etymology given: 4.03%
  • Derived from proper names: 3.28%
  • All other languages contributed less than 1%

James D. Nicoll made the oft-quoted observation: "The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary." [1]

Writing system

Main article: English alphabet

English is written using the Latin alphabet. The spelling system or orthography of English is historical, not phonological. The spelling of words often diverges considerably from how they are spoken, and English spelling is often considered to be one of the most difficult to learn of any language that uses an alphabet. See English orthography.

Basic sound-letter correspondence

IPA Alphabetic representation Dialect-specific
p p
b b
t t, th (rarely) th thing (African-American, Hiberno-English, New York)
d d th that (African-American, Hiberno-English, New York)
k c (+ a, o, u, consonants), k, ck, ch, qu (rarely) conquer, kh (in foreign words)
g g, gh, gu (+ a, e, i), gue (final position)
m m
n n
ŋ n (before g or k), ng
f f, ph, gh (final, infrequent) laugh, rough th thing (Cockney, Estuary English)
v v th with (Cockney, Estuary English)
θ th
ð th
s s, c (+ e, i, y), sc (+ e, i, y)
z z, s (finally or occasionally medially), ss (rarely) possess, dessert, word-initial x xylophone
ʃ sh, sch, ti portion, ci suspicion; si/ssi tension, mission; ch (esp. in words of French origin); rarely s sugar s insure
ʒ si division, zh (in foreign words), z azure, su pleasure, g (in words of French origin)(+e, i, y)
x kh, ch, h (in foreign words) occasionally ch loch (Scottish English, Welsh English)
h h (initially, otherwise silent)
ch, tch occasionally tu future, culture; t (+ u) tune (Australian English)
j, g (+ e, i, y), dg (+ e, i, consonant) badge, judg(e)ment d (+ u) dune (Australian English)
ɹ r
j y (initially or surrounded by vowels)
l l
w w, wh
ʍ wh (Scottish English)

Written accents

English includes some words which can be written with accent marks. These words have mostly been imported from other languages, usually French. But it is increasingly rare for writers of English to actually use the accent marks for common words, even in very formal writing, to the point where actually writing the accent may be interpreted as a sign of pretension – though this view is counterbalanced by the view that fine typography should preserve accents, especially where it makes a distinction in pronunciation (compare façade vs facade which would rhyme with cascade). The strongest tendency to retain the accent is in words that are atypical of English morphology and therefore still perceived as slightly foreign. For example, café has a pronounced final e, which would be silent by the normal English pronunciation rules.

Some examples: ångström, appliqué, attaché, blasé, bric-à-brac, café, cliché, crème, crêpe, façade, fiancé(e), flambé, naïve, né(e), papier-mâché, passé, piñata, protégé, raison d'être, résumé, risqué, über-, vis-à-vis, voilà. For a more complete list, see List of English words with diacritics.

Some words such as rôle and hôtel were first seen with accents when they were borrowed into English, but now the accent is almost never used. The words were considered very French borrowings when first used in English, even accused by some of being foreign phrases used where English alternatives would suffice, but today their French origin is largely forgotten. The accent on "élite" has disappeared most of the time by today, but Time Magazine still uses it.

Italics, with appropriate accents, are generally applied to foreign terms that are uncommonly used in or have not been assimilated into English: for example, adiós, coup d'état, crème brûlée, pièce de résistance, raison d'être, über (übermensch), vis-à-vis.

It is also possible to use a diaeresis to indicate a syllable break, but again this is often left out or a hyphen used instead. Examples: coöperate (or co-operate), daïs, naïve, noël, reëlect (or re-elect). One publication that still uses a diaeresis to indicate a syllable break is the New Yorker magazine.

Written accents are also used occasionally in poetry and scripts for dramatic performances to indicate that a certain normally unstressed syllable in a word should be stressed for dramatic effect, or to keep with the meter of the poetry. This use is frequently seen in archaic and pseudoarchaic writings with the -ed suffix, to indicate that the "e" should be fully pronounced, as with cursèd.

In certain older texts (typically in Commonwealth English), the use of ligatures is common in words such as archæology, œsophagus, and encyclopædia. Such words have Latin or Greek origin. Nowadays, the ligatures have been generally replaced in Commonwealth English by the separated letters "ae" and "oe" ("archaeology", "oesophagus") and in American English by "e" ("archeology", "esophagus"). However, the spellings "oeconomy" and "oecology" are now generally replaced by "economy" and "ecology" in Commonwealth English, making these spellings the same as in American English.

See also






External links

Further reading

  • Baugh AC and Cable T. A history of the English language (5th ed), Rouledge, 2002 (ISBN 0415280990_
  • Crystal, D. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the English language (2nd ed), Cambridge University Press, 2003 (ISBN 0521530334)
  • Halliday, MAK. An introduction to functional grammar (2nd ed), London, Edward Arnold, 1994 (ISBN 0340557826)
  • McArthur, T (ed). The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Oxford University Press, 1992 (ISBN 019214183X)
  • Robinson, Orrin, "Old English and Its Closest Relatives", Stanford Univ Press, 1992 (ISBN 0-8047-2221-8)

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