Grave accent

Grave accent

The grave accent ( ` ) is a diacritical mark used in written Catalan, French, Greek until 1982 (polytonic orthography), Italian, Norwegian, Occitan, Portuguese, Scottish Gaelic, Vietnamese, Welsh, Dutch, and other languages.

The word "grave" is derived from the Latin "gravis" (heavy). In English the word is sometimes pronounced "grahv", IPA IPA|/ɡɹɑːv/, not like "grave" meaning "serious" or a "tomb". It comes from French, where it is pronounced similarly: "accent grave" IPA|/aksɑ̃ ɡʁav/.


The grave accent was first used in the polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek, where it occurred only on the last syllable of a word, in cases where the normal high pitch (indicated by an acute accent) was lowered because of a following word in the same sentence. Since Modern Greek has a stress accent instead of a pitch accent, this diacritic has been replaced with an acute accent mark in the modern monotonic orthography.

Phonetically, the grave accent originally marked a heavier and louder tone, as opposed to the acute accent that marked a sharp pitch.Visually as well, it is the exact opposite of the acute accent, being its mirror image. In nearly all fonts, the accent mark is similar to a top-heavy triangle with its sharp point extending rightwards.


The grave accent marks the stressed vowel of a word in Catalan and Italian. Some examples from Italian are "città" "city", "morì" " [he/she] died", "virtù" "virtue", "Mosè" "Moses", "portò" " [he/she] brought, carried". Especially with capital letters, or when using a keyboard without accented letters, an apostrophe is sometimes used instead of it in Italian, thus "E’" instead of "È" " [he/she/it] is", though this is considered (at least) inelegant and inaccurate (though the phrase "un po’" meaning "a little" is never spelt "un pò", because it's a truncated version of "un poco").

In Italian there are pairs of words, one accented and the other not, with different pronunciation and meaning, such as "pero" "pear tree" and "però" "but", and "papa" "pope" and "papà" "dad"

In Norwegian (both Bokmål and Nynorsk), the grave accent is used to indicate stress on a syllable that would otherwise be unstressed. Popular usage, possibly because Norwegian rarely uses diacritics, does not respect these rules much, and there is a certain interchangeability with the acute accent.


The grave accent marks the height or openness of the vowels "e" and "o", indicating that they are pronounced open: "è" IPA| [ɛ] (as opposed to "é" IPA| [e] ); "ò" IPA| [ɔ] (as opposed to "ó" IPA| [o] ), in several Romance languages:

* Catalan
* French uses the accent on three letters ("a", "e", and "u"), but only with "e" does it serve to indicate a pronunciation change. For example, the accent mark in "lève" [lεv] , indicates that it is not pronounced as a schwa, like in "lever" [ləve] .
* Italian
* Occitan


The grave accent is used to distinguish homophones in several languages:

* Catalan, where it distinguishes, for example, "ma" "my" from "mà" "hand".
* French. The grave accent on the letters "a" and "u" has no effect on pronunciation and only serves to distinguish homonyms that are otherwise spelled the same. It distinguishes the preposition "à" "to" and the verb "a" (third person singular present tense of "avoir"), as well as the adverb "là" "there" and the feminine definite article "la"; it is also used in the word "déjà" and the phrase "çà et là" ("hither and thither"; without the accent, it would literally mean "it and the"). It is used on the letter "u" only to distinguish "où" "where" and "ou" "or". "È" is rarely used to distinguish homonyms, except in "dès"/"des" ("since/some") and "ès"/"es" ("in/is").
* Italian, where it distinguishes for example the conjunction "e" "and" from the verb "è" "he/she/it is", or the feminine article "la" from the adverb "là" "there".
* Norwegian, where it differentiates between certain words, such as "og" "and" and "òg" "also".


In Welsh, the accent is used to denote a short vowel sound in a word which would otherwise be pronounced with a long vowel sound, for example "mẁg" "mug" versus "mwg" "smoke".

In Scottish Gaelic, it denotes a long vowel (the use of both "é" and "ó" in addition to "è" and "ò" is now discouraged, and only the grave accent is used).


In some tonal languages such as Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese (when written in Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin Fuhao), the grave accent is used to indicate a falling tone.

In African languages, the grave accent is often used to indicate a low tone, e.g. Nobiin "jàkkàr" 'fish-hook', Yoruba "àgbọ̀n" 'chin', Hausa "màcè" 'woman'.

Other uses

In Portuguese, the grave accent indicates the contraction of two consecutive vowels in adjacent words (crasis). For example, instead of "a aquela hora", one says and writes "àquela hora" "at that hour".
In Hawaiian, the grave accent is used to place a break, or glottal stop, in a word. For more on the Hawaiian use of the grave accent, see the ‘okina.

Use in English

The grave accent is most often used in English in poetry and song lyrics. It indicates that a vowel usually silent is to be pronounced, in order to fit the rhythm or meter. Most often, it is applied to a word ending with -ed. For instance, the word "looked" is usually pronounced IPA|/lʊkt/ as a single syllable, with the "e" silent; when written as "lookèd", the "e" is pronounced IPA|/ˈlʊkɪd/ ("look-ed"). It can also be used in this capacity to distinguish certain pairs of identically spelled words like the past tense of learn, "learned" IPA|/lɜː(r)nd/, from the adjective "learnèd" IPA|/ˈlɜː(r)nɪd/.

Italics, with appropriate accents, are generally applied to foreign terms that are uncommonly used in or have not been assimilated into English: for example, "vis-à-vis", "pièce de résistance" and "crème brûlée"


The ISO-8859-1 character encoding includes the letters "à", "è", "ì", "ò", "ù", and their respective capital forms. Dozens more letters with the grave accent are available in Unicode.

In the ASCII character set the grave accent is encoded as character 96, hex 60. Unicode also provides the grave accent as a combining character, encoded as 768, hex 300. Outside the US, character 96 is often replaced by accented letters. In the French ISO 646 standard, the character at this position is "µ". Many older UK computers, such as the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro, have the £ symbol as character 96, though the British ISO 646 variant ultimately placed this symbol at position 35 instead.

On many computer keyboards, the grave accent occupies a key by itself, and is meant to be combined with vowels as a multi-key combination or as a dead key to modify the following letter. However, programmers have used the key by itself for a number of tasks.

On a Mac, to get a character, such as à, the user must type Option-` and then the vowel. For example, to make à, the user must type Option-` and then 'a', and to make À, the user must type Option-` and then Shift-a.

On a QWERTY keyboard, the grave accent key is placed in the top left corner. In many PC based computer games the key is used to open the console window, allowing the user to execute commands via a CLI.

When using TeX to typeset text, the grave accent on its own is used in lieu of a dedicated open-quote key. For example, ` becomes a single opening quote (‘) and `` becomes a double opening quote (“). Compared to algorithmic ‘smart quotes’ available in modern word processors, this method has the advantage of it becoming completely unambiguous (consider "the ’60s" or the archaic "’twas" – most modern word processors would incorrectly render these as "the ‘60s" and "‘twas", respectively). The primary disadvantage is that it requires the user to adjust to this style.

Many of the Unix shells and the programming languages Perl and PHP use pairs of this character—known as "backquote" or "backtick"—to indicate substitution of the standard output from one command into a line of text defining another command. For example, echo `date` might execute echo Sat Mar 1 09:43:00 GMT 2008 and print Sat Mar 1 09:43:00 GMT 2008.

In Lisp macro systems, the backquote character (called "quasiquote" in Scheme) introduces a quoted expression in which comma-substitution may occur. It is identical to the plain quote, except that symbols prefixed with a comma will be replaced with those symbols' values as variables. This is roughly analogous to the Unix shell's variable interpolation with $ inside double quotes.

In MySQL, it is used in queries as a table and database classifier.

In Pico, the backquote is used to indicate comments in the programming language.

Microsoft Powershell uses the backquote as the escape character. For example, a newline character is denoted `n. Most commonly used programming languages use a backslash as the escape character (e.g. ) but because Windows allows the backslash as a path separator, it would have been impractical for PowerShell to use backslash for a different purpose.

In the Python programming language, "backticks" are used as a synonym for the repr() function, which converts its argument to a string suitable for a programmer to view. However, this feature has been removed in the upcoming Python 3000. Backticks are also used extensively in the reStructuredText plain text markup language (implemented in the Python docutils package).

In Verilog the grave accent is used to define constants (e.g. after the line `define NUM 100, `NUM can be used as a synonym for 100) whereas the apostrophe is used in specifying sized constants (for example, 5'd10 is a 5-bit constant with the value 10). Accidental use of an apostrophe instead of a grave accent and vice versa is a source of frequent beginner mistakes in the language.

In Unlambda, the backquote character denotes function application.

ee also

*Acute accent
*Circumflex accent
*Double grave accent

External links

* [ Diacritics Project — All you need to design a font with correct accents]
* [ ASCII and Unicode quotation marks] — "Please do not use the ASCII grave accent as a left quotation mark"
* [ Keyboard Help] - Learn how to create world language accent marks and other diacriticals on a computer

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Grave accent — Grave Grave, a. [Compar. {Graver} (gr[=a]v [ e]r); superl. {Gravest.}] [F., fr. L. gravis heavy; cf. It. & Sp. grave heavy, grave. See {Grief.}] 1. Of great weight; heavy; ponderous. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] His shield grave and great. Chapman.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • grave accent — ► NOUN ▪ a mark ( ) placed over a vowel in some languages to indicate a feature such as altered sound quality. ORIGIN French grave heavy, serious …   English terms dictionary

  • grave accent — [gräv, grāv] n. a mark ( ˋ ) used to indicate: a) the quality or length of a vowel, as in French chère b) in French, a distinction in meaning, as in où, “where” and ou, “or” c) secondary stress as in týpewrìter d) full pronunciation of a syllable …   Universalium

  • grave accent — [gräv, grāv] n. a mark ( ˋ ) used to indicate: a) the quality or length of a vowel, as in French chère b) in French, a distinction in meaning, as in où, “where” and ou, “or” c) secondary stress as in týpewrìter d) full pronunciation of a syllable …   English World dictionary

  • grave accent — noun a mark ( ) placed above a vowel to indicate pronunciation • Syn: ↑grave • Hypernyms: ↑accent, ↑accent mark * * * grave 2 [grave …   Useful english dictionary

  • grave accent — kairinis kirtis statusas T sritis informatika apibrėžtis Ženklas . Kodai: 96 (ASCII, dešimtainis), U+0060. Savarankiškas ženklas, neturintis aiškios paskirties. Pakeltas aukščiau ir uždėtas ant raidės gali būti laikomas tos raidės diakritiniu… …   Enciklopedinis kompiuterijos žodynas

  • grave accent — grave′ ac′cent [[t]greɪv, grɑv[/t]] n. ling. a mark ( ) placed over a vowel esp. to indicate that the vowel is open or lax, as French è, has distinct syllabic value, as in English belovèd, or that the vowel or the syllable it is in has secondary… …   From formal English to slang

  • grave accent — noun A diacritic mark ( ˋ ) used in many languages to distinguish the pronunciations of vowels. See Also: acute accent …   Wiktionary

  • grave accent — См. accento grave …   Пятиязычный словарь лингвистических терминов

  • grave accent — [grα:v] noun a mark ( ) placed over a vowel in some languages to indicate a feature such as altered sound quality. Origin C17: Fr. grave (see grave2) …   English new terms dictionary

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