Is there a standard practice in academic writing regarding the use of accented letters when the underlying language is English? I'm specifically thinking of the word naive, which often has a dieresis above the i, but I suppose this is applicable to other words.

I would prefer to not use them since it's simpler and seems somehow less pretentious to me.

Also, is there is a difference between dissertations and journal articles?

  • 9
    @MassimoOrtolano: Merriam Webster: naive, cliche, Gaussian. Moreöver, this question is explicitly about the English language. I am far from dropping recommending diacritics in other languages (I have once taken some effort to have a Romanian author’s name spelt with ș instead of ş in a citation), I am not even recommending anything regarding English, just reporting.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 20:02
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    It's perfectly correct in English to just write "naive". But it's good manners to include accents in peoples' names, at least when these people do so on their own papers.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 20:06
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    @BMS: The letter o with umlaut can be replaced by the digraph oe, so you can write Schroedinger instead of Schrodinger (see e.g. this discussion on German.SE). Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 20:21
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    @MassimoOrtolano: But only if it’s impossible to use ö, which, as you correctly remarked earlier, rarely is the case nowadays.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 8:17
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    I am fine with that level of "pretentiousness". I feel using letters beyond the scope of unaccented a..z in a published document is just as "pretentious" as using capitals in a text message or an instant messenging message. It's not something extra that you add to stand out, it's something normal that you keep doing, even though many others might be too lazy. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 9:24

6 Answers 6


Do you like reading papers with misspelled words, grammar errors, uncertain syntax, badly formatted equations, unreadable graphs and unclear pictures? Probably not.

Modern typesetting systems and careful proofreading allow writers to avoid, as much as possible, the above unpleasantnesses and, moreover, allow them to typeset all sort of characters. Furthermore, macros and shortcuts can be defined for quickly repeating difficult words. Thus, with modern typesetting systems there's really no excuse for not using diacritical marks, regardless of practices which date back to an epoch when typesetting systems were not as flexible as modern ones.

Academic papers and books are not only read by native English speakers, but by people from all over the world, where a missing accent can be cause of confusion or, in case of many missing accents, considered a sign of sloppiness (which typically does not put the reader in a favourable mood), especially if the accent is missing from a proper name.

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    This is perhaps a bit harsh with respect to words like 'naive' for which diacritical marks are not strictly necessary.
    – E.P.
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 12:16
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    @E.P.: It's not my intention to be harsh, but I have a strong position on this. Indeed, naive is just an example which, moreover, cannot be misunderstood for another term. But cliche is not cliché: not only are they pronounced differently in French, but they also have different meanings and this can be a source of confusion. Then, if in the same paper or book, I find naive, cliche, Schrodinger and Thevenin (instead of Thévenin), I might wonder how much care was put into writing. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 13:13
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    I'm perfectly in agreement with Schrodinger, Thevenin and cliche being quite jarring to read. However, certain words have been incorporated into the English language and acceptable forms include both with and without diacritics. The word naive is one such example, as are premiere and role. Would you expect authors to differentiate between the masculine naïf and the feminine naïve throughout? - Just to say that there is indeed a line after which diacritics can be omitted.
    – E.P.
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:03
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    This answer demonstrates a misunderstanding of how words pass from one language to another. When a word from one language is considered fully incorporated in another, it is good and proper that its spelling is modified to match the usual spelling conventions of the target language. Which, in English, is to not use diacritics. When English words are incorporated into French, the opposite occurs and diacritics are added. See, for example, pénalty, which in French is only used in the context of sports such as football, and thus has a different meaning from the English word penalty.
    – fkraiem
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 7:19
  • @fkraiem: several English dictionaries have incorporated French words with their original spellings only. Look, for instance, at cliché or à la carte on dictionaries like Oxford or McMillan: they recorded only the original spelling (Merriam-Webster's reports, instead, also the alternative spellings cliche and a la carte). So, it seems to me that what you say, though not incorrect, is not generally recognized. Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 8:14

I personally always use them, mostly since my last name includes a dieresis, but most style guides only tell you to be consistent: either always use them, or never use them. Like Chris pointed out in his comment: consistency means consistency for each word. There have been some answers that point out that names should always be spelled with whatever accents marks the person uses. To do otherwise would be disrespectful. For other words it's up to you.

  • This normally means consistent for a given class of words though - and I would say the common classes in increasing order of importance of preserving accents are: Words commonly used in English (e.g. "naive") ; Foreign words used within a discipline (can't think of an accented example off the top of my head); Proper names (e.g. Möbius). Even more important is to be consistent per word.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 15:49
  • @ChrisH True. I'll add that to my answer :) Most of the example from my discipline that have accents come from proper names, like Turán graphs.
    – user141592
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 16:46

You should follow the conventions of the style guide for the journal/publisher you're writing for. A general pattern is that words which have been fully borrowed and assimilated into English as ordinary vocabulary (such as "naive") tend to lose their diacritics, whereas words or phrases that are still considered foreign, flowery, or restricted to specialized use (e.g., détente, fin de siècle) tend to keep them. The place where you would most likely keep them is in proper nouns (especially names of people).

  • Essentially, if your editor spells and pronounces hôtel the French way, then you'll be spelling it naïve. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 18:03
  • Exception: café, definitely fully naturalized in English, but nonetheless tends to keep its diacritic, possibly because it has a noticeable effect on the pronunciation.
    – TRiG
    Commented May 23, 2016 at 12:31

Not having enough reputation for comments, I'll add my perspective on the topic with an answer.

There are words that have more than one accepted usage, such as naive/naïve or a la carte/à la carte, where accepted means these are actually alternative spellings and are shown in dictionaries. Here is a list of English words with diacritics; some of these words have alternative spellings.

However, while in some languages it may be acceptable to replace diacritics by a version without, such as the German ö replaced by oe, in other languages certain funny looking characters are not considered diacritics. An example that comes to mind is Finnish, where ä and ö are considered two vowels that also have their place in the alphabet, and not a version of a and o on steroids. As such and as stated here, "replacing them by ae and oe is not acceptable for Finnish".

So my view on the subject is to use them unless you're unable to; and I can't see why you would be unable to do so nowadays. I don't mind naive because it is still correct (and a widely used alternative spelling); Jyvaeskylae instead of Jyväskylä on the other hand, would just tell me you either do not know the correct spelling or are plain lazy.

  • 1
    As it's been pointed out in comments a la carte has a different meaning because a is a verb. It is sometimes cited as an alternative form, I just find it lazy, that accent being represented on all English keyboards.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 18:23
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    @njzk2 What is the different meaning in English? "a" is not a verb in English.
    – cpast
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:12
  • @cpast: "a" is not a verb in English, that's not really relevant since the locution is not English but French. a is a verb form and à is a preposition. Using one for the other changes the signification. a la carte means (he) has the card/menu which makes little sense.
    – njzk2
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:19
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    @njzk2 "à la carte" originated in French, but that doesn't mean its appearances in English text are snippets of French. The phrase has become part of English, and can evolve independently of its French origin (e.g. losing diacritical marks), which is perfectly valid language evolution.
    – cpast
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:35
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    @cpast: I can agree to most of that. The loosing of the diacritic can be indeed seen as an evolution and integration in the English language. I tend to see it as laziness (but then again, that is a valid reason to change the spelling)
    – njzk2
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 19:42

The question you need to answer is what purpose the accent serves. Traditionally, in English and related languages, the accents have three purposes: to change pronunciation (for instance, the cedilla in the word soupçon causes the c to be pronounced like an s, not a k), to distinguish between homophones (as in French, between a, which means "have", and à, which means "at"), and to mark a change in historical spelling (the circumflex often indicates an s that has been lost to history, as in the French word hôpital, which used to be hospital).

My answer would be that an accent that shows a change in pronunciation (especially acute accents and diaereses) should be retained in formal writing, because we cannot know who will read it, and the reader may need these pronunciation aids; the same argument could be made for homophone distinctions, particularly in poetry.

However, if the accent marks a spelling change, it would depend on when the change occurred: there is no reason to continue to mark a spelling change that occurred before the word entered the English language. If the accent exists, for instance, on the French word, like contrôle, and it shows a letter was omitted long before the word was borrowed into English, then there is no reason to continue to mark the missing letter that was never part of the English spelling. There is, for instance, no mention on Oxford Dictionaries on-line of the spelling hôtel in English. The older word hostel came into the language in the middle ages, and is still spelled thus. The newer form hotel arrived in the mid-seventeenth century, when its French form was already spelled with a circumflex, and the two words were used differently. Hence, it is pointless to write hôtel; these are two separate words, not a change to an older form in English.

On the other hard, there are some newer conventions that are equally acceptable. The older spelling coöperate had already been completely lost by the time I learned to spell, twenty-five years ago, having been replaced by co-operate, which seems to do the same job, and so is perfectly reasonable. These days, cooperate seems to be quite common, and of course, there are no language police to say that it ought not be so; however, in formal writing, I still use the hyphen (as in e-mail; remember when there was still a hyphen there? And that was an originally English word! **And yes, it is okay to begin a sentence with the word "and"; your English teacher only said no because all young school children do it far to much).

  • I think do it far to much was intentional. However, On the other hard was a typo. I hope I am right.
    – Nobody
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 14:52

It would be very hard to be consistent with the two dots, for example if you use it in naïve, you should probably use in coöperate, reënter, etc.

The diaeresis forbids to join in speech sounds of two vowels - it gives a hint to the reader not to read cooperate as in Cooper, or reenter as in reel

Sometimes we see them separated explicitly co-operation, re-enter, but since naive, cooperation, and reenter are very common, special orthographic rules may apply.

I would write:

  • naive
  • cooperate or co-operate
  • re-enter
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    "The diaeresis forbids to join in speech sounds of two vowels" This depends on the language. It is true in French, not in German for example. Moreover, of your examples, only naïve has an explicit diaeresis in French, coopérer is written as in English, and réentrer takes an accent on the first letter. Overall, I can't think of a single french word where there would be a tréma to separate two identical vowels.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 10:17
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    There is another difference between your examples: naive is the only one to be directly taken from French, so adding the diacritic is only a matter of keeping the original spelling. Imo it is the same as café vs. cafe: both spellings correct, and consistency with the rest of the english language is not really an issue.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 10:20
  • @T.Verron "This depends on the language. It is true in French, not in German for example." The question is about English, so I think we should assume that the answers are also about English unless otherwise mentioned.
    – JiK
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 13:44
  • @JiK I agree, but in the english language, accents only exist on foreign words (afaik, after all, English is not my native language). The examples in the question and comments include naive and Schrodinger, which is why I wanted to point out that this answer does not address the latter.
    – T. Verron
    Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 13:52
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    @T.Verron: Actually, it is just as true in German, because strictly speaking, a diaeresis is (as expressed by the word diaeresis) always about separating the pronunciation of two characters. In German, it only appears in a few names such as Piëch. German umlauts happen to use the same diacritic mark (two dots above the letter) as what is used for a diaeresis, but in spoken language, an umlaut and a diaeresis are two conceptually different things that just happen to have the same textual representation. Commented Jan 21, 2015 at 15:29

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