The NOAD uses accent also for the circumflex accent, but in the description for breve it doesn't say accent.

Does accents include also the breve and the caron, or does it strictly apply to acute, double acute, grave, and double grave as the list to the right in the Wikipedia article about diacritics seems to suggest?

As Italian, I am used to use accents for those diacritics over a letter (over vowels, but that is because Italian doesn't use accents over consonants). Would I use accents in the wrong way, if I meant that in English?

  • 3
    In a formal context it might matter, but as far as conversational English, people should know what you mean when you say accents. Since English doesn't really use accents except for words from other languages, it's not a common issue. Aug 30, 2016 at 17:23
  • Yes, accent marks are only a subset of diacritical marks. The breve and the caron are not accent marks. Aug 30, 2016 at 17:26
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    @FumbleFingers You are confusing the diacritics: breve, a written or printed mark (˘) indicating a short or unstressed vowel. I mean the diacritic in kaŭ, not the one in ŝtelis. (Don't pay attention to the words; they are Esperanto.)
    – apaderno
    Aug 30, 2016 at 19:19
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    @FumbleFingers You said, Accent breve is the name of it in French, not English (as you obviously realize, we call it a circumflex). That is not exact. You cannot even confuse a breve with a circumflex. Eventually, you could confuse a breve with a a caron.
    – apaderno
    Aug 31, 2016 at 16:15
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers I understood your comment. It just contained an inexact part, and I commented on that.
    – apaderno
    Aug 31, 2016 at 16:35

1 Answer 1


It depends on the context (and even the orthography you are talking about):

Intonation and stress

You can use the word accent when you want to talk about the actual pronunciation of a word, i.e., the phonetic accent. For instance, one of the many definitions of accent in the Wiktionary is:

A mark or character used in writing, in order to indicate the place of the spoken accent, or to indicate the nature or quality of the vowel marked.

Or, in Merriam–Webster (emphasis mine:

a mark (as ´, `, ˆ) used in writing or printing to indicate a specific sound value, stress, or pitch, to distinguish words otherwise identically spelled, or to indicate that an ordinarily mute vowel should be pronounced

For example, you could say:

Your intonation of τόνος was wrong; mind the accent!

In this sense, it obviously only makes sense to talk about a diacritical mark as an accent if it actually indicates a phonetic accent in the language you are talking about. For example, in the Finnish orthography the caron does not have the role of an accent – it is only placed on consonants, where it indicates a completely different pronunciation. However, the caron is used to indicate the third tone in Pinyin and thus is an accent in that orthography.


In my experience (being a hobby type designer), type designers and similar prefer to use diacritical marks instead of accent. Because what is a phonetic accent in one language has some other function in the next one, this makes sense: For type designers, such pronunciation details do not matter and they cannot possibly keep track of every possible language anyway.

However, the typical speaker of English (and other languages with analogous words) is more likely to know the word accent than diacritical mark and thus accent has become a synonym for diacritical mark. Since a language is formed by its speakers, I would not consider it wrong to write:

Měšťáčtější is a word with a lot of accents, many of them carons.

To repeat one of the above dictionary definitions (with different emphasis):

a mark (as ´, `, ˆ) used in writing or printing to indicate a specific sound value, stress, or pitch, […]

Another evidence of the above and slightly different case is the use of accent in mathematics, which is the predominant term for diacritical marks placed on mathematical symbols – usually to distinguish them. See for example this page by the American Mathematical Society. This is completely detached from phonetics, but I would never use diacritical mark to talk about math accents with mathematicians.

  • Obviously, I am not talking of pronunciation, if I am talking of circumflex accent and breve. Plus, a breve is not a caron.
    – apaderno
    Oct 10, 2016 at 7:05
  • Plus, a breve is not a caron. – Where did I confused those?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Oct 10, 2016 at 7:28

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