You usually use "fiancé" with "é" and not "e" as "fiance". Why?

I know "É" is a letter of the Latin alphabet, and the word "fiancé" refers to mid 19th century: from French, past participle of fiancer ‘betroth’, from Old French fiance ‘a promise’, based on Latin fidere ‘to trust’.1

I know it is a loanword (like résumé from French) a word adopted from one language (the donor language) and incorporated into another language without translation.

But why don't you translate it into English? Why "é" remains original?

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    Although it's a loanword, fiancé is an English word already, and it doesn't need "translation". Replacing ‹é› with ‹e› is naturalization, not translation. Note however that the fiance spelling is more common than the fiancé spelling.
    – user230
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:19
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    We do, more often than not.
    – user230
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:40
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    @Peace Have you checked the link offered by ColleenV? "Educated people often see these as French words being used in English, so they put the stress on the last syllable and spell them with the accent: fiancé, fiancée" The same occurs with "touché"
    – RubioRic
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:42
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    @Peace any characters not found on a standard English keyboard are routinely naturalized in words that have them: entree, resume, Cote d'Azur, facade, pinata etc.
    – Andrew
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


Asking "why" about any question of English spelling is a hopeless task.

In the 1800s some people decided to start using the French word for a person who was going to get married. We don't know why they did this — there was a perfectly good English word "betrothed" that they could have used instead. Perhaps they felt the English word sounded too plain, and the "romantic" French word was sophisticated.

When they wrote the word, they copied the French spelling with an accent on the e. Some other people wrote the word with no accent, and were told that they were "wrong". People get very opinionated about details of spelling. But enough people either didn't or couldn't write the word with an accent to make this spelling quite common.

The result is that two spellings are in common use.

The general observation is that when English people borrow a word from a language that uses the Latin alphabet, it is common for the spelling to preserve the accents in the source language. This is especially common when borrowing from Western European languages, whose diacritic and alphabet systems are most familiar. It is also more common when the accent indicates a significant difference in pronunciation. Usually, over time, the accent is lost. So older borrowings are less likely to use accents.

Here are some examples of borrowed words that can be correctly spelled in two ways

Fiancé is quite common. It is a fairly recent borrowing (mid 1800s) and the accent indicates that the e is not silent.

Piña Colada (Spanish) fairly common, a recent borrowing from a familiar language, but Pina Colada is also recognised, and the pronunciation tends to be anglicised.

Pączki (from Polish) is normally written without the Ogonek. English speakers are less familiar with Polish diacritical marks than with French ones. Typing an ogonek on an English keyboard is difficult.

rôle (French) is rare. It is an older borrowing (1600s) and the circumflex doesn't change how it is pronounced.

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    In England in the 70s and 80s (but not so much now) so most likely earlier as well using a french word was considered "posh". Lots of people who thought they were clever used french words for stuff and keeping the accent would be even smarter. The same way we currently have debates on how to pronounce Italian words the "correct" way, and annoying italian holiday people try to tell us we are pronouncing chorizo wrong. So basically it is all to do with class snobbery. I am agreeing with you
    – WendyG
    Jun 12, 2018 at 9:41
  • Except chorizo is from Iberia, not Italy. But I take your point.
    – James K
    Jun 12, 2018 at 10:22
  • That was my point sorry. People are correcting the spanish pronunciation and telling us to say it the Italian way. People who don't really understand what they are doing just being "know it all" snobs
    – WendyG
    Jun 12, 2018 at 10:25

fiancé is a male. financée is a female.

In French, both are pronounced the same way. Except, the feminine is ma fiancée and the masculine is mon fiancé. It is the possessive pronoun that lets a speaker or listener know whether a male or female is being discussed.

In English, fiance - the person to whom one is engaged - can be used without the accent. However, some publications might decide to keep é and ée.

Just for the record, Merriam Webster does keep the accents: é and ée.

In some cases in English, it does not matter whether you use the accent or not. That is true with the word resume and fiance.

However, in some cases, you have to keep the accent:

He wrote a long exposé for the publication. Because: "He wrote a long expose" does not mean anything in English.

Other common ones with accents are: touché, façade, and cliché

common French words used in English

  • My spellcheck [BR Eng, Mac] objects to precis [wants it to be precise] but not to précis. Same for touché & fiancé, but it doesn't care about facade [I think even the French have given up on the cedilla these days], cliche or, strangely fiancee. Resume, of course, can have another meaning. Jun 11, 2018 at 18:00
  • The French have most definitely not "given up" on the cedilla. What a thought! If you remove the cedilla, you get a hard c, fakade as in Carcassonne. I guess you don't speak French. Of course, précis requires an accent. My answer just starts the conversation. It is not the whole conversation.
    – Lambie
    Jun 11, 2018 at 18:05
  • my bad, it was the circumflex Jun 11, 2018 at 18:08

An excellent question, although you may not find any answer completely satisfactory. This is purely my informed opinion as a native British English speaker, who also has a knowledge of French.

You already know it is a loanword from French, and the accent appears in the French word. So what you seem to be asking is why English speakers would continue to use the accent?

It is true that we don't have accents in written English. However, fiancé is not the only word you may see written with an accent. Café, for example, is written in English as often with an accent as it is without.

Accents are present in other languages as a pronunciation guide. I would argue that their use in English is not so much a guide, because a majority of English speakers worldwide likely do not know how to interpret French accents - rather, I would suggest it acts as a kind of pronunciation indicator, ie that it is a loanword and has a French pronunciation.

"Fiancé" is by no means an uncommon word in English, but it is not as widely used as "café" which I would argue most English speakers know how to pronounce - nobody is likely to say it to rhyme with safe!. "Fiancé" is used far less in comparison. Seeing it for the first time and without any reference, a native English speaker may pronounce it similarly to the word "finance"! But seeing the accent is a clear indicator that the word is of French origin and guides pronunciation - especially if you are familiar with cafés!

I would also suggest that accents are retained for styling purposes. It may be a generalisation, but the British tend to regard the French as having style, and certain things such as coffee and "coffee culture" as synonymous with France. Just as the flag of the USA is often used in advertising of typically North American things like burgers, jeans, cola etc, I would say that the word "cafe" styled as café on signage, menus etc in English may be done to suggest a level of "class". It may be a similar case with the words "fiancé" and "fiancée" - they tend to be used only formally in English, and as such the users may want to retain the gravitas.

As an interesting aside, the French do not insist on accents on some signage where block capitals are used, which suggests that fluent speakers do not always need a guide for words they can recognise at a glance. If we can recognise "cafe" without the accent and you are fine with "fiance" then perhaps accents in any language are, to a degree, archaic?

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