I have observed that the word naïve is written with two dots on the i. Why is this? Is it correct to write the word with a single dot, as in naive? Are there any other English words with such two dots?

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    It's not just English words. If you read The Lord of the Rings, you'll find that Tolkien uses this convention to indicate pronunciation of elvish words and names, like "Eärendil" being e-a-ren-dil, not ear-en-dil. – Eric Lippert Feb 18 '15 at 17:12
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    I was told that the original person (monk?) who spelled the word sneezed when he was about to dot the i, so we got a double dot. – user6951 Feb 19 '15 at 1:07
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    Follow-up question, why does the "n" in "Spın̈al Tap" have two dots (and the "i" none at all)? – Nick T Feb 19 '15 at 18:03
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    @NickT "Spınal Tap" is a joke name. They put the dots on the n because so many metal bands like to use umlauts and tremas. See Queensryche and Motley Crue. – Adam Feb 19 '15 at 22:51
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    @Adam ba-dum-tissss – Nick T Feb 20 '15 at 0:43

It's called a dieresis. It's used to show that the "a" and the "i" are not to be pronounced as a single sound. So it's pronounced something like "na-eve" and not like "knave" or with the "ai" rhyming with the "i" in "knives".

But in 50 years as a native English speaker/writer, I have never written it like that, and have rarely seen it so either.

Another example is "cooperative" where the second "o" in theory has a dieresis. It's pronounced "coh-op...." and not to rhyme with "loop". Again, I've never written it with the dieresis, and don't recall seeing it like that either.

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    Coöperate still written with the diaresis, as recently as 2007 by at least one writer, and this really surprises me. Apparently in the UK, co-operate is used. To me, co-operate means two surgeons operating on one patient at the same time. – user6951 Feb 18 '15 at 9:39
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    @δοῦλος: In the UK we have a well-known brand called the "Co-operative" or "Co-op" reminding us to spell it that way. Their domain is co-operative.coop, which just goes to show how preferred spelling varies by context :-) – Steve Jessop Feb 18 '15 at 11:28
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    the publication The New Yorker uses this a lot, e.g. reëlection, etc. It is not common elsewhere. – hunter Feb 18 '15 at 11:45
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    Interestingly, some computer programs actually automatically add the diaresis to naïve. Actually, my browser (or Windows?) did it just then. Personally, I find this a little annoying since the diaresis isn't normally even part of the English language. Just because the word originated in French doesn't mean that we must spell it the same way as in French. – reirab Feb 18 '15 at 18:56
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    "I've never heard a university coop called anything but a 'co-op' in the US, even when we spell it without the hyphen. Maybe it's new. Damm young kids can't even pernounce right." Ah well. The world has been going downhill since, oh, the days of the ancient Greeks. And at MIT, the Harvard Coop en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard/MIT_Cooperative_Society has been called the Coop (one syllable) since at least the mid-60s. – WhatRoughBeast Feb 18 '15 at 22:12

The two dots on the letter i are a French diacritic sign. The two dots in the French spelling naïf/naïve show that ai has not its normal pronunciation but is spoken as two separate vowels /a-i/. In English you can write naive or naïve.

The French term for the two dots on e/i/u is tréma.

The Greek term diaeresis means separation and refers to the separate pronunciation of two succeeding vowel letters.

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    English doesn't use diacritics on its own words very often ("coöperate", mentioned elsewhere, being one example), but it's more likely to keep them on borrowed words when it affects pronunciation (like "café", and "résumé", which tends to shed the first one but not the second). – Tim Pederick Feb 18 '15 at 10:13
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    @WoJ, shouldn't that be "açtüally" :-) – tkp Feb 19 '15 at 18:58
  • No, because ua is usually (!) pronounced like that :) the diacritic is used where the sound is different to the standard pronunciation... as if English has such a thing as standard pronunciation – Jon Story Feb 20 '15 at 11:27
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    @JonStory That's exactly the point: There is NOTHING like a standard pronunciation of letters in English. The tréma over i in naïve is really just a relict from French, nothing more. – yo' Feb 20 '15 at 14:47
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    @tkp Putting the cedielle would make it be pronounced 'ace-tually' – Shane Feb 20 '15 at 16:28

I think it is worth pointing out that perhaps the most common use of this diacritic to indicate diaresis in modern English is in the personal name Zoë, which is not pronounced to rhyme with "toe" but instead as "zo-ey".

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    Any who flagged this as very low quality should know that I think there's not much problem to it. Only, it could use a little bit expansion. – M.A.R. ಠ_ಠ Feb 18 '15 at 17:21
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    I'm not sure that Zoë is the most common use of the diæresis today. The most salient one for me is naïve. I know one Zoë personally, and she doesn’t use the diæresis (to my great disappointment). – Ben Kovitz Feb 18 '15 at 21:04
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    Chloë is more popular than Zoë, at least for new babies. – Dangph Feb 19 '15 at 6:56
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    This answer does not address the question, it's a comment at best, and without any reference to back up the claim, it's not "worth pointing out". – CoolHandLouis Feb 19 '15 at 8:16
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    According to data from the SSA, names & rankings of babies born from 90-02 with -oe are... Women: Chloe(92), Zoe(136), Cloe(2200), Khloe(2673), Kloe(3631), Joe(11375), Noe(12236), Monroe(12662), Shadoe(15632), Xoe(16430), Kanoe(18351), Moe(18870), Sanoe(21277), Lilinoe(24201), Nicloe(24668), Clhoe(29352), Zhoe(32928) Men: Joe(260), Noe(496), Roscoe(2422), Monroe(2573), Zoe(4785), Boe(5535), Shadoe(7058), Billyjoe(8617), Chloe(8719), Coe(12688), Bobbyjoe(15893), Devoe(17112), Ivanhoe(19541), Moe(19796), Roe(20795), Enoe(21193) – Pluto Feb 19 '15 at 20:56

Basically the answer is that naïve is sometimes spelled with the diaresis because it is derived from French which spells it that way. It is actually very uncommon for native English speakers to spell it with the diaresis, largely because, as you've noticed, the diaresis is not normally a part of the English language. The vast majority of English keyboards don't even contain a modifier to add a diaresis (or a tilde, accent, or any other marking, for that matter) to a letter. However, the auto-correct feature in some computer programs will change naive to naïve, as my browser has done in this post.

  • While this is mostly correct, I will take the chance to point out that the US English-International keyboard layout allows you to type diaresis (and other modifier) marks. – March Ho Feb 18 '15 at 22:11
  • @MarchHo Good point. Edited to note that my previous statement just applies to most English keyboards. – reirab Feb 18 '15 at 22:33
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    This is a Very Good Answer (especially for a newcomer here). Welcome! – CoolHandLouis Feb 19 '15 at 8:22
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    @MARamezani, your links are for Chemistry. – deltab Feb 19 '15 at 22:37
  • Interestingly, even the French keyboard (but not the Swiss keyboard) makes it somewhat difficult to type letters that do belong in properly typeset French like “É” or “œ”. OTOH, “ï” or “ë” are easy to type on a French keyboard. – Relaxed Feb 21 '15 at 23:45

In some cases in English, the two dots indicate an umlaut, typically seen on loan-words (predominantly from languages like German and Swedish), to indicate a special pronunciation of the vowel:

ångström, Bön, doppelgänger, filmjölk, föhn wind, fräulein, Führer, gemütlichkeit, glögg, Gewürztraminer, Götterdämmerung, Gräfenberg spot, jäger, kümmel, pölsa, smörgåsbord, smörgåstårta, über, Übermensch, surströmming...

As others have stated, however, this is not why we find it in words like naïve. For this class of words, the symbol is not an umlaut but a diaresis (or diæresis). For these, it is to mark a vowel as being unassociated with another vowel, either adjacent as in naïf, or elsewhere in the word, as in Brontë. This class of words includes both loan-words (particularly from Romance languages: naïveté), and home-grown English terms (reënter).

Boötes, Brontë, caïquejee, Chloë, continuüm (rare), coöperate [-ion, -ive], coöpt, coördinate [-ed, -ing, -ion, -or, -ors], daïs, faïence, Laocoön, naïf, naïve, naïveté, Noël, noöne (rare), oöcyte, oölogy (rare), opïum (rare), öre, preëminent [-ly] (rare), preëmpt [-ion, -ive] (rare), reëlect [-ed, -ing] (rare), reënter [-ed, -ing] (rare), reëstablish [-ed, -ing] (rare), residuüm, spermatozoön, Zaïre, Zoë, zoölogy

Especially now in the days of the keyboard, both forms of this diacritic tend to be omitted for simplicity when writing or printing English. The only words that appear to have any extra resulting ambiguity from homographs are Öre, Bootës and Coöp.

The New Yorker style guide is the only one in common use in the US which still advocates their use: for most people, both umlauts and diaresis are considered as archaic as digraphic ligatures (æ and œ).

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    Somewhat nitpicky, but the wording implies that all the loan words in the first box are of German origin. A bunch of them are in fact Swedish. – Smallhacker Feb 20 '15 at 9:05
  • And some of them come from French, including naïve. – Léo Lam Feb 20 '15 at 10:44
  • Thanks @Smallhacker. I considered "Germanic" when I was writing it, but the Germanic languages include English, so... I wimped out. Given several of them contain å, though, that was weak of me. Hrm. Edited, but wording is still imperfect :( – Dewi Morgan Feb 21 '15 at 3:54
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    Actually, I just checked the Chicago Manual of Style, which basically says spellings listed first from Webster's Third New International Dictionary should be used. I don't have it, but if it's anything like Merriam-Webster's web dictionary, certain things don't use the diaeresis, like naive ("naïve" is listed second), but others, like "naïveté" ("naivete" is listed second, "naiveté" third), do. – fireeeeeeeee Nov 3 '15 at 23:06
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    @fireeeeeeeee: Sadly, this is no mere dialectal quirk as I had at first hoped. Even the OED says "naive (also naïve)". Well, understandable... diacritics are falling like cockney 'aiches in the face of difficulty inputting them on computers. Dictionaries can only record common usage. So it falls to us, language users, to continue to use the bits we love, and preserve them from obscurity. So if we love the language, we should raise a mental middle finger to Chicago, and spell naïvely. – Dewi Morgan Nov 4 '15 at 3:02

The purpose of it is to show that the word is two syllables, and that the i falls into each. Think of the two dots as being a sort of divide, so the two syllables are "nai" and "ive" rather than the i only belonging in one of them (na-ive or nai-ve).

Another example is the word "weird". While most of us would pronounce it as "weerd" this isn't the case in Scotland. As with naive, the word has evolved - to a greater extent - to exclude the use of two dots (Shakespeare always spells weird with both, so it definitely used to be that way). This gave the word two syllables, "wei" and "ird".

After the Revolution, America became determined to shorten words to simplify them as much as possible (part of the reason the letter u was removed from words like "colour" and why "z" often replaced "s"), which is why over there "weird" is always said quite short. In other places, such as England and Australia, the word is often still drawn out very slightly so it almost has a second syllable. This is a remnant of when it was always pronounced with two syllables - the second syllable is still very prominent with a Scottish accent because of how the r is rolled.


The adjective "naïf" (or naïve which is the feminine writing ) is a French word. The pb is that French language "marries" some vowels together to produce another sound. Normally, a+i makes a [e] like in navy: the a of navy equals the a+i in French among other ways of writing that sound. to prevent it, there can be either an H between the a and the i or there will be what is called a "trema", the 2 points above the letter i to indicate that the a and the i are pronounced separately. I hope this clarification will be helpful. Kind regards.

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