AskDefine | Define circumflex

Dictionary Definition

circumflex n : a diacritical mark (^) placed above a vowel in some languages to indicate a special phonetic quality

User Contributed Dictionary



  • italbrac RP /ˈsɜːkəmˌflɛks/
  • italbrac US /ˈsɝːkəmˌflɛks/


From etyl la circumflexus, which is the past participle of |circumflectere and a calque of etyl grc lang=el.


  1. A diacritical mark (ˆ) placed over a vowel in certain languages to change its pronunciation; also used in combination with certain consonants in Esperanto to create additional letters.


  1. Having this mark.
    ê is e circumflex.
  2. Curving around
    The circumflex coronary artery


a diacritical mark
  • French: circonflexe
  • Swedish: cirkumflex

Extensive Definition

The circumflex (ˆ) (often mistakenly also called a "caret", from a non-diacritical sign with similar shape (^); also "hat" or "uppen") is a diacritic mark used in written Croatian, French, Frisian, Esperanto, Norwegian, Romanian, Slovak, Vietnamese, Romanized Japanese, Romanized Persian, Welsh, Portuguese, Italian, Afrikaans, Turkish and other languages. It received its English name from Latin circumflexus (bent about)—a translation of the Greek περισπωμένη (perispomeni). In French, it usually denotes the absence of a trailing "s" (as in côte, which means coast in English).


The circumflex accent was first used in the polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek, where it occurred (subject to certain rules) on the accented syllable of a word, on long vowels, and where there was a rise and then a fall in pitch. Sometimes it takes on the form of a tilde or inverted breve. Since Modern Greek has a stress accent instead of a pitch accent, this diacritic has been replaced with an acute accent in the modern monotonic orthography.


The circumflex accent marks a long vowel in the orthography or transliteration of several languages.
  • Akkadian. In the transliteration of this language, the circumflex indicates a long vowel resulting from an aleph contraction.
  • French. The circumflex is used on â, ê, î, ô, û, and, in some varieties of the language, such as in Belgian pronunciation, these vowels are often long; fête "party" is longer than fait "fact". See also below.
  • Standard Friulian.
  • Japanese. In the Kunrei-shiki system of Romanization, and occasionally in the Hepburn system (as a surrogate for the macron).
  • Jèrriais.
  • Turkish. According to Turkish Language Association orthography, düzeltme işareti ("correction mark") over a and u is primarily used to indicate a long vowel on a basis of disambiguation. For example ama (but) against âmâ (blind), şura (that place, there) against şûra (council). Although official, the required system is complex and younger generations gradually decline using it.
  • Welsh. The circumflex is colloquially known as the to bach ("little roof"). It lengthens a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, w, y), and is used particularly to differentiate between homographs; e.g. tan and tân, ffon and ffôn, pin and pîn, gem and gêm, cyn and cŷn, or gwn and gŵn.
In Old Tupi, the circumflex indicated a semivowel.


The circumflex is also used to indicate the relative height of some vowels:
  • Portuguese â /ɐ/, ê /e/, and ô /o/ are higher vowels than á /a/, é /ɛ/, and ó /ɔ/, respectively. The circumflex is only used on stressed vowels.
  • Vietnamese â /ɐ/, ê /e/, and ô /o/ are higher vowels than a /ɑ/, e /ɛ/, and o /ɔ/. The circumflex can appear together with a tone mark on the same vowel, as in the word Việt Nam. Vowels with circumflex are considered separate letters from the base vowels.

Letter extension

  • In Bulgarian, when transliterated with the Latin alphabet (in systems used prior to 1989), the sound represented in Bulgarian by 'â', although called a schwa (misleadingly suggesting an unstressed lax sound), is more accurately described as a mid back unrounded vowel /ɤ/. Unlike English or French, but similar to Romanian and Afrikaans, it can be stressed. The Cyrillic letter 'ъ' (er goljam) is often transliterated as 'â' or sometimes as a 'ŭ', often it is just written as 'a' or 'u'.
  • In Chichewa, ŵ denotes the voiced bilabial fricative /β/, hence the name of the country Malaŵi.
  • In Esperanto, it is used on ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ. It indicates a completely different consonant from the unaccented form, and is considered a separate letter for purposes of collation. See Esperanto orthography.
  • In pinyin romanized Mandarin Chinese, the circumflex occurs only on ê, which is used to represent the sound /ɛ/ in isolation. This sound occurs rarely and is only used as an exclamation.
  • In Romanian, the circumflex is used on the vowels â and î to mark the vowel /ɨ/, similar to Russian yery. The names of these accented letters are â din a and î din i, respectively. Note: the letter â appears only in the middle of words; thus, its majuscule version appears only in all-capitals inscriptions.
  • In Slovak, the circumflex (vokáň) turns the letter o into a diphthong ô /wo/.

Other regular uses

  • In Afrikaans it simply marks a vowel with an irregular pronunciation, without indicating precisely what this pronunciation might be. Examples of circumflex use in Afrikaans are sê (to say), wêreld (world), môre (tomorrow) and brûe (bridges).
  • In Croatian it is mostly found above the letter a. Its function is to distinguish homophones. Examples include sam (am) versus sâm (alone). Thus the correct translation of "I am alone" is Ja sam sâm. There is no difference in pronunciation though. Another example: da (yes), dâ (gives).
  • In French, it generally marks the former presence of the letter s in the spelling of the word – for example, hôpital (hospital), hôtel (hostel), forêt (forest), rôtir (to roast), côte (coast), pâte (paste). Since the older spelling is often one on which English words are based, as in the foregoing examples, the circumflex provides a helpful guide to Anglophone readers of French. Fenêtre (window), for instance, is derived from the Latin word fenestra. Certain close homophones are distinguished by the circumflex, for instance cote ("level", "mark") and côte ("rib" or "coast"). The letter ê is also normally pronounced open, like è. In the usual pronunciations of central and northern France, ô is pronounced close, like eau; in Southern France, no distinction is made between close and open o. See also Use of the circumflex in French.
  • In Turkish, the circumflex over a and u is used to indicate when a preceding consonant (k, g, l) is to be pronounced as a palatal plosive; [c], [ɟ] (kâğıt, gâvur, mahkûm, Gülgûn) or alveolar lateral [l] (Elâzığ, Halûk). The circumflex over i is used to indicate a nisba suffix (millî, dinî).
  • In Welsh, the circumflex, apart from being used as a lengthening sign (see above), is sometimes used with plural forms, notably where the singular ends in an a, to indicate the stressed syllable (which would normally be on the penultimate syllable), e.g. camera, drama, opera, sinema → camerâu, dramâu, operâu, sinemâu.

Exceptional use

  • In English the circumflex, like other diacriticals, is sometimes retained on loanwords that used it in the original language; for example, rôle. In Britain in the eighteenth century—before the cheap penny post and an era in which paper was taxed—the circumflex was used in postal letters to save room in an analogy with the French use. Specifically, the letters "ugh" were replaced when they were silent in the most common words, e.g., "thô" for "though", "thorô" for "thorough", and "brôt" for "brought" — similar to the way in which people today abbreviate words in text messages. This could have led to spelling simplification, but did not.
  • In Italian, î is sometimes used in the plural of nouns and adjectives ending with -io [jo], although the spelling with a normal i is by far the most usual one. Other possible spellings are -ii and obsolete -j or -ij. For example, the plural of vario ['vaːrjo] ("various") can be spelt vari, varî, varii; the pronunciation will usually stay ['vaːri] with only one [i].
  • In Norwegian, it is used, with the exception of loan words, on ô and ê, almost exclusively in the words "fôr" (from Norse fóðr), meaning "animal food", to differentiate it from for (the preposition); lêr, meaning "skin" (Norse leðr) and "vêr" (Norse veðr), meaning "weather", both lêr and vêr only in the Nynorsk Norwegian.
  • In Swedish, when transcribing dialectal speech, the circumflex is often used to denote an a or o which is pronounced dialectally as if it has been written ä [æ] or ö [ø].
  • In Interlingua, the circumflex is rare. Interlingua has no diacritics except in foreign loanwords.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien would use the circumflex to denote a long vowel when transcribing words from his fictional languages.

Technical notes

The ISO-8859-1 character encoding includes the letters â, ê, î, ô, û, and their respective capital forms. Dozens more letters with the circumflex are available in Unicode. Unicode also uses the circumflex as a combining character.


External links

circumflex in Breton: Tired kognek
circumflex in Catalan: Accent circumflex
circumflex in Danish: Cirkumfleks
circumflex in German: Zirkumflex
circumflex in Spanish: Acento circunflejo
circumflex in Esperanto: Ĉapelitaj literoj
circumflex in Persian: هشتک
circumflex in French: Accent circonflexe
circumflex in Italian: Accento circonflesso
circumflex in Hebrew: גג (סימן דיאקריטי)
circumflex in Dutch: Accent circonflexe
circumflex in Japanese: サーカムフレックス
circumflex in Norwegian: Cirkumfleks
circumflex in Polish: Akcent przeciągły
circumflex in Portuguese: Acento circunflexo
circumflex in Russian: Циркумфлекс
circumflex in Slovak: Vokáň
circumflex in Swedish: Cirkumflex
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