The grave accent ( ` ) (US // or UK //) is a diacritical mark in many written languages, including Breton, Catalan, Corsican, Dutch, Emilian-Romagnol, French, Frisian, Greek (until 1982; see polytonic orthography), Haitian Creole, Italian, Mohawk, Norwegian, Occitan, Portuguese, Ligurian, Scottish Gaelic, Vietnamese, Welsh, Romansh, and Yoruba.
The grave accent first appeared in the polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek to mark a lower pitch than the high pitch of the acute accent. In modern practice, it replaces an acute accent in the last syllable of a word when that word is followed immediately by another word. The grave and circumflex have been replaced with an acute accent in the modern monotonic orthography.
The accent mark was called βαρεῖα, the feminine form of the adjective βαρύς (barús), meaning "heavy" or "low in pitch". This was calqued (loan-translated) into Latin as gravis, which then became the English word grave.
A general rule in Italian is that words that end with stressed -a, -i, -o, or -u must be marked with a grave accent. Words that end with stressed -e may bear either an acute accent or a grave accent, depending on whether the final e sound is closed or open, respectively. Some examples of words with a final grave accent are città ("city"), morì ("[he/she] died"), virtù ("virtue"), Mosè ("Moses"), and portò ("[he/she/it] brought/carried"). A typist who uses a keyboard without accented characters and is unfamiliar with input methods for typing accented letters sometimes use a separate grave accent or even an apostrophe instead of the proper accent. That is nonstandard. It is especially common when typing capital letters: E` or E’ instead of È ("[he/she/it] is"). Other mistakes arise from the misunderstanding of truncated and elided words: the phrase un po’ ("a little"), which is the truncated version of un poco, may be mistakenly spelled as un pò.
Italian has word pairs where one has an accent marked and the other not, with different pronunciation and meaning—such as pero ("pear tree") and però ("but"), and Papa ("Pope") and papà ("dad"); the last example is also valid for Catalan.
In Bulgarian, the grave accent sometimes appears on the vowels а, о, у, е, и, and ъ to mark stress. It most commonly appears in books for children or foreigners, and dictionaries—or to distinguish between near-homophones: па̀ра ("steam/vapour") and пара̀ ("cent/penny, money"), въ̀лна ("wool") and вълна̀ ("wave"). In a few cases (mostly on the vowels е and и), the stress mark is orthographically required to distinguish homographs (see Disambiguation). Then, it forces the stress on the accented word-syllable instead of having a different syllable in the stress group getting accented. In turn, it changes the pronunciation and the whole meaning of the group.
Ukrainian, Rusyn, Belarusian, and Russian used a similar system until the first half of the 20th century. Now the main stress is preferably marked with an acute, and the role of the grave is limited to marking secondary stress in compound words (in dictionaries and linguistic literature).
In the descendants of Serbo-Croatian and in Slovene, the stressed syllable can be short or long and have a rising or falling tone. They use (in dictionaries, orthography, and grammar books, for example) four different stress marks (grave, acute, double grave, and circumflex). The system is identical both in Latin and Cyrillic scripts.
In modern Church Slavonic, there are three stress marks (acute, grave, and circumflex). There is no phonetical distinction between them, only an orthographical one. The grave is typically used when the stressed vowel is the last letter of a multiletter word.
In Ligurian, the grave accent marks the accented short vowel of a word in à (sound [a]), è (sound [ɛ]), ì (sound [i]) and ù (sound [y]). For ò, it indicates the short sound of [o], but may not be the stressed vowel of the word.
- Catalan uses the accent on three letters (a, e, and o).
- French uses the accent on three letters (a, e, and u). For example, the accent mark in lève [lεv], indicates that it is not pronounced as the schwa in lever [ləve]. The "ù" is used in only one word, "où", and it is homophonic with "ou".
- Ligurian also uses the grave accent to distinguish the sound [o], written ò, from the sound [u], written ó.
- In Bulgarian and Macedonian, it distinguishes the conjunction и ("and") from the short-form feminine possessive pronoun ѝ.
- In Catalan, it distinguishes, for example, ma ("my") from mà ("hand").
- French. The grave accent on the letters a and u has no effect on pronunciation and just distinguishes homonyms otherwise spelled the same. It distinguishes the preposition à ("to/belonging to/towards") from the verb a (the third-person singular present tense of avoir) as well as the adverb là ("there") and the feminine definite article la; it is also used in the words déjà ("already"), deçà (preceded by en or au, and meaning "closer than" or "inferior to (a given value)"), the phrase çà et là ("hither and thither"; without the accents, it would literally mean "it and the") and its functional synonym deçà, delà. It is used on the letter u only to distinguish où ("where") and ou ("or"). È is rarely used to distinguish homonyms except in dès/des ("since/some"), ès/es ("in/(thou) art"), and lès/les ("near/the").
- In Italian, it distinguishes, for example, the conjunction e ("and") from the verb è ("he/she/it is"), the feminine article la from the adverb là ("there"), or the conjunction se ("if") from the reflexive pronoun sé ("itself"). The first two examples involve two homographs, and the last involves two homophones.
- In Norwegian (both Bokmål and Nynorsk), the grave accent separates words that would otherwise be identical: og (and) and òg (too). Popular usage, possibly because Norwegian rarely uses diacritics, often leads to a grave accent in place of an acute accent.
- In Romansh, it distinguishes (in the "Rumantsch Grischun" standard) e ("and") from the verb form è ("he/she/it is") and en ("in") from èn ("they are"). It also marks distinctions of stress (gia "already" vs. gìa "violin") and of vowel quality (letg "bed" vs. lètg "marriage").
In Scottish Gaelic, it denotes a long vowel. The use of acute accents to denote the rarer close long vowels, leaving the grave accents for the open long ones, is seen in older texts, but it is no longer allowed according to the new orthographical conventions.
In some tonal languages such as Vietnamese and Mandarin Chinese (when it is written in Hanyu Pinyin or Zhuyin Fuhao), the grave accent indicates a falling tone. The alternative to the grave accent in Mandarin is the numeral 4 after the syllable: pà = pa4.
The grave accent represents the low tone in Kanien'kéha or Mohawk.
In Portuguese, the grave accent indicates the contraction of two consecutive vowels in adjacent words (crasis). For example, instead of a aquela hora ("at that hour"), one says and writes àquela hora.
The grave accent, though rare in English words, sometimes appears in poetry and song lyrics to indicate that a usually-silent vowel is pronounced to fit the rhythm or meter. Most often, it is applied to a word that ends with -ed. For instance, the word looked is usually pronounced // as a single syllable, with the e silent; when written as lookèd, the e is pronounced: // look-ed). In this capacity, it can also distinguish certain pairs of identically spelled words like the past tense of learn, learned //, from the adjective learnèd // (for example, "a very learnèd man").
Accents, sometimes combined with italics, are often applied to foreign terms not commonly used in or that are not fully assimilated into English: for example, vis-à-vis, pièce de résistance and crème brûlée.
As surrogate of apostrophe or (opening) single quote
The layout of some European PC keyboards combined with problematic keyboard driver semantics causes many users to use a grave accent or an acute accent instead of an apostrophe when typing in English (e.g. typing John`s or John´s instead of John's).
Additionally ASCII grave accent character (U+0060 ` GRAVE ACCENT) was often used as surrogate of opening single quote, together with ASCII typewriter apostrophe (U+0027 ' APOSTROPHE) used as closing single quote; double quotes were sometimes substituted by two consecutive grave accents and two consecutive typewriter apostrophes (``…''). Although Unicode now provides separate characters for single and double quotes, such style is sometimes used even nowadays; examples are: output generated by some of UNIX console programs, rendering of man pages within some environments, technical documentation written long ago or written in old-school manner. However, as time goes on, such style is used less and less; and even institutions that traditionally were using that style are now abandoning it.
The Unicode standard makes dozens of letters with a grave accent available as a combining character. The older ISO-8859-1 character encoding only includes the letters à, è, ì, ò, ù, and their respective capital forms. In the much older, limited 7- or 8-bit ASCII character set, the grave accent is encoded as character 96 (hex 60). Outside the US, character 96 is often replaced by accented letters. In the French ISO 646 standard, the character at this position is µ. Many older UK computers, such as the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro, have the £ symbol as character 96, though the British ISO 646 variant ultimately placed this symbol at position 35 instead.
On many computer keyboards, the grave accent is a key by itself—meant to combine with vowels as a multi-key combination or as a dead key to modify the following letter. On a US and UK QWERTY keyboard, the ` key is placed in the top left corner to the left of the 1 key. On a Czech QWERTZ keyboard, the equivalent keystroke is usually mapped to Alt Gr+ý.
On a Mac, to get a character such as
à, the user can type ⌥ Option+` and then the vowel. For example, to make
à, the user can type ⌥ Option+` and then a, and to make
À, the user can type ⌥ Option+` and then ⇧ Shift+a. In iOS (used on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod), combined characters with the grave accent are accessed by holding a finger on the vowel, which opens a menu for accents. For example, to make
à, the user can tap and hold a and then tap or slide to à. Mac versions of OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) or newer share similar functionality to iOS; by pressing and holding a vowel key to open an accent menu, the user may click on the grave accented character or type the corresponding number key displayed.
On a system running the X Window System, to get a character such as
à, the user should press Compose followed by `, then the vowel. The compose key on modern keyboards is usually mapped to a ⊞ Win key or ⇧ Shift+Alt Gr.
In many PC-based computer games in the US and UK, the ` key (on U.S. English and U.K. keyboards) is used to open the console so the user can execute script commands via its CLI. This is true for games such as Battlefield 3, Half-Life, Halo CE, Quake, Half-Life 2, Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix, Unreal, Counter-Strike, Crysis, Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout 3, Fallout 4, RuneScape, and others based on the Quake engine or Source engine.
Use in programming
Programmers use the grave accent symbol as a separate character (i.e., not combined with any letter) for a number of tasks. In this role, it is known as a backquote or backtick.
When using TeX to typeset text, the backtick character represents curly opening quotes. For example,
` is rendered as single opening curly quote (‘) and
`` is a double curly opening quote (“). It also supplies the numeric ASCII value of an ASCII character wherever a number is expected.
Many of the Unix shells and the programming languages Perl, PHP, and Ruby use pairs of this character to indicate command substitution, that is, substitution of the standard output from one command into a line of text defining another command. For example, the code line:
echo It is now `date`
might result, after command substitution, in the command:
echo It is now Sun Dec 11 01:44:35 GMT 2016
which then, on execution, produces the output:
It is now Sun Dec 11 01:44:35 GMT 2016
It is sometimes used in source code comments to indicate code, e.g.,
/* Use the `printf()` function. */
This is also the format the Markdown formatter uses to indicate code. Some variations of Markdown support "fenced code blocks" that span multiple lines of code, starting (and ending) with three backticks in a row (
Various programming and scripting languages use the backquote character:
- BBC BASIC
- The backquote character is valid at the beginning of or within a variable, structure, procedure or function name.
- Surrounding an identifier with double backquotes allows the use of identifiers that would not otherwise be allowed, such as keywords, or identifiers containing punctuation or spaces.
- Lisp macro systems
- The backquote character (called quasiquote in Scheme) introduces a quoted expression in which comma-substitution may occur. It is identical to the plain quote, except that symbols prefixed with a comma are replaced with those symbols' values as variables. This is roughly analogous to the Bourne shell's variable interpolation with
$inside double quotes.
- A backquote together with an apostrophe quotes strings (to suppress or defer macro expansion).
- A backquote in queries is a delimiter for column, table, and database identifiers.
- The backquote indicates polymorphic variants.
- The backquote indicates comments in the programming language.
- Prior to version 3.0, backticks were a synonym for the
repr()function, which converts its argument to a string suitable for a programmer to view. However, this feature was removed in Python 3.0. Backticks also appear extensively in the reStructuredText plain text markup language (implemented in the Python docutils package).
- Windows PowerShell
- Uses the backquote as the escape character. For example, a newline character is denoted
`n. Most common programming languages use a backslash as the escape character (e.g.,
\n), but because Windows allows the backslash as a path separator, it is impractical for PowerShell to use backslash for a different purpose. Two backticks produce the
`character itself. For example, the nullable boolean of .NET is specified in PowerShell as
- The backquote creates a new term or to calls an existing term.
- An identifier may also be formed by an arbitrary string between backquotes. The identifier then is composed of all characters excluding the backquotes themselves.
- The backquote character denotes function application.
- The backquote denotes the start and end of a template string. The applications of a template string include (but aren't limited to): string interpolation, embedded expressions, and multi-line strings.
- Oxford Dictionaries
- Kuhn, Markus (7 May 2001). "Apostrophe and acute accent confusion". Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 4 June 2012.
In the C locale, the output of GNU programs should stick to plain ASCII for quotation characters in messages to users: preferably 0x22 (‘"’) or 0x27 (‘'’) for both opening and closing quotes. Although GNU programs traditionally used 0x60 (‘`’) for opening and 0x27 (‘'’) for closing quotes, nowadays quotes ‘`like this'’ are typically rendered asymmetrically, so quoting ‘"like this"’ or ‘'like this'’ typically looks better.
- bug-texinfo mailing list: makeinfo should quote 'like this' instead of `like this'
- "Compose Key". Ubuntu Community Documentation. Retrieved 2010-10-29.
- An Introduction to the Z Shell – Command/Process Substitution
- Odersky, Martin (2011-05-24), The Scala Language Specification Version 2.9
- The dictionary definition of à at Wiktionary
- The dictionary definition of è at Wiktionary
- Diacritics Project – All you need to design a font with correct accents
- ASCII and Unicode quotation marks – "Please do not use the ASCII grave accent as a left quotation mark"
- Keyboard Help – Learn how to create world language accent marks and other diacriticals on a computer