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Ĉ ĉ
Ê ê
Ĝ ĝ
Ĥ ĥ
Î î
Ĵ ĵ
Ô ô
Ŝ ŝ
Û û
Ŵ ŵ
Ŷ ŷ

The circumflex ( ˆ ) is a diacritic mark used in written Afrikaans, Breton, Croatian, Esperanto, French, Frisian, Italian, Romanized Japanese, Norwegian, Romanized Persian, Portuguese, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Turkish, Vietnamese, Welsh and other languages. It received its English name from Latin circumflexus (bent about)—a translation of the Greek περισπωμένη (perispōménē).


The circumflex accent was first used in the polytonic orthography of Ancient Greek, where it occurred on the accented syllable on long vowels where there was a rise and then a fall in pitch. The term is also used to describe similar tonal accents that result from combining two vowels in related languages such as Sanskrit and Latin. The circumflex is a combination of an acute and a grave accent. Sometimes it takes the form of a tilde or an 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 placed over a vowel symbol may also indicate, in some languages, that the vowel or the syllable containing it is to be pronounced in a certain way. For example, in French, the mark ^ indicates that the vowel so marked is both of a certain quality and long. In Albanian, ˘ indicates that the vowel is nasalized and stressed. In Classical Greek, the mark ~ shows that the syllable beneath bears the word accent and is pronounced, according to the ancient grammarians, with a rise and fall in pitch.


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 faites. Historically, it often represents an earlier 's' (hôpital hospital).
  • 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, gem and gêm, cyn and cŷn, or gwn and gŵn.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien would use the circumflex to denote a long vowel when transcribing words from some of his fictional languages.


The circumflex accent marks the stressed vowel of a word in some languages:
  • Portuguese â , ê , and ô are stressed vowels. May also indicate height (see below).


The circumflex is also used to indicate the relative height of some vowels:
  • Portuguese â, ê, ô, are stressed high vowels, in opposition to á, é, ó which are stressed low vowels.
  • Vietnamese â , ê , and ô are higher vowels than a , e , and o . 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 . Unlike English or French, but similar to Romanian and Afrikaans, it can be stressed. The Cyrillic letter 'ъ' (er goljam) sometimes is transliterated as 'â' or 'ŭ'; often it is just written as 'a' or 'u'.
  • In Chichewa, ŵ denotes the voiced bilabial fricative , hence the name of the country Malaŵimarker.
  • In Esperanto, it is used on ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ. It indicates a 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 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 , 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 .
  • In Old Tupi, the circumflex indicated a semivowel, therefore î was [j], û was [w], and ŷ was a unique semivowel intermediate to these.

Other regular uses

  • In Afrikaans, it simply marks a vowel with an irregular pronunciation that is typically stressed. Examples of circumflex use in Afrikaans are (to say), wêreld (world), môre (tomorrow) and brûe (bridges).
  • In Breton, it is used on an e to show that the letter is poronounced open instead of closed.
  • In Croatian and Serbian, 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. This indicates a falling pitch, albeit less vital than other tonal languages. Another example: da (yes), (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; the s is seen in the English word defenestrate derived from that Latin root. 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 Francemarker, 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; , (kâğıt, gâvur, mahkûm, Gülgûn) or alveolar lateral (Elâzığ, Halûk). The circumflex over i is used to indicate a nisba suffix (millî, dinî).
  • In Welsh, the circumflex, due to its function as a disambiguating lengthening sign (see above), is used in polysyllabic words with word-final long vowels. The circumflex thus indicates the stressed syllable (which would normally be on the penultimate syllable), since in Welsh, non-stressed vowels may not normally be long. This happens notably where the singular ends in an a, to , e.g. singular camera, drama, opera, sinema → plural camerâu, dramâu, operâu, sinemâu; however, it also occurs in singular nominal forms, e.g. arwyddocâd; in verbal forms, e.g. deffrônt, cryffânt; etc.

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".
  • In French, m with a circumflex is an informal abbreviation for même, "same," for example in taking notes.
  • In Italian, î is sometimes used in the plural of nouns and adjectives ending with -io , 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 ("various") can be spelt vari, varî, varii; the pronunciation will usually stay with only one . The plural forms of principe ("prince") and of principio ("principle" or "beginning") can be confusing. principi would be a correct writing of both, with the only difference of the stress being on the first or on the second syllable. In such cases, if the context does not allow disambiguation, it is advised to write the plural of principio as principî or as principii.
  • 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" and the related verb "fôre", "to feed", to differentiate it from for (the preposition); lêr, meaning "leather" (Norse leðr) and "vêr" (Norse veðr), meaning "weather" or "ram", both lêr and vêr occurring 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 or ö .


In mathematics, the circumflex is used to modify variable names; it is usually read "hat", e.g. î is "i hat".

In vector notation, it is used to identify unit vectors; for instance î stands for a unit vector in the direction of the x-axis.

In statistics, it is often used for the maximum likelihood estimator of a parameter.

Technical notes

The ASCII character ^ is covered in the article caret.
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 with the code point U+0302.

See also


External links

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