The vowels, in French, are rendered long or short by certain accents or marks placed over them. There are three orthographic accents:
The acute (é) l’accent aigu; the acute accent placed upon e gives it the sound of “ay”, example: café (kah-fay).
The grave (è), l’accent grave; the grave accent placed upon e gives that vowel the sound of “ai” in fair, example: père (pair).
The circumflex (ê), l’accent circonflexe; the circumflex accent gives the vowel a broader, longer sound, and generally denotes the suppression of a letter which was formerly used after the vowel over which it is placed. That letter—generally an “s”—has been preserved in a number of English words coming from the French: Mât, mast ; île, isle ; forêt, forest ; hôpital, hospital.
A diaeresis, called in French tréma, is placed over the vowels which are to be pronounced separately. Thus, for instance, the word “haïr”, to hate, must be pronounced “ah-eer”. Without the trema, or two dots over the i, it would be pronounced “air”.
A cedilla (ç), called in French cédille (say-dee-yur), is placed under the letter c before the vowels a, o, u, when it should be pronounced like s. Examples: Façade (fah-sad), front ; garçon (gar-song), boy ; reçu (rer-soo), received.
Study Tip – To differentiate between the acute (French say “aigu”) accent and the grave (“grave”), I simply look at the accent mark rising from left-to-right. I read from left-to-right, so this movement to me, appears as a rise. When a speaker uses the acute accent, their voice rises. The grave accent, going from left-to-right, angles downward, to the Earth, to the grave.