Œ (minuscule: œ) is a Latin alphabet grapheme, a ligature of o and e. In medieval and early modern Latin, it was used to represent the Greek diphthong οι, a usage which continues in English and French. In French, it is also used in some non-Latin words.
It is used in the modern orthography for Old West Norse and is used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent the open-mid front rounded vowel. In English runology, œ is used to transliterate the Runic letter odal ᛟ , and so œ is sometimes called œthel, oethel or ethel (from ēðel 'estate, ancestral home').
In Latin, the combination denotes a diphthong, pronounced [oi̯], that had a value similar to English oi as in coil. It was used in borrowings from Greek words having the diphthong OI (ΟΙ, οι). Both classical and modern practice is to write the letters separately, but the ligature was used in medieval and early modern writings, in part because œ was reduced to a simple vowel ([e]) in late Latin.
Borrowings into English from Latin words written with œ (which in turn are often from Greek words written οι) now largely use the letter e, especially in American English. For example, fœderal has become federal in English, while diarrhœa in American English can only be spelled diarrhea. In those words that have not changed to e, the digraph oe is often used; indeed, most recent dictionaries list only the form without a ligature.
In modern British English the spellings generally keep the o but avoid the ligature (e.g. "diarrhoea").
The œ, oe, or e is generally pronounced /iː/ in syllables with word stress, or /ɛ/ when unstressed.
Other Germanic languages
Œ is used in the modern scholarly orthography of Old West Norse, representing the long vowel /øː/, contrasting with ø, which represents the short vowel /ø/. Recently, however, it has been replaced with ǿ, as in mǿðr "mothers".
In French, œ (called “e dans l'o”, which means e in the o (a mnemotechnic pun used first at school, sounding like (des) œufs dans l'eau, meaning eggs in the water, sometimes “o et e collé”, literally o and e glued) is a true linguistic ligature, not just a typographic one (like the fi or fl ligatures), reflecting etymology. It is most prominent in the words mœurs ("mores", almost exclusively employed in its plural form; mœur is masculine in the singular and feminine in the plural), cœur ("heart"), sœur ("sister"), œuf ("egg"), œuvre ("work") and œil ("eye"), in which the digraph œu, like eu, represents the sound [œ] or [ø]. French also uses œ in direct borrowings from Latin and Greek. So, "cœliac" in French is cœliaque. In such cases, the œ is pronounced [e]. In some words, e.g. phénix, the œ is changed to a more French é.
When oe occurs in French without the ligature, it is pronounced /wa/, just like words spelt with oi. The most common words of this type are poêle ("stove", "frying pan") and moelleux ("soft"). If the oe is not to be pronounced thus, then a diaeresis, acute or grave accent needs to be added in order to indicate that the vowels should be pronounced separately. For example, Noël, poésie, poète. The exception to this rule is the prefix co-, which is always pronounced /ko/ in hiatus with the following vowel, e.g. coentreprise ("joint venture") or coefficient ("ratio", "coefficient") and does not require any accent on the e to make this so.
International Phonetic Alphabet
The symbol [œ] is used in the International Phonetic Alphabet for the open-mid front rounded vowel. This sound resembles the "eu" in the French neuf or the "ö" in the German öffnen. These contrast with French feu and German schön, which have the close-mid front rounded vowel, [ø].
The small capital variant [ɶ] represents the open front rounded vowel.
In Unicode, the characters are encoded at U+0152 Œ latin capital ligature oe (HTML:
Œ) and U+0153 œ latin small ligature oe (HTML:
œ). In ISO-8859-15, Œ is 0xBC and œ 0xBD. In Windows-1252, at positions 0x8C and 0x9C. In Mac-Roman, they are at positions 0xCE and 0xCF. The LaTeX commands are
Œ and œ were omitted from ISO-8859-1 (as well as derived standards, such as IBM code page 850 and Windows-1252), which are still widespread in internet protocols and applications. Œ is the only character in modern French that is not included in ISO-8859-1, and this has led to it becoming replaced by 'oe' in many computer-assisted publications (including printed magazines and newspapers). This was due, in part, to the lack of available characters in the French ISO/IEC 646 version that was used earlier for computing. Another reason is that œ is absent from most French keyboards, and as a result, few people know how to input it.
The above-mentioned small capital of the International Phonetic Alphabet is encoded at U+0276 ɶ latin letter small capital oe (HTML:
Inputting Œ and œ
On Microsoft Windows, Œ and œ can be entered using the Alt codes 0140 and 0156, i.e. by holding down the Alt key while typing the number 0140 and 0156 respectively on the numeric keypad. In Microsoft Word, œ can additionally be entered using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+⇧ Shift+& then O in quick succession. Moreover, Microsoft Word and some other word processors can also automatically correct French words like soeur to sœur, but in most other applications (e.g. an instant messenger, or a browser) the word will not be corrected.
Using Apple's OS X, starting from Lion, Œ and œ can be accessed by holding down O (⇧ Shift+O) or o (O) and clicking on Œ and œ respectively in the small menu that appears. Alternatively the Character Viewer can be used to enter special characters. Furthermore, using either the U.S., British, or Swiss keyboard layout, Œ and œ are accessed by pressing ⌥ Opt+⇧ Shift+Q and ⌥ Opt+Q respectively. The corresponding key combinations on the French keyboard are ⌥ Opt+⇧ Shift+O and ⌥ Opt+O, or ⌥ Opt+⇧ Shift+Ö and ⌥ Opt+Ö on the German keyboard.
With a Compose key the key combination for œ is Compose O E and Compose ⇧ Shift+O ⇧ Shift+E for Œ.
In Vim (text editor), use Ctrl+K ⇧ Shift+O ⇧ Shift+E in succession (or Ctrl+K O E for lower-case).
- John R. Clark Hall, 1962, A concise Anglo-Saxon dictionary, Cambridge University Press, p. 108, s.v. ēðel 'name of the rune for œ'.
- Duden online
- Duden online
- Apple Inc.: OS X Lion: Enter characters with accent marks. Jul 12, 2012 (retrieved on Dec 31, 2012)
- Apple Inc.: OS X Lion: Enter special characters and symbols. Jul 12, 2012 (retrieved on Dec 31, 2012)
|Look up Category:English terms spelled with Œ in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Paleography: Special Characters in English Manuscripts, course notes