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6 things to know about France’s ‘illogical’ AZERTY keyboard

Few can forget their first encounter with a French AZERTY keyboard, which can be pretty mind-blowing for people used to typing on the QWERTY keyboard.

6 things to know about France's 'illogical' AZERTY keyboard

The keyboard, which is only used in France and Belgium, is named after the order of the first six keys (as is the more common QWERTY keyboard).

Some of its differences to the QWERTY keyboard are completely logical, such as prioritising the é, ç and è keys which are used all the time when writing in French.

But some of the differences seem completely illogical and designed to designed to make typists tear their hair out especially if – like many new arrivals to France – you have to change your typing style having grown up using the QWERTY keyboard.

The placement of the letters

The differences are few when it comes to the actual letters of the alphabet: The A and Q are switched, as are the Z and W, and the M is transferred to the end of the middle row, rather than at the end of the bottom.

But that’s still enough to make for some frustrating weeks when you transfer from a Qwerty to an Azerty – or if you’re trying to use a French’s friend computer to send a quick email. 

If you’re not careful, “a quick pizza” can turn into “q auick piwwq”, for example. 

The French AZERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons
The QWERTY keyboard. Photo: WikiCommons

The reason the letters are in a different order remains unknown, as is much of the reasoning behind the buttons on French keyboard, which took off in the early 20th century according to French historian Delphine Gardey.

French speakers in other countries like Canada actually prefer the QWERTY keyboard. 

It is worth noting, however, that the letter Z is much more common in French than it is in English, and the Q occurs slightly more frequently too.

Numbers are not prioritised

Writing the numbers on a French keyboard requires using the shift key each time.

The top line of the AZERTY keyboard features the special characters needed to do accents such as é è ç and à, as well as common punctuation such as as brackets and dashes.

It also features numbers, but the numbers are all on the shift key.

The French language has a much, much higher usage of accented letters compared to English. In fact, most English writers don’t even bother adding things like an accented e to words like café or fiancée anymore. 

In French, however, the é is more frequently used that a whopping ten letters in the alphabet. It makes sense to give it a key to itself, especially compared to y, w, z, and x. 

However this does mean that every time you need to type a number you are using the shift key – and certain UK or US based websites won’t allow you to enter characters in say – the box for your credit card details – if you are holding down the shift key, making shopping and admin on non-French websites particularly annoying.

@ and €

Two of the biggest gripes with the Azerty keyboard are the lack of a  dedicated @ key and the lack of a € key.

The @ symbol might have started out as a relatively obscure symbol, but in the days of email and Twitter it’s needed all the time, while one could argue that France’s official currency would be a pretty useful symbol to have.

Both the @ and the € require an ‘alt gr’ to find, but on newer keyboards they are at least clearly marked on the keyboard so they’re easy to find – @ is found at Alt gr + 0 and € is found at Alt gr + e.

On the other hand ù – a letter used by the French just 0.058 percent of the time – gets its own key, just to the right of the ‘m’, while the dollar symbol also has its own key, presumably a hangover from the Qwerty keyboard as used in the US. 

Underscores and dashes

The underscore symbol (this one _ ) is another one that has seen its popularity vastly increase with the widespread use of websites, email, Twitter and Instagram where it’s a frequent feature of user names and domain names.

And in good news, it does have its own key – it’s right underneath the number 8.

In fact in French the dash and the underscore (- and _) are  sometimes called “tiret du 6” and a “tiret du 8” respectively, meaning a “six dash” and an “eight dash” because that’s where you can find them on a keyboard, although their formal names are just tiret and tiret bas.

Pressing shift to end a sentence 

But surely the mostly baffling and irritating thing about the Azerty keyboard is having to use the shift key to end every sentence.

The much lesser-used semi-colon gets its own key, while if you want to end a sentence with a full stop or period – by far the most common way to finish – you need to employ the shift key. Likewise if you need the period point for an ellipse (…), a decimal point (although the French use a comma in place of a point) or any and all website addresses and email addresses. 

Likewise the French are apparently fonder of jokes than they are of questions, since the exclamation point keys its own key while the question mark requires a shift. 

The § symbol gets equal prominence with the . since both are accessible through a shift key.

We had to Google § to see what it even is, it’s apparently a section sign used for numbering legal documents, so we can only assume that a lawyer (who also hated full stops) designed the Azerty keyboard.  

French vocab

Obviously punctuation points have their own names in France, here are some of the most common

Full stop/period . point. Most commonly heard for French websites or email addresses which end in .fr (pronounced pwan eff eyre)

Comma , virgule. In France a decimal point is indicated with a comma so two and a half would be 2,5 (deux virgule cinq)

Exclamation mark ! point d’exclamation – when you are writing in French you always leave a space between the final letter of the word and the exclamation mark – comme ça !

Question mark ? point d’interrogation – likewise, leave a space between the final character and a question mark 

At symbol @ Arobase – so for example the email address [email protected] would be jean point dupont arobas hotmail point fr. 

Ampersand/and symbol & esperluette


Underscore _ tiret bas 

Forward slash / barre oblique

Brackets/parentheses ( ) parenthèse

Quotation marks « » guillemets 

Member comments

  1. I learned to type on an Azerty keyboard. The shock for me was encountering a Qwerty keyboard for the first time. Pretty easy to adapt to either.

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New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

A new accessibility scheme recently announced by the French government gives grants for home improvements such as installing a stair lift or widening a doorframe to allow wheelchair access - here is how you could benefit.

New French State aid to help older people make home improvements

According to a recent survey in France, the vast majority of retired people expressed a desire to stay in their homes long-term, rather than entering a care facility.

While there are several schemes by the French government to provide assistance for renovating homes in order to make them more accessible for elderly people, the newly announced “MaPrimeAdapt” seeks to streamline the process.

When was it announced?

MaPrimeAdapt was part of President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election campaign, with plans for it first announced by the president last November.

Most recently, the government aid was earmarked to receive funding in the upcoming 2023 budget, which also hopes to increase the number of nursing home employees, as well as boost public funding for care centres.

The budget is set to allocate €35 million to the National Housing Agency (ANAH) in 2023. In response, the ministry of housing said to Capital France that one of their top priorities is “a single aid for the adaptation of housing to ageing” that would replace several existing government subsidies.

What is the goal of Ma Prime Adapt?

Similar to Ma Prime Renov, this programme hopes to provide additional funding for home refurbishment.

But while Ma Prime Renov focuses on environmentally friendly home adaptations, Ma Prime Adapt aims to make it simpler for older people or those with disabilities to refurbish their homes in order to maintain their autonomy and avoid falls.  

The French government also aims to reduce the number of fatal or disabling falls of people aged 65 by at least 20 percent by 2024, and by 2032, the goal is for at least 680,000 homes to be adapted, particularly those of low-income older people.

Who can benefit?

According to reporting by Le Monde, this aid is not solely reserved for people who already have decreased mobility. 

Instead, it is intended for older people generally. When applying, the applicant must be able to demonstrate that they are an independent retiree and need (this could be based on income, age, health, etc) to adapt their housing in order to make it more accessible.

The amount of assistance offered will be means-tested based on financial status.

What types of work would qualify?

Some examples of work that might qualify for assistance might be:

  • adapting the bathroom (for example, adding grab bars or enlarging the door)
  • replacing the bathtub with a shower
  • installing a bathtub with a door
  • installing a stair lift
  • adding access ramps to the home

The benefit is not limited to those options – any project that aims to increase home accessibility for a senior could qualify, as long as it is not simply aesthetic-focused.

Can it be combined with Ma Prime Renov?

They have different criteria, but Ma Prime Renov and Ma Prime Adapt can be combined in order to provide maximum support to elderly people wishing to adapt and stay in their homes.

How can I apply?

In order to apply, you will be required to meet the conditions stated above, in addition to being able to demonstrate that the housing in question is at least 15 years old and that the amount of work being done would cost at least €1,500.

Keep in mind that the renovation will need to be carried out by a recognised building company or contractor – specifically one with the label “RGE.”

You will be able  toapply for the Ma Prime Adapt aid via France’s National Housing Agency (ANAH). A dedicated website will be created to facilitate the process, with a launch date TBC. 

On the site, you will submit an application form that includes the estimates of the work planned. According to Le Monde, €5,600 will be the maximum amount of aid to be offered, and the cost of work will be capped at €8,000. However, this information has not yet been published by the National Housing Agency. 

What have the other available schemes been?

Currently, retirees in France can apply for the “Habiter facile” scheme from the ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat), which also helps to finance work that promotes the ability of elderly people to remain in their homes.

“Bien vieillir chez soi” is a similar aid scheme which is offered by the CNAV (social security).

The elderly and disabled can also benefit from tax credits on accessibility or home adaptation work. 

These will likely be replaced by Ma Prime Adapt, which will combine all benefits into one package.