AskDefine | Define macron

Dictionary Definition

macron n : a diacritical mark (-) placed above a vowel to indicate a long sound

User Contributed Dictionary

see Macron



Greek μακρόν, “long thing”, from μακρός, “long”.


  1. A short, straight, horizontal diacritical mark placed over a vowel. It usually is used to indicate that the pronunciation of the vowel is long.


See also

Extensive Definition

distinguish Macaron A macron, from Greek (makrón) meaning "long", is a diacritic ¯ placed over or under a vowel which was originally used to mark a long (i.e. heavy) syllable in Græco-Roman metrics, but has now been taken also to indicate that the vowel is long. The opposite is a breve ˘, used to indicate originally a short syllable and now also a short vowel. Distinctions between long and short vowels are usually phonemic. In the International Phonetic Alphabet the macron is used to indicate mid tone; the sign to indicate a long vowel is instead a modified triangular colon.

Syllable weight

In Græco-Roman metrics, and hence in the description of the metrics of other literatures, the macron was introduced, and is still widely used, to mark a long (i.e. heavy) syllable. Even the best and relatively recent classical Greek and Latin dictionaries are still only concerned with indicating the length (i.e. weight) of syllables, and that's why most still don't care to indicate the length of vowels that are in syllables which are otherwise metrically determined.

Vowel length

The following languages or transliteration systems use the macron to mark long vowels:
  • Slavicists use the macron to indicate a non-tonic long vowel, whether it be on a, e, i, o, or u, or to indicate a non-tonic syllabic liquid, such as on l, lj, m, n, nj, and r. Languages with this feature include standard and jargon varieties of Croatian, Czech, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Slovak.
  • Transcriptions of Arabic typically use macrons to indicate long vowels — ا (alif when pronounced as /aː/), و (waw, when pronounced as /uː/), and ي (ya', when pronounced as /iː/). Thus the Arabic word ثلاثة (three) is transliterated ṯalāṯah.
  • Some modern dictionaries of classical Greek and Latin, where the macron is sometimes used in conjunction with the breve, which marks short vowels. However, many such dictionaries still present ambiguities in their treatment and distinction of long vowels vs heavy syllables.
  • The Hepburn romanization system of Japanese. Examples: kōtsū () "traffic" as opposed to kotsu () "bone" or "knack" (fig.)
  • Latvian. "Ā", "ē", "ī", "ū" are considered separate letters that sort in alphabetical order immediately after "a", "e", "i", "u" respectively. For instance, baznīca comes before bārda in a Latvian dictionary.
  • Lithuanian. "Ū" is considered a separate letter but given the same position in collation as the unaccented "u". It marks a long vowel; other long vowels are indicated with an ogonek (which used to indicate nasalization, but no longer does): "ą", "ę", "į", "ų", "o" being always long in Lithuanian words except for some recent loanwords. For the long counterpart of "i", the letter "y" is used.
  • Transcriptions of Nahuatl (spoken in Mexico). Since Nahuatl (Nāhuatl) (Aztecs' language) didn't have a writing system, when Spanish conquistadors arrived, they wrote the language with their own alphabet without distinction on long vowels. Over a century later in 1645, Horacio Carochi defined macrons to mark long vowels ā, ē, ī and ō as well as short vowels with grave (`) accents. This is rare however nowadays since many people write Nahuatl in the modern way without any orthographic sign and the inclusion of letters /k/, /s/ and /w/, not present in the original alphabet. Some projects however have preferred to use the macron-based writing as can be seen on the Nahuatl Wikipedia.
  • Modern transcriptions of Old English.
  • Latin transliteration of Pali and Sanskrit.
  • Polynesian languages:
    • Hawaiian. The macron is called kahakō, and it indicates vowel length, which changes meaning and the placement of stress.
    • Māori. Early writing in Māori did not distinguish vowel length. Some — notably the late Professor Bruce Biggs — have advocated that double vowels be written to mark long vowel sounds (e.g. Maaori), but even he was more concerned that they be marked at all than with the method. However, the Māori Language Commission (Te Taura Whiri o te Reo Māori) advocate macrons be used to designate long vowels. The use of the macron is now widespread in modern Māori writing, though some people fall back on a diaeresis mark instead (e.g. "Mäori" instead of "Māori") when a macron is not available, and this confuses people who are unfamiliar with either. The Māori words for macron are pōtae "hat", or tohuto.
    • Tongan. Called the toloi, its usage is similar to that in Māori, including its substitution by a diaeresis.


The following languages or alphabets use the macron to mark tones:

Other uses

  • In French comic books which are hand-lettered all in capitals, the macron sometimes replaces the circumflex.
  • In some German handwriting styles, a macron is used to distinguish u from n.
  • In some Finnish and Swedish comic books which are hand-lettered, or in handwriting styles, a macron is used instead of ä or ö.
  • In older handwriting styles, such as the German schrift, the macron over an m or an n meant that the letter was doubled. This continued into print in English in the sixteenth century. Over a u at the end of a word, the macron indicated um as a form of scribal abbreviation.
  • In Russian handwriting, a lowercase Т looks like a lowercase m, and a macron is often used to distinguish it from Ш, which looks like a lowercase w. Some writers also underline the letter ш, to further reduce ambiguity.
  • In music, the tenuto marking bears resemblance to the macron.

Non-diacritical usage

  • In medical prescriptions and other handwritten notes, macrons mark certain abbreviations:
    • over c, meaning with, abbreviating the Latin word cum;
    • over s, meaning without, abbreviating sine;
    • over q, meaning every, abbreviating quisque (inflected forms: quoque/quaque);
    • over p, meaning after, abbreviating post; and
    • over x, meaning except, formed by analogy, and not specifically from any Latin.
  • In mathematics, and especially statistics the macron is often used to indicate a mean (e.g \bar as the average value of x_i). It may also denote the conjugate of a complex number, so that if x = a + ib, then \overline = a - ib.

Technical notes

In Unicode, "combining macron" is one of the combining diacritical marks, its code is U+0304 (in HTML, ̄ or ̄). This should be distinguished from the "macron" at U+00AF ¯, from the "modifier letter macron" at U+02C9 ˉ and from the combining overline at U+0305 ̅. There are also several precomposed characters; their HTML/Unicode numbers are as in the table to the right. In LaTeX a macron is created with the command "\=" for example: M\=aori.
If the last two rows of the table do not display properly, the row before the last is the letter Uu with diaeresis (Ü ü) and macron, used in pinyin. The final row is the letter Yy with macron, used sometimes in teaching Latin.

See also

Letters with a macron


External links

macron in Afrikaans: Makron
macron in Breton: Makron
macron in Catalan: Macró
macron in German: Makron
macron in Spanish: Macrón
macron in Esperanto: Makrono
macron in French: Macron
macron in Italian: Macron
macron in Lithuanian: Brūkšnelis (diakritinis ženklas)
nah:Huēiyac chicāuhtlahtōl
macron in Dutch: Macron
macron in Japanese: マクロン
macron in Norwegian: Makron
macron in Portuguese: Mácron
macron in Russian: Макрон
macron in Finnish: Pituusmerkki
macron in Swedish: Streck (diakritiskt tecken)
macron in Chinese: 長音符號
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