Name: macron
Adobe PS: macron
Unicode: 00AF, 0304, 0331
Script: Latin
Languages: Latvian, Lithuanian, Māori, Sanskrit transliteration, Yoruba


History and examples of use

The name is from Greek μακρόν makrón meaning simply "long". This hints at its typical use of indicating long vowels in languages which contrast them with short vowels.

The macron lengthens the vowels ā, ē, ī, ō, and ū in Latvian and in many Polynesian languages such as Māori (New Zealand) and Hawaiian (Hawaiʻi, USA). It occurs in Lithuanian with ū. The macron denotes long vowels in some transcriptions of Latin, and this use is probably where the macron was first employed. This is probably the most typical use of macron among written languages.

Since long vowels in many languages are often also stressed, the macron may be used to represent stressed vowels in some writing systems.

In some Arabic transliterations, the ā and the ū are used to represent the sound /æ/ as in "cat" and /u/ as in "soon" respectively.

In the Hanyu Pinyin system for writing Mandarin Chinese, the macron denotes the high and level tone, one of the five tones that occur in the language. It can be found over the five Latin orthographic vowels, <Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū>, and also over the u-umlaut vowel <Ǖ ǖ>. A similar use is found in the Yale romanization of Cantonese, where it also represents the high level tone.

In the International Phonetic Alphabet, the macron is used to represent a mid-level tone between high tone and low tone. This is distinct from its use in Chinese language transliterations. In IPA tones can be written on certain kinds of consonants as well as vowels. This is because many languages treat some voiced consonants in a way that is similar to vowels. Thus the macron may occur in IPA above letters like <m̄ n̄ ŋ̄ w̄> and the like. Related to this, languages which have tone-bearing consonants may also use the macron over such letters, as in Western Apache’s <N̄ n̄>.

The macron is also used to represent the fricatives /ɣ/ and /f/ in certain transliterations of Hebrew: <Ḡ ḡ P̄ p̄>.


In Latvian, the letter "o" can be pronounced both as /o/ and /oː/ (in foreign words) and as a diphthong /uo/. Between the wars, the vowel quantity was indicated with macron: kolōnizācija, oktōbris, but in 1946 the Soviet government introduced several changes in Latvian orthography. Among other things, they dropped the writing of long vowels (no macron) in foreign words, and since "ō" was only found in foreign words it was lost for Latvians. In the variation of written Latvian used abroad by émigrés, Ō and ō still occur.


The stroke thickness should be the same as the thickness of horizontal strokes in the typeface (such as in H), the width may be the same as the width of the caron or the circumflex. In proportional fonts a variable width of macron is preferable because of the variable width of the characters that may need macron with them; thus narrower for i, wider for æ.

The macron should in most cases be positioned over the visual center of the letter, not the absolute center. Thus since the visual center of the uppercase Ḡ is somewhat to the right of the absolute center because of the added weight of the lower branch, the macron should appear somewhat to the right above the upper arm. Contrast this with the lowercase ē where the visual center is generally the same as the absolute center. Over the letter ȳ the macron should appear centered between the two upper arms, ignoring any projection of the descender.


Macron below

In North American Native languages, macrons written below a character typically indicate “backing” of a sound, e.g. ḵ or a̱ is articulated further back in the mouth than k or a (IPA /q/ vs /k/, /ɑ/ vs /a/). Some uses simply distinguish two sounds which are similar but distinct in a language, e.g. the alveolar s (IPA /s/) vs dental s̱ (IPA /s̪/) in Carrier, an Athabaskan language also known as Dakelh.

Certain transliterations of Hebrew also include underbarred tenuis (plosive) letters to indicate the corresponding fricatives: <Ḇ ḇ Ḏ ḏ Ḵ ḵ Ṯ ṯ> in a scientific Semitic system would represent /v/, /ð/, /x/, and /θ/, respectively. The underbar is also used to indicate pharyngealization (“creakiness” or “darkness”), especially in the transliteration of other Semitic languages like Arabic, where Ḏ and ḏ may represent /dˤ/ for example.

In IPA what appears to be a macron below is technically a minus sign as it contrasts with the combining plus sign below, e.g. in /e̟/, where the plus sign represents an advanced articulation. The minus sign then represents a retracted articulation, e.g. /e̠/ This is a different character in Unicode, U+0320, and should not be confused with the macron below.


The macron below should always appear completely below descenders rather than crossing them. Thus the macron below g̱ should be completely beneath the descender. It is always separated from the descender by a small amount which is often the same width or slightly more than the diacritic itself. Placement too close to the descender of a monocular g risks it being missed in rapid reading, since the left-pointing arm of the descender in this letter typically looks very similar to the horizontal line that is the macron below. Conversely, placement too far from the descender makes it likely to be missed in rapid reading, as well as colliding with letters on the following line.