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Does this table for French “e” pronunciation look OK to you? Please definitely point out any errors!

The same contents as of this table are also found at the end of this question on this page.

Background

I am new to French and am trying to discern any patterns in the various pronunciations of "e" and related groups of letters. I looked up each word in the dictionary for the phonetic notation and placement in the right column. Anything that seemed exceptional, I've marked with an asterisk (*). A dot (•) represents attempts at seeing what was going on (and not any accepted syllabification).

Sorry that it is not a traditional type of question. I hope there will be many helpful comments. Thank you.

PS. (26 Nov 2014) Thanks for the comments. I tried to reflect them in the table. This resulted in some entries occurring more than once. The number sign (#) marks them.


List of rules and examples

1. Silent

paradigm

  • *ils jouent

‘e’ at the last position absolute

  • rouge [ruʒ], une école [ekɔl], une chaise [ʃεz], vite [vit]
  • une patte [pat], un arbre [arbr]
  • un musée [myze]

v+c+"e"

  • ache•ter [aʃte], appe•ler [aple]
  • Alle•magne [almaɲ], bibe•ron [bibrɔ̃], un change•ment [ʃɑ̃ʒmɑ̃], un mate•las [matla], un boulange•rie [bulɑ̃ʒri]
  • #apparte•ment [apart(@)mɑ̃], #juste•ment [ʒyst(@)mɑ̃]

2. [ə] (mid-central)

[ə] paradigm

  • de [də], je [ʒə], le [lə], ne [nə]
  • *Monsieur [məsjø], *nous faisons [- fə-]

[ə] c+"e"•c

  • pre•nais [pʁə.nɛ]

  • ce•la [səla], un che•val [ʃ(ə)val], de•main [dəmε̃], ge•nou [ʒənu], me•ner [məne], pe•tit [p(ə)ti], pre•mier [prəmje], une se•maine [s(ə)mεn], Mercre•di [mεrkrədi]

  • #apparte•ment [apartəmɑ̃], #juste•ment [ʒystəmɑ̃]

3. [e] é (close-mid)

[e] paradigm

  • un été [ete], le thé [te], un défilé [defile], je suis arrivé, j'ai mangé

[e] at the last position except for a mute consonant

  • manger [mɑ̃ʒe], parler [parle]
  • mangez, parlez
  • il est
  • les [le], ses [se]
  • chez [ʃe], un nez [ne]

[e] end of verb

  • je parlai [-e], je parlerai [-e]
  • j'ai [-e]

[e] c+"e"•cc

  • une e•ssence [esɑ̃s], ble•sser [blese]

[e] c+"ei"

  • #ensei•gner [ɑ̃seɲe], #pei•ner [pene]

4. [ɛ] è ê (open-mid)

[ɛ] paradigm

  • dès [dε], près [prε]
  • une mère [mεr], bière [bjεr]
  • être [εtr], bête [bεt], même [mεm], une tête [tεt]

[ɛ] at the last position absolute

  • bai [bε], gai [gε], lai [lε], mai [mε], un rai [rε]

[ɛ] at the last position except for a mute consonant

  • un ballet [balε], un cabaret [kabarε], un duvet [dyvε], un jouet [ʒwε], *et [e]
  • laid [lε], un fait [fε], le lait [lε], sait, tait, mais [mε], un palais [palε]

[ɛ] end of verb

  • je parlais [-ɛ], je parlerais [-ɛ], ils parlaient [-ɛ]
  • j'aide [-ɛ], je t'aime [-ɛ]

[ɛ] "e"+c * le mer• [mεr], du sel• [sεl], avec• [avεk], un appel• [apεl], sept• [sεt], mer•ci [mεrsi], der•nier [dεrnje], un ex•pert [εkspεr], pres•que [prεsk], une élec•tion [elεksjɔ̃], une ouver•ture [uvεrtyr]

[ɛ] "e"+c+"e"

  • le sexe• [sεks], une veste• [vεst]

[ɛ] "e"+cc+"e"

  • belle• [bεl], telle• [tεl], un dilemme• [dilεm], une chienne• [ʃjεn], une cuvette• [kyvεt], une sagesse• [saʒεs], une vaisselle• [vɛsɛl ]

[ɛ] "e"+"ille"

  • une abeille• [abεj], une bouteille• [butεj], un conseil• [kɔ̃sεj], vieille• [vjεj]

[ɛ] "ai"+c+"e"

  • un/une aide• [εd], une chaise• [ʃεz]

[ɛ] "ei"+c+"e"

  • la neige• [nεʒ], treize• [trεz], une enseigne• [ɑ̃sεɲ], une peine• [pεn], un peigne• [pεɲ], la reine• [rεn]

[ɛ] c+"ei"

  • #ensei•gner [ɑ̃sεɲe], #pei•ner [pεne]

5. Nasal, etc.

[ɑ̃] nasal initial

  • ennuyer [ɑ̃nɥije], ensemble [ɑ̃sɑ̃bl], vendre [vɑ̃dr]
  • embrasser [ɑ̃brase], un membre [mɑ̃br], novembre [nɔvɑ̃br], le printemps [prε̃tɑ̃]

[ε̃] nasal final
* ancien [ɑ̃sjε̃], un chien [ʃjε̃], européen [ørɔpeε̃]

[a] -emment

  • récemment [resamɑ̃], apparemment [aparamɑ̃], évidemment [evidamɑ̃]
  • *une femme [fam]

[ø] eu

  • peu [pø], bleu [blø], adieu [adjø]
  • deux [dø], dangereux [dɑ̃ʒʀø]
  • un nœud [nø]
  • elle veut [vø]
  • #heureux [ørø], #un peureux [pørø]

[œ] eu

  • une peur [pœr], une odeur [ɔdœr]
  • jeune [ʒœn], une heure [œr]
  • le beurre [bœr]
  • un deuil [dœj]
  • un œuf [œf], une sœur [sœr]
  • œil [œj]
  • ils veulent [vœl]
  • #heureux [œrø], #un peureux [pœrø]

[y] eu

  • *eu [y], *eût [y]
  • 1
    apparate•ment [apartəmɑ̃] → apparte•ment [apartəmɑ̃] → appartement – cl-r Rendez confiance à FL Nov 25 '14 at 9:23
2

The conjunction et [e] is definitely an [e], you're correct.

Words in the “[ə] open vs. closed” section seem quite correct except “apparte•ment” that belongs in a category of its own, category which includes mostly adverbs like “justement”, for instance. It's the @ SAMPA symbol, and frankly you could merge them into the mute section.

Also :

[e] end of verb

  • je parlai [-e]
  • je parlerai [-e]
  • j'ai [-e]

These can belong to the “[ɛ] end of verb” paradigm as well. Both pronunciations are correct and widely used, even though as you correctly indicate, theoretically the [e] paradigm should be used. Technically though, the third person plural form “ils parlaient” use a “[ɛ] end of verb” paradigm and not a [e].

For this one : heureux [ɶrø], the common pronunciation is more (ə)r(ə) to be honest; or more precisely 2 r 2 if you use the SAMPA notation for French sounds again.

c+"ei"

  • ensei•gner [ɑ̃seɲe]
  • pei•ner [pene]

are more a [ɛ] paradigm, though that will very much depend on the person you're talking to.

Also:

  • *une femme [fam]

is correct. And

  • *Monsieur [məsjø]
  • *nous faisons [- fə-]

are theoretically at the right place.

In a nutshell you will find very high local differences in France and French-speaking countries, and they will greatly vary from word to word. You may have different responses from different French people ;) and that's normal.

If you're looking for something very descriptive and clear, you might want to use the CNRTL Morphalou tool available online : http://www.cnrtl.fr/morphologie/ along with a full SAMPA terminology cheat sheet.

Please note as well that some pronunciations have evolved from the early dictionaries you can find online or offline, and will still likely evolve. Good luck !

PS : the CNRTL site is down sometimes, just be patient ;)

  • Thank you. ‘Appartement’ and ‘justement’ are assimilated into the mute column (with @, a SAMPA symbol, inserted into what is otherwise another notation scheme). These words remain in the [ə] column as well because that’s what wordreference.com says. – Catomic Nov 26 '14 at 9:36
  • I did not duplicate ‘je parlai’ etc. in the [ɛ] column in reliance on [e] being said to be ‘theoretically’ correct. – Catomic Nov 26 '14 at 9:36

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