8

I have been told in the past that you never pronounce the 'r' at the end of a word in French (where 'r' is the last letter and preceded by an 'e').

This holds true for words such as:

manger, danger, déjeuner

However, there are words with the exact same construction where you do indeed pronounce the 'r' at the end of the word (albeit a soft pronunciation), such as:

hier, enfer, hiver

Is there a rule or an etymological basis for this? Or is this just an inconsistency?

  • historical /r/ is lost at the end of infinitives in -er. in general it is not lost otherwise, although it is always lost in /ier/. i don't know the linguistic reason for this. – hunter Oct 30 '16 at 9:20
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    the hypothesis given by the following publication is essentially that /r/ was among the last consonants to drop and so became the first to be systematically restored due to analogy web.stanford.edu/group/cslipublications/cslipublications/HPSG/… – hunter Oct 30 '16 at 9:20
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    @hunter : dans le cas des verbes du 1ᵉʳ groupe, Ils se prononçaient tous. Les gens ont simplement arrêté de le faire. De la même manière que le son[ɲ]est en train de disparaître de la langue française au profit de[nj]et n’existera plus dans 40 à 50 ans. L’orthographe étant officialisé, elle n’a pas changé. – user2284570 Oct 30 '16 at 13:38
  • @Zevdan123 : quoique, il y a encore 200 ans, on prononçais encore lesrpour les verbes à l’infinitif du 1ᵉʳ groupe. Ils étaient même roulés, comme en espagnol ! – user2284570 Oct 30 '16 at 13:39
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To get a better sense, you would have to look not at the form but at the derivation from Low Latin.

The words in the first series would have looked like (these are approximations using Italian and Latin, expert linguists will correct me):

Manduc-are, damnegg-iare, de-jun-are

All these words had originally "-are" as endings, which evolved into -er (muting the last vowel in the process, like in Spanish and most Italian dialects; but in Parisian French, it eventually lost even the "r" consonant). Losing the pronunciation of the "r" saved effort, while it did not really remove any significant piece of information, as long as you keep the stress on the last syllabe.

"Hier" comes from Latin heri, enfer from Low Latin infernum, "hiver" from hibernum. These are completely different derivation processes. These are also short words: the pronounciation of the r had to stay, otherwise this would have erased a distinctive feature of the word (something a speaker does not want to do, if they want to be clearly understood).

Side note: When the French Revolution was ending, a movement of young people decided that the "r" sound was ugly and decided to do away with it altogether. They were called "Les Incroyables et les Merveilleuses" (pronounce "Les Inc'oyables et les Me'veilleuses"). But it did not catch on.

4

Sur ce site, paragraphe 3, on peut lire :

  1. Prononciation de -er

Principe général : en position finale (à la fin des mots), le groupe -er est normalement un digramme (voir p. 39 §2 et suivants), qui transcrit [e] :

le passager, le portier, un cavalier, en dernier, régulier, les premiers Garnier, Cartier, Rocher, Béziers, Angers etc.

Erreur à éviter : il ne faut pas prononcer *[eʁ] ou *[ɛʁ]. C’est une faute de prononciation grossière (karkea) et malheureusement très fréquente chez les finnophones. Le r ne se prononce pas !

C’est le même mécansime avec -et, qui équivaut à un digramme dans les mots tabouret, complet, goret, replet, concret etc., et où les finnophones ne prononcent jamais de [t]. Pourquoi faut-il alors prononcer le R dans les mots en -er ?

Cette règle concerne plus de 11 000 verbes du premier groupe, des centaines de noms, des centaines d’adjectifs etc. (voir exemples p.136 exercice 2 à 4), au total environ 12 000 mots dans lesquels -er final = [e]. Prononcer le r peut provoquer des erreurs de compréhension ou de grammaire : les deux premiers passagers prononcé par erreur *[ledøpʁəmjɛʁpasaʒɛʁ] signifie « les deux premières passagères » (ensimmäiset kaksi naismatkustajaa).

Exceptions :

  • Onze (11) mots français courants, où le r se prononce : fer, mer, ver, cher, fier, hier, cuiller (graphie ancienne ; graphie moderne : cuillère), amer, cancer, hiver, enfer ;
  • des noms scientifiques (assez peu nombreux) d’origine grecque ou latine : master, sphincter, ester, liber, éther, polyester, etc.
  • des mots d’origine étrangère (très nombreux…) : setter, bulldozer, reporter, hamster etc. [voir Exercice 8].
3

The r is never completely lost. When unpronounced, it remains in the sense it changes the pronunciation of the last "e".

A couple of words in your first list are verbs while all the ones in the second are nouns. This is no surprise as an ending in -er in infinitive verbs and (almost all) infinitives used as nouns (e.g. un déjeuner) is always pronounced [-e]. In that case the rule is then very simple.

Otherwise, -er might be pronounced [e], [ɛʁ] or [œʁ] and there is always an etymological/historical reason explaining why either pronunciation is used.

First, the [-e] ending also prevails for non verbs, around 75% are pronounced that way.

The remaining words in [-ɛʁ] are mostly foreign words, essentially from English.

The few ones not coming from English still ending in [-ɛʁ] are: alter, amer, cancer, cathéter, cher, cuiller, der, enfer, éther, fer, fier, hier, hiver, hyper, imper, inter, mer, pater, sphincter, ver and vétiver.

Finally, there is a large set of foreign words, also mostly from English, with and ending pronunciation usually in [-œʁ] but sometimes not fixed and varying between [-œʁ] and [-ɛʁ]. For example dealer, fürher, hamburger, scooter, sniper, supporter, tanker, trader

Note that when these foreign words are used as verbs, the standard French ending [-e] is used, e.g. : un dealer gives [dilœʁ] but "to deal" gives [dile], same for dumper, hacker, manager

  • Danger and dejeuner were meant as nouns. We could also say 'pompier' in the first example...just want to clarify that the noun/verb distinction doesn't determine pronunciation. – Zevdan123 Oct 30 '16 at 9:13
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    In fact I don't think 'danger' is a verb? – Zevdan123 Oct 30 '16 at 9:18
  • @Zevdan123 Haha! You are obviously right. I overlook danger. – jlliagre Oct 30 '16 at 10:11
  • No problem! I looked up 'endanger' thinking it may be 'danger' in French :) It is in fact 'mettre en danger'. – Zevdan123 Oct 30 '16 at 10:13
  • I might have misread changer or danser... – jlliagre Oct 30 '16 at 10:16

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