The FSI French phonology course pronounces it in four syllables with retard's 'e' swallowed up. Like:

ʒə sɥi zɑ̃ʁ taʁ

More contemporary samples I've heard pronounce it in five like:

ʒə sɥi zɑ̃ ʁətaʁ

That's a pretty significant difference! What should a novice French learner like myself make of it?

  • 1
    The most common real life pronunciation uses two syllables: /ʃɥiɑ̃ʁtaʁ/ (ch'uian r'tar)
    – jlliagre
    May 23, 2017 at 5:33
  • @jlliagre Good point. What's the likelihood of /ʒə sɥi/ being directly followed by /ɑ̃ʁtaʁ/ ? ;)
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 23, 2017 at 16:16
  • @LukeSawczak That would probably be the second most common case, followed by the formal ones with a liaison.
    – jlliagre
    May 23, 2017 at 16:47
  • @jlliagre Interesting. If en retard behaves like that without the rest of the sentence showing rapid speech, maybe the effect does have to do with acting like a single phonological unit instead of two words.
    – Luke Sawczak
    May 23, 2017 at 17:15
  • 1
    Let me also point out that you're examining half the problem.. "r'tard' usually is paired with 'chuis' rather than 'je suis'..
    – user13512
    May 25, 2017 at 16:55

1 Answer 1


The difference is the question of the unstressed syllable in the middle of en retard dropping out. This can indeed be done in rapid speech.

For a word like appeler, you can expect even a dictionary to mention the fact that the middle syllable can drop out. In fact, it's normal. But for retard, if viewed in isolation, you couldn't do so, because [ʁt] is not a valid onset.

However, in very fluid speech, sequences like this often break phonological barriers like word edges. That is, the [ʁ] is happy to become the coda of a previous open syllable even if it's in another word, and then the unstressed syllable will indeed drop out. It helps that en retard is such a common collocation that an unconscious parsing as one lexical item is plausible, but even in a phrase like se retrouve par terre the first three syllables could be realized as two: se r'trouve par terre [səʁ tʁuv ...].

For en retard, you can expect to hear the two-syllable pronunciation in quick, familiar speech but all three syllables everywhere else. Here's an example with three and here's an example with two.

As a learner, you can never go wrong with three syllables here. (Whereas for single words like appeler, pronouncing all three might seem like you're spelling it out for someone hard of hearing. That's my impression as a non-native speaker, anyhow, so I invite correction if needed!)

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