One of the things that I appreciate as a French learner is that words in French are so easy to pronounce. Unlike in English, where letters can be pronounced many different ways, and you have no way of knowing other than by being familiar with the word (for example, all these words are pronounced differently: cough, tough, bough, though, through), French instead seems to only have one pronunciation for each letter or vowel-letter-pair.

However, the pronunciation of "dessin" surprises me. It sounds like "déssin" instead of the first vowel sounding like "de", as I would have expected.

  1. Is there a pronunciation rule for "dessin" that applies to other words, or is it only for the word "dessin"?
  2. Historically, why is this one of the exceptions, where "de" isn't always pronounced the same?
  • 3
    French is far more regular than English in this department, but it's not perfectly regular; compare fils "son" and fils "threads", with different pronunciations. Unfortunately, I don't know the answer for dessin.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 5:58
  • @LukeSawczak: as an FSL, seeing such counterexamples does help my brain twist itself to become more flexible / adapted to this new language. thanks for the "fils" example.
    – silph
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 9:57
  • 1
    Courteline, starting at the bottom of p.84, a poet that made himself a humorist for a moment, and Allais, a humorist who occasionally played with rhymes, both had a go at having the irregularities of French sticking out in hilarious un-rhyming verses. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 13:23
  • I'm going to upvote this question cause it had me realize I may have prounounced it wrong my whole life...
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 21:09

4 Answers 4


The rule is that "e" is pronounced "é" or "è" when in the middle of a syllable, and "e" (like in "de") when at the end of a syllable. Syllables always split double letters, so we have "des-sin", and the first "des" is pronounced just like the word "des".

  • so there is no way to know if, when pronounced like "é" or "è"', which of these two it more likely will be (for most french-speaking people)?
    – silph
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 9:59
  • I can say that usually when this is the last pronounced syllable, it is "è" ("presse") and when there's another pronounced syllable after it seems to be "é" ("pression") but that might differ among accents or words. Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 10:48
  • I think "è" can always be used. For example it's given as a possible pronounciation in "pression" here fr.m.wiktionary.org/wiki/pression Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 10:51
  1. Yes silph, there is a rule: when the "e" is followed by a pair of consonants, you say "é" like in "dessin, pression" or "è" like in "belle, bretelle, parisienne, guerre"...

  2. Well, because it's french :P and there are lot of exceptions about etymology and word evolution through ages.

  • 6
    I pronounce the e in pression like an è, not an é.
    – KPM
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 8:25
  • What about the words des, mes, tes, ses, les... These words aren't followed by a pair of consonants and are pronounced "é".
    – georges619
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 8:46
  • 3
    @georges619 <es> in monosyllabic words is always é or è, that's another predictable rule. What isn't is predicting whether the e will be open (è) or closed (é), because that will differ by dialect. I have è in all the words cited in the answer, as well as des, mes, etc. Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 11:11
  • 4
    That said, the sequence <ess> is ambiguous because sometimes the <ss> will be used to indicate /s/ instead of /z/, but the preceding e is still mute, for example ressac (/ʀəsak/, not /ʀɛsak/). Compare with reserrer (/ʀəsɛʀe/, not /ʀəzɛʀe/) Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 11:18
  • Indeed; this is not just a phonological question but a morphophonological one.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 14:00

There is a rule for accenting.

When trying to accent an "e", you'll write "è" whenever the vowel in the following syllable is a single "e" that's either deaf or is pronounced "e", and you'll write "é" otherwise (ignoring the circumflex case).

That's for consistency reasons with this rule that the 1990 reform corrected "événement" into "évènement", changed the accenting in the future tense ("céder + ai" now is written "cèderai" instead of "céderai"), and in those unused "dussé-je" now written "dussè-je".

The two-identical consonants in "dessin" are preventing the accenting of the "e", but the pronunciation is consistent with the accenting rule.


Accent sur E : É ou È ?

E dernière lettre d’un mot : É

« Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité ».

E à la fin d’un mot et suivi d’un s au singulier : È

décès, après.

— si la syllabe suivante contient un e muet : on prononce le EÈ, sinon il si prononce É, et on supprime l’accent si le E est suivi de deux consonnes

È : La guerre est mère de douleurs.

É : Des dessins dépouillés.

Ê et Ë sont des E accentués qui observent d’autres règles.

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