Je suis au courant du fait qu'on peux prononcer ai comme soit é soit è.

Mais je viens de remarquer que mon dictionnaire dit qu'on peut également prononcer un ai comme é dans d'autres cas, par example dans les mots épaissir (épésir) et laisser (lésé).

Quand je fais des cherches sur Google il me semble que qu'il n'existe que des discussions sur les terminaisons. Alors, quelles sont les règles de grammaires dans ce cas?


I know that you can pronounce verb endings of -ai as either é or è.

But I've noticed that my Swedish-French Dictionary (who is on team é) suggests that you should also pronounce ai as é in some other situations, such as in the words épaissir (épésir) and laisser (lésé).

I seem to only find discussions on the former case, so what are the rules in my case?

Look forward to hear your thoughts (altough I guess it's dialectal in this case too)!


3 Answers 3


I am not an expert or a native speaker, but here is my understanding.

The phonemic contrast in French between /e/ (as in ) and /ɛ/ (as in lait, muet, muette) is fairly variable and unclear in non-final syllables.

In fact, even « é » in a non-final syllable is not always pronounced as /e/; some speakers pronounce « é » as /ɛ/ in some contexts. (In reformed spelling, some but not all words have spelling variants with « è » to reflect this, like évènement in place of the traditional spelling événement).

Two factors that can influence the pronunciation of « ai », « é » and « ê » in non-final syllables are syllable structure and vowel harmony.

In épaissir and laisser, the vowel in the syllable following « ai » is close or mid-close. This influences some speakers to pronounce the « ai » as mid-close [e] rather than as mid-open [ɛ]. Similarly, « ê » can be pronounced [e] in certain words, like bêtise, even though « ê » in the final syllable of a word usually corresponds only to [ɛ].

Likewise, there are speakers who pronounce aimer as [eme], but aimable as [ɛmabl], because in aimer the vowel in the following syllable is mid-close [e] but in aimable the vowel in the following syllable is open [a]. But as far as I know, all speakers pronounce aime as [ɛm(ə)]; likewise, all speakers would I think use [ɛ] in the last syllable of épaisse. (With épais, the situation gets a bit more complicated: /ɛ/ in the last syllable is definitely standard, but because the vowel comes at the end of the word in an "open" syllable (with no consonant sound following it), speakers in a few regions may tend to pronounce the vowel in a way that sounds more like [e].)

The user Eau qui dort left a comment beneath another one of my posts that talks about this: Pronunciation of the « é » in « médecin »

I don't think the use of [e] vs. [ɛ] in contexts like épaissir and laisser is a big deal. There are regional variations, but as far as I know it is not a major marker of a regional accent.

  • Ah, I see, this makes sense! I sometimes struggle with keeping the two different e sounds seperated when one follows the other quickly. In the example words it comes much more natural to me to say 'épéssir', so I guess I'll stick with that.Hopefully some native speakers will chip in on the discussion.
    – Mumfi
    Jan 27, 2018 at 21:34
  • Well, I never ever heard that ai and é can be pronounced the same way. Of course, when speaking things do happen. That said, what is pronouncing the verb ai as è?? There is only /e/ (as in né) and /ɛ/, Il est allé, /e/ versus Il allait are not the same.....
    – Lambie
    Jan 28, 2018 at 17:04
  • 1
    @Lambie: well, I was only talking about non-final syllables, so “ai”, “allait” and “allé” are not included
    – sumelic
    Jan 28, 2018 at 17:08
  • @Mumfi My comment was directed more to the OP. Anyway, there is no such thing as a final è, wouldn't you agree?? The verb ending can only be: é /e/ or /ɛ/. But I would argue that épaissir is never: épéssir......It's hard sometimes to hear it. It took me a long time, in my teens.
    – Lambie
    Jan 28, 2018 at 17:13
  • @Lambie: I think the OP is just using "è" to mean /ɛ/. I'm surre many people use /ɛ/ in the second syllable of "épaissir", and I would guess some people might use some kind of intermediate value. But, it seems plausible to me based on what I've read that at least some people might just use /e/.
    – sumelic
    Jan 28, 2018 at 17:25

As a french speaker, my knee-jerk reaction would have been to say /ɛ/ in all cases. That is how I hear the words in my head while reading them, and how I learned their pronunciation in my youth.

However, I tried pronouncing them out loud, and it seems that I would say "épéssir" and "lésser" when in the context of a full sentence. On their own, I'd pronounce them "lèsser" and "épèssir".

In any case, what I learned when I was younger is that -ai was always pronounced /ɛ/.

  • There doesn't seem to be any real consensus, so I guess it's up to the speaker to choose. I find it quite unnatural to throw in an "épèssir" in a sentence, so i'll probably stick to what my dictionary told me and which sparked the question, i.e. "épéssir"
    – Mumfi
    Feb 1, 2018 at 16:05

Interesting question, epaissir et laisser, it all depends and both are correct i would say épéssir and lésser and also épèssie et lèsser or émmer or émmer.

when you speak you tend not to focus to much on certain sounds, it could be a sound between é and é, it is quite subtle

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