According to Wiktionary's conjugation table (below captured in portions), it would appear that appe- in the imparfait forms is one syllable (/a.p/, or strictly speaking one syllable and the consonant sound of the next syllable) except in the first and the second person plural, wherein it is two syllables (/a.pə/).

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But on the present tense first and the second person plural, the same table assigns but one syllable to appe-.

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On Forvo.com too, appe- seems to receive one or two syllables on a rather random basis. For example:

  • For j'appelais, Domigloup /a.pə.lɛ/, gwen_bzh both /a.pə.lɛ/ and /a.plɛ/.

  • For appelait, /a.pə.lɛ/.

  • For l'appelait, /a.pə.lɛ/.

  • For nous nous appelons, spl0uf /a.plɔ̃/, huntmdwn /a.plɔ̃/, gwen_bzh (probably) /a.pə.lɔ̃/, Domigloup /a.pə.lɔ̃/.

The question is then: Based on the above data, am I OK to conclude that I am free to give one or two syllables to appe- as occurring in these forms of appeler?


You're trying to analyze a fragment, which will certainly show inconsistency since the rule that affects it operates at word level.

The e in the middle of appeler is an example of what's called an "e caduc" (also known as muet, facultatif, or instable). The context determines whether it's pronounced or not. When it occurs in the middle of the word, as with appeler, its dropping out is an example of syncope.

Essentially, this vowel was once or is nominally present in the word, but depending on the stress pattern, which depends on the conjugation, it can be heavily reduced. Reduced vowels tend to drop out; the phenomenon is so natural cross-linguistically that it might have been done in Latin, too.

Dropping it is mostly systematic in French, so I would hesitate to call it a mistake. It would be odd to say « Je vais à-pelle-ai mon frère » instead of « Je vais appler mon frère » !

The stress that affects whether this e is reduced is actually not a special case but derives from the rule that the stress falls on the last syllable in French (at least when isolating grammar from usage). In the conjugations that have a syllable after the e caduc, said syllable gets the stress. Therefore, the e is reduced and liable to be dropped:

/ap(ə)l-/ : appelons, appelez, appelais, appelait, appelions,1 appeliez, appelaient

/apɛl/ : appelle, appelles, appellent

The same rule covers lever, renouveler, acheter, amener, and others.

1 In appelions and appeliez, the e can sometimes be heard, as in the conjugation table you quoted. My interpretation of that data is that the onset cluster /.plj/ is pretty unlikely. Phonologically I'm not sure whether the e caduc surfaces as a schwa, as in /pə.lj/, or the /p/ is moved to the coda and released, as in /p.lj/ — but phonetically the result would be about the same.

  • Thank you. (a) Is any degree of "reducing" acceptable for appelait? That is, I may use /a.pə.lɛ/ (fully pronouncing a schwa), /a.plɛ/ (dropping it altogether) or anything in between? (b) For appelions, am I OK to understand the same (i.e. any degree of reducing is acceptable) subject to the idea that a schwa is more likely to be heard than in appelait?--If you tell me that any degree of reducing is OK, I plan to start with a full schwa across the board until I find myself naturally reducing and dropping as appropriate.
    – Catomic
    Jul 11 '18 at 15:32
  • (c) Does the same apply to the futur simple? E.g. appellerai is anywhere between /a.pɛ.lə.ʁe/ and /a.pɛl.ʁe/? Wiktionary only gives /a.pɛl.ʁe/. But Forvo.com seems to have varying degrees of "reducing." forvo.com/word/appellerai
    – Catomic
    Jul 11 '18 at 15:40
  • @Catomic (a,b) I'm sure you'll be understood, but the closer to zero, probably the more natural you'll sound. (Maybe a native speaker can confirm.) (c) Good comparison! Notice how the e caduc has moved to the vowel before the stress, leaving the one originally under discussion totally unreduced... but yup, as for the new one, it should more or less disappear in normal speech /a.pɛl.ʁe/. Those who are giving it space are, I think, doing it to give a clear pronunciation for the website, much like the second syllable of "table" is unrealistically emphasized.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jul 11 '18 at 17:05
  • 1
    @Catomic It really depends on the speakers with who you'll interact. Not dropping a medial schwa between two single consonants like in "appeler" does sound very stilted (it's something you'd normally only do when reading aloud from a text or in very careful speech like on Forvo) to me who's from Belgium and I suspect to Canadians. But French people, even from the North, are in frequent contact with Southern speakers for who it's normal to produce such /ə/ and probably find it more normal than I do Jul 11 '18 at 21:27

Actually /a.plɛ/ as a phonemic representation is not really correct. It's a contraction that people make, typically depending on their accent (mostly north part of France I'd say, but nearly everyone makes it sometimes) or speed.

If you are speaking without contraction, appe- is pronounced /a.pə/ or /a.pɛ/, depending on the sound that comes after the 'L'. IIRC ə can be silent, which covers the contraction case.

If there are no sound after the 'L' it's /a.pɛl/ (and written with 2 'L').

  • 3
    You shouldn't state an accent is "correct" or not. There are just different standard pronunciations just like with other languages. Both /a.plɛ/ and /a.pəlɛ/ are correct French pronunciations for appelais and so is the other variants I would personally use: /a.pəle/. Which one will be heard depends on various factors including the one you states: regional accent and speed.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 11 '18 at 15:00
  • I did not mean to state the correctness of the accent itself. What I mean is that there is an original prononciation and an evolution of it. /a.pə.lɛ/ encompasses both prononciations and /a.plɛ/ does not. Making it a misleading representation, that's why I said it was "not really correct".
    – Pierre
    Jul 12 '18 at 9:27
  • 2
    Ah, I got it. You were referring to the phonetic representation, not the accent itself. Instead of assuming the reader knows that /ə/ might be silent, it might be better to use the clearer /a.p(ə)lɛ/.
    – jlliagre
    Jul 12 '18 at 10:07

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