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In French, I learned that you must concatenate mulitple words if both the end of the first word and the start of the second word are vowel. For example:

J'aime les lègumes. # not Je aime

But what happens if there are more than two words that the rule is applicable to. For example:

Le homme appelle sa femme.

Well, actually in this case, I found out the following sentence is correct.

L'homme appelle sa femme.

But what is the rule of concatenating the words? It is simply only the first occurence of a pair of such words, or is there any hidden rule on the precedence of the concatenation?

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This phenomenon is better known as "elision".

In formal French, only a small set of words is subject to this rule. All are function words and most of them end in the unreduced vowel schwa /ə/ (the one exception is la).1

le la ; de ; je ; me te se ; ne ; que (and composite forms of que )

The edge cases are the fixed elisions c'est, s'il, s'ils, not relevant to the following discussion.

This enumeration leads to the observation that in your second example, there's only one possible site of elision: l'homme.

If you're expecting homm'appelle, let me clarify. Many of the e muets that you see at the end of words like homme are never pronounced in some dialects, including Parisian, whereas they are always pronounced in other dialects — except that before another vowel they are indeed elided.

So you would get /lɔmapɛl/. But these cases aren't written with an apostrophe (outside of old song lyrics, e.g. « encor' à » here). Grammar books may not treat this rule under the same heading.


But what happens if we do have two of these eliding words in a row?

Consider that the rule for eliding is that the reduced vowel must precede an unreduced vowel.2

Je aime çaJ'aime ça

But you'll notice that none of these eliding words begins with a vowel itself. That means that there will never be chaining between them such that the rule applies twice.

That is, if you have two in a row, only the second will be elided:

Tu parles de le éléphant → Tu parles de l'éléphant

Je me appelle Coco → Je m'appelle Coco

However, in spoken French, this is often spoken fast enough that you do elide both reduced vowels: d'l'éléphant, j'm'appelle. Reduced vowels tend to be dropped at high speeds in all languages!

Just keep in mind that writing it with two apostrophes is an informal stylistic choice.


1 In informal French, there are fewer restrictions on elision. For example, tu ast'as even though /y/ is not a reduced vowel. To my knowledge, this still only happens with function words.

2 As aCOSwt noted, if the subject and verb and inverted, as in Suis-je arrivé ?, you won't write the apostrophe. The unreduced vowel will still drop in pronunciation.

  • Thanks and yes that is what I meant (I know there is the jargon but couldn’t remember it). So is it also possible to have three such words consecutively? I can’t come up with anything but maybe there are? – Blaszard Dec 14 '18 at 14:47
  • @Blaszard Il ne parle que de le éléphantIl ne parle que de l' éléphant. I'm trying this out orally and I can only imagine de le eliding to d'l' in fast speech as noted above — I think qu'd'l' is a bit too far a stretch :) Similarly, if we have absurd chainig, such as Il s'attend à ce que je ne me le accorde pas, I would personally say que j'n m'l'accorde pas at the extreme. – Luke Sawczak Dec 14 '18 at 14:50
  • Could you please note that this élision never occur in case of inversion subject/verb. (suis-je arrivé ?) – aCOSwt Dec 14 '18 at 14:54
  • @aCOSwt Good idea; I'll add a quick note to that effect. – Luke Sawczak Dec 14 '18 at 14:55
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If I understand well, you have an issue with the "élision": replacing "e" by "'"(apostrophe) in front of a voyel (or a non prononced "h").

This "élision" of is only used with "ce, je, ne, me, te, se, le, la, de and que (and composed prepostions with que)" (or with "si" in front of "il" and "ils"). You can have asmany élisions as you need in the same sentence. Example:

J'ai fixé l'ampoule qu'il m'a donnée.

  • que... et composés (jusque, quelque, lorsque...) ;-) – aCOSwt Dec 14 '18 at 14:46
  • Thanks for the answer and yes that is what I meant. Forgive me for accepting the other answer as that is more detailed but I appreciate your answer. – Blaszard Dec 14 '18 at 14:49
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    As you say, the other answer is more detailed, so no need to apologize. – radouxju Dec 16 '18 at 10:50

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