Word Reference dict (https://www.wordreference.com/fren/propos) and Collins dict (https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/french-english/propos) say that the pronunciation of "propos" is /pʀɔpo/ , but every audio of that word (including the one in the definition of the word in Word Reference, linked above) I hear says /propo/. Which one is the correct pronunciation?

2 Answers 2


This discrepancy can be explained. The phonemes /o/ and /ɔ/ are both mid rounded vowels and have very similar pronunciations when not in the final syllable of a word. They have nowadays evolved to be pronounced the same in lots of places (there are still regional differences). That's why whether transcribed as a close-mid /o/ or an open-mid /ɔ/ you hear the same sound in the files you've been listening to. You might also find the phonetic transcription [prOpo] using the archiphoneme /O/ which is used to transcribe both /o/ and /ɔ/ by some phoneticians.

I am pretty sure [propo] is the most common pronunciation in France nowadays, but it has not always been. Not being a specialist in the comparative historical phonetics of French I cannot tell when the change became perceptible nor in which French speaking parts of the world [prɔpo] is still prevalent.

The last syllables being stressed in French, the pronunciation of their vowels is not prone to change, so there has been no such evolution of the /o/ sound of the last syllable. But I suspect (only speculation) that this final /o/ has influenced the evolution of the preceding /ɔ/. What makes me say this is that a lot of people still pronounce /prɔpr/ (propre) although it is also a two-syllable word.

  • 2
    Canada and Belgium are almost always sure bets when it comes to retaining the contrast between unstressed mid vowel pairs. Indeed i say it as /prɔpɔ/ in Belgium. Dating the merger in France is difficult because these things can spread slowly through the population before hitting the litterate classes that wrote about this kind of stuff, but those litterati described them as distinct still in the early 20th century iirc Aug 12, 2019 at 10:59

The TLfi has the pronunciation "/pʀopo/" and that's the one I use, so there must be a non negligible proportion of the French population using it.

  • where is the pronunciation transcription in that link? Jan 23, 2020 at 11:27
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    @AlanEvangelista You'll find it at the bottom of the page: Prononc. et Orth.: [pʀ οpo].
    – LPH
    Jan 23, 2020 at 15:21

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