Are there any rules to help one know when to pronounce the letter "e" open and when to pronounce it closed? For instance, could I have known, when seeing the word agression for the first time, that it was to be pronounced /agʀesjɔ̃/, and not /agʀɛsjɔ̃/?

Furthermore, Le Petit Robert transcribes the pronunciation of the word terrorisme with a closed "e" – /teʀɔʀism/; the Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary does so with an open "e" – /tɛʀɔʀism/. What could be the reason for this dissonance?

  • I pronounce it /e/ (like everyone?) but now that you ask, I'd say it should be /ɛ/ since I've learned the letter e is pronounced /ɛ/ before double consonant. And the CNRTL says the same: cnrtl.fr/definition/terroriste
    – Destal
    Nov 18, 2019 at 18:20
  • Thank you for your answer! I edited the question, adding the example of agression, without having seen your comment. Coincidentally, it is a word with an "e" before a double consonant and it's pronounced /e/. Would it be just an exception to the rule you mentioned?
    – nib
    Nov 18, 2019 at 18:30
  • I don't know if it's an exception or if I'm just totally wrong about such a rule. I'll check.
    – Destal
    Nov 18, 2019 at 18:52
  • I checked a bit and I'm not sure there is such a rule, as jlliagre said I think it's more a regional thing. But not for all words, for most of them it would just sound wrong to not use the right pronunciation.
    – Destal
    Nov 18, 2019 at 21:54
  • 1
    Voir aussi cette question. Nov 19, 2019 at 10:11

2 Answers 2


Whether you pronounce /e/ or /ɛ/ in agression, terrorisme and many other words doesn't make that much a difference. There are regional or just personal variations so native speakers might use one or the other.

For example, here is a map showing if raisonner is more pronounced /re.../ (dark blue) or /rɛ.../ (light blue) depending on the département of origin:

enter image description here

In any case, even if you use a vowel that is seldom used for a given word, for example /uver/ instead of the mainstream /uvɛr/ for ouvert (open), everyone will understand you.

Source: https://cartopho.limsi.fr/

  • Plutôt "férmè" ou "ouvért" ? ;)
    – Destal
    Nov 18, 2019 at 21:52
  • @Destal faut-il qu'une porte soit ?
    – jlliagre
    Nov 18, 2019 at 23:51
  • 2
    This Cartopho website is such an interesting ressource! Thanks, @jlliagre
    – nib
    Nov 19, 2019 at 19:00

I think I can say that your "Robert" has a mistake, because I own the "Grand Robert", edition of 1985, and in my Robert, "terrorisme" is given with [ɛ]. And in fact, before a double consonant, the letter "e" has to be pronounced that way ("terre", for example). The fact of pronouncing it [e] is a often a childish mistake and not an academic possibility.

  • 2
    As @jlliagre showed, there is lot of regional variation between [ɛ] and [e]. Calling one of them "childish mistake" does not seem warranted. Nov 20, 2019 at 16:00
  • vous êtes un censeur bien sévère et un peu présomptueux d'oser sanctionner un travail documenté: J'ai pris la peine d'aller chercher mon Robert et de l'ouvrir, je ne crois pas que cela mérite une sanction. D'autre part, les variantes régionales n'empêchent pas l'unicité de la valeur académique, et il est régulièrement observé qu'il est typique de l'enfance de placer des "é" à la place des "è".
    – BBBreiz
    Nov 20, 2019 at 16:34
  • 1985, that is 35 years ago, that is old for a dictionary... Maybe the editors noticed that there is a "vocalic shift" that has affected the pronuncation of this word since then ?
    – Greg
    Oct 12, 2020 at 5:42

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