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I've mistakenly used /ə/ rather than /e/ in essayer, professeur, essentiel. Is "ess" always /es/?

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Either /e/ or /ɛ/ but very rarely /ə/ indeed. This is true for every E located before any double consonant. Despite the accented pronunciation, there is never an actual acute, grave or circumflex accent on these E's, no exception.

On the other hand, there are a few words of this kind where the E is pronounced /ə/ like cresson in some regions.

A larger group of exceptions is composed of words having the prefixes de- or re- and where the double consonant is only there to keep the pronunciation of the unprefixed root:

  • dessus (a hypothetical desus would tend to be pronounced /dəzy/)
  • dessous
  • ressac
  • ressembler
  • ressentir
  • ressortir ...

Other exceptions:

  • Montpellier (except locally where it is pronounced /mɔ̃pelje/)
  • prunellier
  • travelling
  • ardennais (locally)
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    There are a few local exceptions, like 'cresson' for instance (a type of salad) which is pronounced with an /ə/ in some regions but this rule is valid most of the time. – vc 74 Mar 22 at 17:36
  • 1
    @vc74 C'est vrai, et il y en a deux ou trois autres, merci ! – jlliagre Mar 22 at 18:18

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