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I've learnt that acheter becomes j'achète, tu achètes, il/elle/on achète in present tense conjugation. However, the word jeter, which looks like it has exactly the same construct as acheter(in terms of vowels and consonants order), instead of being conjugated as je jète, tu jètes, il/elle/on jète, it conjugates as je jette, tu jettes, il/elle/on jette. This is very confusing. When one encounters a new verb that has similar structure like acheter and jeter how could one tell which way to conjugate?

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The phonetic value of the letter e which could represent the sounds [ә], [e] or [ɛ] has been a lasting ambiguity that has established itself over the centuries. This is an inheritance of the Latin writing system and of the French specific sound changes that occurred over the time. Various devices were used in the course of history to try to disambiguate the situation, the most important one before 1990 was probably the introduction of accents in the 16th century.

Until 1990 there were quite a lot of inconsistencies in the use of accents and how they related to pronunciation. The 1990 orthography reform was a great step towards unification, but... there is a "but".

The 1990 orthography reform recommends that [ɛ] be always spelt with è in -eter and -eler verbs (that was already the case for some verbs but not all). But after long debates two exceptions were allowed: for the verbs jeter and appeler (and their derivatives), it was said, their spelling had long been stabilised.

When one encounters a new verb that has similar structure like acheter and jeter how could one tell which way to conjugate?

Acheter is the rule, jeter is an exception1. When in doubt you can check a conjugation table online, and although the 1990 reform was not made compulsory until 2008 in school curriculum and schoolbooks for every use both spellings can be used.


1 Would the French language still be the French language it there weren't any exceptions (tongue-in-cheek statement).

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    I think it's misleading to focus on the 1990 reform, firstly because acheter and jeter were conjugated like that even before that reform, and secondly because the reform was ultimately deemed "optional" and in fact very few people follow it.
    – ruakh
    Sep 8 '21 at 3:04
  • Re: "the verbs jeter and appeler (and their derivatives) and a few others": It's just jeter and appeler and their derivatives -- no others.
    – ruakh
    Sep 8 '21 at 3:07
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    @ruakh The question, and consequently its answer, is not about the 1990 reform, it is about the why those 2 verbs conjugate differently as logic would have it. The answer is about the long standing inconsistencies about the pronunciation of the letter e in -eter and -eler verbs (they go together on that matter) and how it has not been solved, and the 1990 reform is only mentioned to say that although some spellings were rectified jeter wasn't which does mean that it was spelt the same before (§2 which you seem to have missed).
    – None
    Sep 8 '21 at 6:08
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    @ruakh Since the answer isn't on the 1990 reform there was no point mentioning it was not made to be the reference orthography for school curriculum until 2008. You in person can use the spelling you like but school children have to be taught along the lines of the 1990 orthography reform and school books have to use it as well. (B.O.n°3 du 19 juin 2008).
    – None
    Sep 8 '21 at 6:21
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    @xuxuausalaska Sorry I made a mistake (rectified now) jeter and renouveler are the only exceptions. When you look at a good conjugation list online it usually gives you the old and the new spelling orthography (since both can be used I should have mentioned it), for example. By the way I want to add you were using the word "conjugate" properly in your question.
    – None
    Sep 8 '21 at 6:47
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This is not a matter of conjugation; the conjugation is the same (e, es, e, ons, ez, ent). What is changed is, so to speak, the orthographic implementation of the sound "è": "è" and "ett"; those two spellings, because the t is doubled, have the same sound (which is that of "è"). So, the proper question, which you can ask on another post, is "Why in the conjugation of "acheter" and "jeter" is the sound "è" rendered by different spellings?".

It should be said that the sound of "e" is changed from "e" to "è" because in the next syllable the vowel is again "e", and two consecutive e's make for an awkward pronunciation, but that is not really a matter of conjugation; it is merely caused by it.

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