In this video

Poésie et vers : compter les syllabes - Français Première - Les Bons Profs

the lecturer states that you should pronounce the final, normally silent 'e' if the next word begins with a consonant when reciting French poetry. In this recitation of Baudelaire's 'À une passante', I can't tell if the speaker is pronouncing the final 'e' in 'une' and in 'femme' or if it's just my imagination. I tried slowing down the speed to 50% and you can hear it but again maybe that's how it's done in prose as well.


2 Answers 2

  1. The advice is not quite right. What you do is pronounce an e caduc /ə/ if the meter requires the syllable.

  2. I hear the reader as pronouncing the e /ə/ in « une femme » — very quickly, but more than I'd expect if he were reading it muet.

  3. In general, the reader doesn't always respect the meter. For example, in line 7, he should read /ʒɛʀmə/ but reads /ʒɛʀm/. But in line 5, he correctly reads /ʒɑ̃bə/.

  • thanks, I appreciate that, especially the part about stating how the 'e' is pronounced in IPA
    – bobsmith76
    Nov 29, 2022 at 7:51
  • Also, while I'm here, I'm guessing that before a coma the final 'e' is normally not pronounced.
    – bobsmith76
    Nov 29, 2022 at 7:53
  • 5
    @Bobsmith76 A comma doesn't affect the E caduc rule. Note also that in classical poetry (formalized by Malherbe in the 17th century), the E caduc pronunciation requirement is a rule with rare exceptions but in modern poetry, the requirement is relaxed and a writer is free to decide if it is to be dropped or not. Baudelaire is transitional between classical and modern poetry. Note also that even in prose, E caducs can be pronounced. It is a free choice from the speaker more likely to happen with careful speech and Southern France accents.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 29, 2022 at 8:55
  • I expect that dropping any of the E caducs in poetry readings would have horrified Baudelaire's contemporaries. But not that many readers keep all of them today. Nov 29, 2022 at 12:21
  • @PeterShor The YouTube reading could be worse but it is imperfect anyway. Baudelaire's alexandrines are consistent with the "Les Bons Profs" theory. What is modern in them are some irregular césures (caesurae).
    – jlliagre
    Nov 29, 2022 at 16:28

This is called "Diérèse" if I remember correctly.

Basically you pronounce the normally non-sounding "e" to have the right number of syllables. Let's say you always want 12 for each line of your poem, but for one line, you have only 11.

Pronouncing the normally non-sounding "e" is a trick to add the missing 12th syllable :) And often it sounds well.

Example (Le Cid, Corneille):

Nous partîmes cinq cents ; mais par un prompt renfort
Nous nous vîmes trois mille en arrivant au port

Without this trick you have 11 / 11 syllables, and it's not an alexandrin, as expected. With:

Nous partîm[E] ...
Nous nous vîm[E] ...

now it becomes 12 / 12.

  • 1
    As far as classical poetry is concerned, it's not a trick but a rule. The diérèse is already explained in the first video linked in the question.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 29, 2022 at 17:11
  • @jlliagre A rule, or a trick or a method (what we call nowadays a rule that seems to be set in stone was probably a trick centuries ago that eventually went so popular it became a rule?)
    – Basj
    Nov 29, 2022 at 19:49
  • 1
    That's the other way around. When poetry and regular speak diverged too much around the beginning of the 17th century, the poetry pronunciation rules were set in stone by Malherbe and Boileau. Nowadays, these rules still apply when classical verses are recited/performed but the choice is open for modern ones so now it can be considered a trick.
    – jlliagre
    Nov 29, 2022 at 21:10

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