Hello French language community. I started to learn French recently. I love the language, I love that it is pronounced as spelled, though there are a lot of silent letters, but if you know latin, you understand that they were pronounced at some point of time. But for now, I have a problem with Treize (Thirteen), the pronounciation is like Trèz why is that? the "i" is silent and the "e" is pronounced as "è" not "e". I don't have a problem with the pronounciation, but then I assumed the written format would be the same. no?

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    "it is pronounced as spelled" ? That's what you say!
    – LPH
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 10:55
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    I don't think "i" is ever silent in French. It can be found in a digraph (like "ei") or trigraph (like "ain") but it's not considered silent. Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 14:44

4 Answers 4


According to French conventions, treize is pronounced (/trɛz/) as written.

While French is less irregular than English regarding pronunciation rules, the way an unknown word is pronounced is far from being easily guessable like say Spanish, Italian, German or Finnish.

Should separate E and I sounds have been expected, diacritics would have been used leading to either trze or tréize.

In old French, the EI vowel combination and other similar ones (AU, EAU, AI, EU, ŒU, OU, UI, OI) were pronounced separately, then they became diphthongs (monosyllabic) and finally most were reduced to a single vowel like /o/, /ɔ/, /ɛ/, /œ/, /e/, /u/ but not UI and OI that evolved in the semivowel + vowel combinations /ɥi/ and /wa/.


Sometimes in French, "ei" is pronounced as "è", like in "peine" [pèn] and "reine" [rèn]. The sound "è" can also be obtained with "ai" ("naine", "chaine", ...). I don't see any specific reason why it is pronounced like that as far as I know, but note that "ei" must be seen here as a single sound, like "ou", "ai", "un", ... and is not separated into an "e" and an "i".

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    "Sometimes" is an understatement.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 20:13

Very rarely in French will you have two consecutive vowels that end up in two consecutive sounds (e.g. "réaclimater").

Most likely, when you have two consecutive vowels, what you get is a single sound (e.g. "ou" -> [u], "au" -> [o], "ei" -> [ɛ]


It’s a stretch to say that French is pronounced as spelled. It is to an extent – more than Chinese, obviously; but much less than, say, Spanish or German.

Even French etymology dictionaries I’ve looked into do not try to explain the case of “treize”. All we can say is that the word comes from latin “tredecim” (“tres” + “decem”, meaning “thirteen”), and was at a time (ca. 1160) alternatively written “treze”.

But using “ei” to transcribe /ɛ/ is regular in modern French, and it’s pretty rare that this pair of letters gets read any other way. (I can’t think of any examples. Obviously, slightly different writings, such as “éi” or “eï”, are not read /ɛ/.)

French speakers are generally very reluctant to adjust spelling to reflect pronunciation changes, which is frowned upon or mocked by most, and a lot of them even try to correct their pronunciation to match traditional spelling when then notice discrepancies, rather than the other way round. Thus, most surprising spellings can be explained by older pronunciations.

Note that while more apparently simpler ways of transcribing /trɛz/ are possible, one must take into account that a “mute e” is allowed at the end of the word when used before a consonant in poetry, and that requires the final e to be spelled out. (In ordinary speech, mute e’s will actually pop up even where they can’t be written, but still, historically, that justification holds.)

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    French speakers are generally very reluctant to adjust spelling: English is not exactly a model as far as discrepancy between written and spoken language is concerned.
    – jlliagre
    Commented Jan 23, 2023 at 14:59
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    Treize has had a fairly regular evolution, actually. Tredecim (accented on the first syllable) lose its second vowel very early, before the onset of diphthongisation (otherwise we'd say trize). This yield */'trɛdɡʲe/ which evolves into old French treize by: simplifying the cluster dɡʲ to just the second element, affricating the palatalized ɡʲ to d͡z, and reducing the unstressed vowel to ə. Finally, palatal sounds such as d͡z eject a yod into the preceding syllable, which gives us /'trɛjd͡zə/ and the modern spelling. You just need to turn d͡z into z and ɛj into ɛː to reach modern French Commented Jan 24, 2023 at 3:45

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