4

This is from Proust:

Et puis quoi? ajouta- t-elle (en croyant devoir accompagner d’un clignement d’yeux malicieux et tendre ces mots qu’elle récita par bonté,

This is from Zola:

La soupe était froide, couverte d'yeux de graisse qui se figeaient

Why is 'de' elided? And does it change the meaning if it's instead 'des yeux'

I also found this

https://www.proz.com/kudoz/french/linguistics/1849786-de-yeux-dyeux.html

but it was not very helpful.

2 Answers 2

6

The letter ‘y’ represents a flexible sound which can be perceived as a consonant or as a vowel depending on the context. Here, it is definitely the latter; hence the elision. (It's a bit like the contraction of “do you” to “d’you”, although not exactly the same thing is happening there.)

As for “des yeux” versus “d'yeux”, one has an article while the other doesn’t. However, French differs from English in that, for example, both of the following constructions are correct:

  • Une maladie des yeux
  • Une maladie d'yeux

(despite the fact that the first of the two is much more common), while in English we would always say “a disease of the eyes” (and of course, usually, “an eye disease”).

1
  • Thanks for the info, I really appreciate it.
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 30, 2023 at 10:15
8

De is always elided with yeux.

Knowing that, your question is not really about elision but about the difference in meaning between "de + noun" vs "des + noun". You'll find many questions about this on this site, it has been answered before.


As to why it's elided, I would say it's because it's treated as a vowel, so naturally there's an elision. It happens in all words starting with a vowel sound ("d'ici, d'hier, d'avoir"), except those with an aspirated h ("de haricot, de hibou").

It's not that obvious that y is treated as a vowel because technically it's a consonant here. In most other words starting with Y it does acts as a consonant ("lait de yack", "crème de yaourt"). I think the reason is that yeux is a much, much older word and dates from a time when French phonology was very different. Maybe it was pronounced closer to an \i\ sound before it shifted into a \j\ sound.

7
  • Thanks, I appreciate you helping me out.
    – bobsmith76
    Jan 30, 2023 at 10:15
  • 3
    Also a good hint that the singular begins with a vowel. Since we know that French does not pluralize by changing initial sounds, the y is awfully suspicious as a grapheme somehow equivalent to œi. I remember learning that these etymological semivowels are to be analyzed as occupying a split nucleus, whereas borrowed semivowels tend to occupy the onset, leading to the elision and liaison differences you noted between yacht and yeux and whatnot. Also discussed in my gratuitous appendix here...
    – Luke Sawczak
    Jan 30, 2023 at 12:51
  • Also Île d'Yeu.
    – jlliagre
    Jan 30, 2023 at 13:24
  • 1
    @jlliagre Oui je me suis fait la même réflexion. Yeux est le seul nom commun à avoir cette particularité mais on le retrouve aussi dans quelques noms propres, notamment des toponymes (en plus d'Yeu j'ai trouvé Yerres, Yutz, Yèvres, et surprenamment (?), York) Jan 30, 2023 at 13:55
  • 2
    @JanusBahsJacquet Yes, "d'yeux" and "Dieu" are homophones.
    – Stef
    Jan 31, 2023 at 9:37

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