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I am not usually surprised by French pronunciation anymore at this point, but every now and then I still stumble into something I realize I didn't know.

Today I heard a native speaker use the word aspect, pronounced in a way that to me sounded like aspé, and I was surprised. Presumably if it was spelled aspecte the ct would not be silent? Is ect always silent at the end of a word? What about ict, uct, oct, act?

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  • Le mot « compact » est prononcé /kɔ̃pakt/. ;) Sep 28, 2023 at 5:12
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    For more surprises, see distinct: can be pronounced both ways, succinct(e): you don't pronounce the "t" in the feminine, etc. :) Sep 28, 2023 at 7:20
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    @guillaume31 As per Teleporting Goat's answer below, in "succincte" you pronounce the "t" but not the "c". Sep 28, 2023 at 11:52
  • @BrunoLeFloch yes, thanks, I meant c. Sep 28, 2023 at 12:49
  • As a side note, aspect sounds like aspè (with an e accent grave)
    – WoJ
    Sep 29, 2023 at 6:50

2 Answers 2

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Narrowing it to -ect word final for the moment, some words ending in -ect are pronounced with the [ɛ] ending. Your mileage may vary literally on regional aspects for some, the onset of the following word, and of course register (theatre, poetry, conversation, and what sound comes next in any given elocution). A big one for [kt] is correct which may also end in [k].

Here's a group that usually ends in a vowel sound [ɛ] (see note on -spect below):

  • respect
  • aspect

Contrast with these which often end in [kt]:

  • direct [diʀɛkt]
  • intellect [ɛ̃telɛkt]
  • abject [abʒɛkt]
  • infect [ɛ̃fɛkt]

And some can go either way:

  • circonspect siʀkɔ̃spɛ(kt), ɛkt
  • suspect syspɛ(kt), ɛkt

Parts of speech and meaning matter.

Notable "exception" is correct, which does pronounce the /ɛkt/ (or [k] regionally), but not ending in a vowel sound. A theory on the pronunciation from the Latin etymology comes from the Latin past participle correctus.

Au XVIIe s. il y a hésitation au plur. et devant consonne du mot suiv. entre [εkt], [εk], [εt] et [ε]. La prononc. expressive en [-kt] devait l'emporter.

Many words that end in the vowel already lost the c spelling and [k] in some parts of speech or meaning but retain it in other inflections: objet, objectif, effet, effectuer.


Note on spect and [ɛ]

There are about seven words that end in -spect, root spec from Latin (specto, spectare, spectavi, spectatus and speciō, specere, spexi, spectum). Only one does not end in [ɛ], anspect, a technical and rare word, exceptional to this root from a bit of a fluke, it alone ends in [k].

PRONONC. : [ɑ̃spek]. Passy 1914 est le seul dict. à ne pas transcrire la finale [k] : ɑ̃:spε. Mart. Comment prononce 1913, p. 216 fait observer : ,,il ne faut pas assimiler aux autres mots en -spect le mot technique anspec(t), terme de marine, qui n'a pris un t dans l'orthographe que par une fausse analogie avec les autres : c'est le seul mot où le c doive toujours se prononcer, et toujours seul.`` Accord également des dict. du xixes. pour la finale [k].

Otherwise, a mnemonic for words that do not pronounce the word final [kt] coda would be the root -spect: aspect, circonspect, irrespect, prospect, respect, and suspect all end in [ɛ].

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  • We have correct pronounced [k] regionally? suspect IMHO is usually [ɛ], as well as circonspect. At least, that's the pronunciations I'm used to.
    – Frank
    Sep 27, 2023 at 21:51
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    @Frank I have always heard correct pronounced [korɛkt] (young children might say [korɛk]) while circonspect is [siʀkɔ̃spɛ] or [siʀkɔ̃spe], suspect too.
    – jlliagre
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:17
  • @Frank C'est correc' has a different meaning, see french.stackexchange.com/a/43582/1893. I do give [ɛ] as the first pronunciation of suspect and circonspect
    – livresque
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:20
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    By "some can go either way", do you mean in the feminine? Because as far as I know "suspect" and "circonspect" are never pronounced /syspɛkt/ and /siʀkɔ̃spɛkt/ Sep 28, 2023 at 8:38
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    @livresque Good job spotting that thing with -spect! I completely missed it ^^ Now there's a definite way to tell, apart from a couple rare exceptions Sep 29, 2023 at 8:43
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Words in -act are always pronounced /akt/

Artefact, contact, exact, impact, intact, tract

Words in -ict are pronounced /ikt/, except the rare amict (/a.mi/), that I didn't know before researching this topic.

Addict, district, strict, verdict

Words in -inct are pronounced /ɛ̃/ (-ct is silent)

distinct*, instinct, succinct

It's worth noting that the feminine succincte is /syk.sɛ̃t/ (the c is silent). For all the other words in -ct, the feminine -cte is pronounced /kt/ as expected.

For words in -ect, it depends. As mentioned by Livresque, words in -ect pronounced /ɛ/ usually lost their c, but some have resisted that change. These are pronounced /ɛ/:

Aspect, circonspect, prospect, respect, suspect

While these are pronounced /ɛkt/:

Abject, affect, correct, direct, infect, intellect, select (anglicism)

There are no words ending in -uct or -oct in French.


* For distinct, the pronunciation /distɛ̃kt/ can also be found sometimes.

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  • Pour distinct, je prononce ct et c'est la prononciation usuelle pour moi, même au masculin.
    – Frank
    Sep 28, 2023 at 13:42

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