41

I asked my French teacher last time, and she said she didn't know, but she will ask. Can anyone give clear and simple reason for this?

40

The attachment of O and E (or of other letters) is called a typographic ligature. Ligatures were often used in ancient languages (such Latin and ancient Greek) to mark a diphthong or sometimes simply to make writing easier in pre-press times.

In modern French, the œ ligature is linguistic as opposed to aesthetic. It bears an important linguistic role, mainly because oe and œ are not pronounced the same. When you have an œ in your word, you will not pronounce the o and the e separately, like you would in coefficient, for example. As a rule of thumb, words of Latin origin will pronounce œ as /œ/ or /ø/ 1 (for example œuf, sœur, œil, cœur) and words of Greek origin will pronounce it /e/ (like fœtus, Phœnix, Œdipe). There are also a few words that pronounce it as /ɛ/ (like œstrogène).

1 This is IPA for French, if you don't know it, there's a nice chart on Wikipedia.

  • 2
    It isn't a typographic ligature (or the substitution would be optional and could be systematic), it is a linguistic ligature. – Un francophone Jan 18 '13 at 22:03
  • 2
    @Unfrancophone Œ in and of itself is a typographic ligature, which in French is not purely aesthetic. I was talking about it in general, hence the new paragraph about modern French, but I will edit to make it clearer. – Kareen Jan 18 '13 at 22:57
  • 2
    @Unfrancophone: I was about to make this same remark, before you posted it. Eventually, I abstained. It's a lexical (or linguistic) ligature and it's not purely æsthetic… but of course it is typographic. How could it not be? – Stéphane Gimenez Jan 18 '13 at 23:11
  • 2
    @Aerovistae I would say for the same reason you see other kinds of misspellings - people don't know. They think it doesn't matter if you use the ligature or not, and in your every day life it probably doesn't, but it remains a grammatical error. – Kareen Jan 19 '13 at 21:20
  • 4
    BTW, the story about the fact that "œ" is missing from IS-8859-1 is that the French representative didn't know it was a linguistic ligature and agreed to its removal. – Un francophone Jan 20 '13 at 6:44
4

Essentially, the "oe" together tells you how that vowel is to be pronounced, as in the word "œuvre". Think of it as an extra vowel that has it's own distinct spoken sound (pronunciation). I remember learning this in elementary school. Hope that helps.

  • But isn't "œuvre" pronounced the same as "euvre" would be? I didn't think it has its own pronunciation; ""œu" seems to just have the same pronunciations as "eu" – sumelic Aug 1 '17 at 18:26

protected by Gilles 'SO nous est hostile' Jul 30 '17 at 17:22

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.