The letter E has several different pronunciations in French. The explanation and equivalents provided here are based on the closest sounds that exist in American English, which are sometimes not very close at all. IPA symbols are provided in [brackets].
1. The unstressed e, called a "schwa" in both French and English, is commonly found in French at the beginning of multi-syllable words as well as in single-syllable words. It’s also known as e muet or e instable and its pronunciation is often optional. Phonetic symbol: [ə]
In English, the schwa can be spelled with any vowel: penci
2. The closed e sound is always found in open syllables.* The nearest sound in English is the long a as in "name," but that’s a diphthong: [eI] which starts out like the French [e] but ends in a sort of y sound. In contrast, the French closed e sound is just the first part: [e]. It may be spelled é (e accent aigu) anywhere within a word, but there are numerous other spellings, especially at the end of a word. Phonetic symbol: [e]
3. The open e sound is found mainly in closed syllables.* It may be spelled e, è (e accent grave), or ê (e accent circonflexe) and is equivalent to English’s short e sound, as in "set." Phonetic symbol: [ɛ]
* Lesson: Open / closed vowels and open / closed syllables
E is the only French vowel that can take all four accents.
Share / Tweet / Pin Me!