French pronunciation

Ent - French pronunciation
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The third person plural verb ending –ent is often not pronounced. Though the rules for when and how to pronounce it are fairly straightforward, they’re not always explained as clearly as they could be.

The question of whether –ent is pronounced or not has to do with two completely different issues:

  1. Part of speech
  2. Register

Part of speech: Is –ent part of a verb?

A) No

When –ent is not part of a verb, it is always pronounced.

Par exemple…

cent   hundred
content   happy
lentement   slowly

 Note that –ent is pronounced here as the nasal vowel an [ɑ̃]. (IPA explanation)

B) Yes

When –ent is part of a verb, the next question is: Is it at the end of the verb?

1. No

When it’s not at the end of the verb, –ent is always pronounced.

entretenir   to maintain
sentir   to feel

 Here –ent is pronounced [ɑ̃t].

2. Yes

When –ent is at the end of the verb, there’s one final qualifier: is it third person singular or plural?

Third person singular

In verb conjugations that end in –ent in the third person singular, –ent is always pronounced.

il ment   he lies
elle sent   she feels
on se repent   one repents

 Again, –ent is pronounced here like the nasal vowel [ɑ̃] – the t is silent unless there’s a liaison.

 Third person plural

It’s only at the end of third person plural conjugations that the –ent might not be pronounced, and the issue here has nothing to do with grammar: it’s a question of register.*

A) In standard French, in most registers (normal, informal, familiar, and slang), –ent is silent.**

ils parlent   they’re talking
elles sentent   they feel

B) In formal French, –ent is somewhat more likely to be pronounced.

C) In literature and poetry, –ent is always pronounced. In fact, this verb ending is included in the poem’s syllable count, so it’s needed in order to recite the poem correctly.*

ils parlent
elles sentent

 In third person plural conjugations, when –ent is is pronounced, it’s not nasal like it is in all the other situations listed above. Here, it’s pronounced as a schwa [ə] or even an open eu [ø]. (Again, the t is silent unless there’s a liaison.)

* These pronunciation rules related to register also apply to –e and –es (je parle, tu chantes, il donne). In all of these verb endings, the "e" is known as an e instable or e muet.

 ** Except in a few places, like southwestern France, where its pronunciation is characteristic of local French variations.

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Ent - French pronunciation

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