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If someon could find a rule about when you pronounce "e" as "é" when there's no accent aigue, I would be much obliged.
e.g. descendre /desɑ̃dʀ/ Why is there no accent aigue?
      départ   /depaʀ/ Why is there an accent aigue ?

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I can't say but i think it is enough to learn the "correct" pronunciation on a case by case basis.

To my mind it is important , so far as is possible to be able to distinguish between similar sounds and meanings like "descendre" and "des cendres" for example.

Provided communication is clear rules are relatively unimportant (although they can be an aid in learning)


I've got another problem:

to me "descendre" is pronounced with "è" now to make things more complicated  the symbol /e/ is not the same sound in English and French phonetics, in English it refers to the sound in "bed" whereas in French it's like the sound in "aller"

/ɛ/ is the symbol for words like: mère, treize, faites, belge and descendre! which is quite similar to the English sound /e/...

En règle générale l'accent aigu se place sur la voyelle -é :
- La bonté, le café, la charité, un éléphant.

  • On trouve un -é avec accent aigu lorsque cette voyelle est la première lettre d'un mot :
    - Un éditeur, un électronicien, une épreuve.

    Sauf les mots en -ère et -ès qui prennent un accent grave :
    - Une ère (époque de temps), un ers (légume lentille), un aloès.

  • On trouve un -é avec accent aigu lorsque cette voyelle est la dernière lettre d'un mot (y compris si le mot se termine par un pluriel avec -s ou un -e muet) :
    - Un abonné, des abonnés, une abonnée - La liberté, le lycée.

  • Pas d'accent sur la voyelle -e si elle est suivie d'une consonne finale -d, -f, -r ou si la lettre -z termine le mot : 
    - Clef, pied, chanter, nez...

    • Il marque le son avec les préfixes dé- ,mé- ,pré- :
      - Désigné, mélangé, préféré.
    • Mais de rares mots n'en portent pas : 
      - Pedigree, repartie (pour le mot réplique mais accent pour le verbe répartir), revolver.
      Attention : Besicles ou bésicles (toujours au pluriel).

    • On trouve le -é avec accent aigu, en fin de mot sur les participes passés des verbes -er à l'infinitif :
      - Chanté, donné, tué… et sur le participe passé du verbe être : été.

    • Jamais d’accent aigu sur un -e qui précède un -x :
      - Un accent circonflexe, le sexe. 

    • Jamais d’accent aigu sur un -e qui précède une consonne double :
      - Une étiquette, une trompette.

I learned French formally up until the age of 16 only.

We never learned that side of the language in that kind of detail . Perhaps it is taught at more a
advanced level but I suspect it is rather taught in French speaking countries rather than countries where they are learning the language "from scratch" as it were.

I could be wrong.

It is interesting but ,personally that is the sort of information I like to pick up naturally without actually studying.

Of course if you are teaching the subject that may be the kind of information that can be interesting for the class.

What about "essence", "essentiel"? The e comes before a double consonant but is pronounced é, unlike the e in "trompette."

 George H

you're right everyone tends to pick up naturally but as george wilms asked for rules here they are!

Moreover with age (and I speak as a French native) we tend to forget the rules so it's good sometimes to get back to them to refresh one's memory...

Now there is a simple rule we can talk of "open syllable" -ends with a vowel like in "aéroport"- and of "closed syllable" -ends with a consonant- like in ess-entiel!

george willms

ess- ence and  ess-entiel have both a closed syllable so there is no "é"

It must also be noted that more and more people don't make any difference between "é" and "è" (the case of the south of France is another story: they only pronounce "é")

Since 1990 it has been accepted that some words could have either "é" or "è" :

crémerie/ crèmerie

événement/ évènement

protégerai/ protègerai

aimé- je/ aimè-je

All my dictionaries give /e/ (é) for "essence" and "essentiel". I've noticed that /e/ is also found before -ff- (effet).

Hi George --

As a general rule, "e" will be pronounced "é" before either -ss- or -sc- when it is in an "open" syllable -- in other words, when the "ss" or "sc" starts a new syllable.

This article may also help you:

Hi Neil,

What about "e" before -ff- (effet)? 

Could you give me an example of "e" pronounced "é" before -sc-? I can't find one.


well Neil is right it's supposed to be "é" in descendre and the Robert dictionary says so.

I said I had a problem because I would be tempted to pronounce it "è"and the Hachette dictionary also says "è" ...

Finally I checked and it turns out that both pronunciations are accepted , the most common is "é"


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