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E Muet - French Dropped E - Elision

As discussed in the rhythm lesson, there are no stressed syllables in French. However, the unaccented E is sometimes "unstressed"; that is, it sometimes* disappears in spoken French. This disappearance is called elision (élision or amuïssement in French), and the verb is to elide (élider or amuïr). This potential dropped E may be called any of the following in French:

  • E muet
  • E caduc
  • E instable

The phonetic symbol for the E muet is the schwa . When the E muet is pronounced, it sounds more or less like the u in full - listen. The E muet is virtually always** spelled E - with no accent. However, the unaccented E is not always an E muet; some unaccented E's are pronounced (the É sound) or (the È sound).
 

 
*Despite its name, the E muet isn't always silent - read on.
  
[x] indicates a phonetic symbol.
  
** Exceptions
> ai in two-syllable faire forms
  nous faisons
  en faisant
  je faisais, etc.
> Monsieur
  
° L and R are liquid consonants 
  
Related lessons

French IPA
Rhythm
Pronunciation

I. Where does the letter E represent an E muet?
A. In the nine single syllable words with one consonant ce, de, je,
le, me, ne,
que, se, te
See exception below (IIC)
B. At the end of a word, possibly followed by other silent letters homme
femmes
parlent
C. In the non-final syllable of a word, after a consonant sound and before one of the following:
1. single consonant sound devoirs
recherche
logement
2. consonant + liquid consonant° chevronné
secrétaire
replacer
D. Miscellaneous
1. The re- prefix in front of ss ressortir
ressource
2. These three words dessous
dessus
dehors
           
II. Where does the letter E not represent an E muet?
  A. In front of a double consonant
(Exceptions: see D, above)
verrai
tennis
dessert
B. In front of two different non-liquid consonants restaurant
spectacle
C. At the end of a sentence after an affirmative command dis-le
mange-le
But: donne-le-moi
       
III. When is the E muet dropped and when is it pronounced?
There are specific rules governing the pronunciation of E muets: they may be required, forbidden, or optional. Go on to page 2.
 
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