How to Pronounce French “E” with Accent

To sound natural in French, you should know how to pronounce “e” and its variants (accent marks – aigu, grave, circonflexe, and diaeresis). Some of these accents are found in other European languages too. For instance, in ë, the two dots over “e” are called umlaut in German. Let’s look at the French “e” with accent marks today.

1. Regular e (no accent)

  • French “e” without any accent mark is pronounced like “e” in father when it ends the first syllable of a word.

Example: menace (mә-nas), regard (rә-gaːr).

  • At the end of a word, e without accent mark is silent except in words of one syllable.

Example: le (lә), je (ʒә), me (mә), ne (nә), ce (sә), de (dә), que (kә)

  • “e” without accent mark is often pronounced like é (e) or è (ε) when followed by one or two consonants.

Example: et (e), assez (a-se), pied (pje), effet (e-fε), dessert (de-sεːr), est (ε), elle (ε-l)


2. é (e with acute accent)

French é is like a in hate. The mark over this letter (é) is called the acute accent (aigu in French). Draw lips towards ears, but less so than for i.

Example: matinée (ma-ti-ne) qualité (ka-li-te) papier (pa-pje) désirer (de-zi-re).


3. è (e with grave accent)

French è is like e in there. The mark over this letter (è) is called the grave accent. Other spellings of this sound are ai and ê. Practice by opening mouth with lower lip showing teeth and with tongue placed against lower teeth.

Note: French -er at the end of a word often equals è (e).

Example: mètre (mεtr), crème (krεm), fête (fεːt), laisser-faire (lε-se-fεːr)


4. ê (e with circumflex)

The mark (ˆ) is called the circumflex accent. It sounds similar to è. Practice by opening mouth with lower lip showing teeth and with tongue placed against lower teeth.

Example: fête (fεːt)


5. ë (e with diaeresis)

In French, when two vowels combine, they form a unique sound. For example, ou (route) and eu (liqueur, fameux).  The diaeresis is to indicate that two vowels must be pronounced separately.

Example: Noël (nɔ-εl)


FAQ

Can non-native speakers pronounce é like French people?

It takes time. It is difficult for the non-native speakers to pronounce naturally, unless you live in Francophone countries or live with native French-speaking person.

Is the letter ë native to French language or borrowed?

It is borrowed. The ë (e with accent tréma) is commonly found in other European languages such as German and Spanish. In French, there are few words with ë.

What are two dots over e (ë) called in French and German?

In French, it is called diaeresis. In German, it is called umlaut.

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