French Pronunciation Fundamentals – é, è and “eu.”

“E” is the most used letter of the French alphabet. And it’s pronounced in so many different ways!

Today, let’s practice how to say “é”, “è”, “e” and more.

— The Extra Mile —
Experimental French writer Georges Perec published in 1969 La Disparition, a novel with no “e” at all. Later on, he published its counterpart Les Revenentes : a novel where “e” is the only vowel!

Want all the vocabulary of the lesson ?

1 - French pronunciation of “é”, “è”, “e” : overview

Here’s a simple sentence:
Amélie, la petite Parisienne, aime marcher avec sa mère.
Amélie, the young Parisian girl, likes to walk with her mother.

So many e/è/é sounds! Many are not even written with an “e,” because these sounds can have different spellings.

e (the “u” in “uh” or the “a” in “Tina”, \ø\ or \ə\) :

  • Petite (small)

é (“ey” in “hey”, \e\):

  • Amélie
  • Marcher (= to walk)

è (“e” in “bet”, \ɛ\):

  • Mère (mother)
  • Aime (likes)
  • Avec (with)
  • Parisienne (= Parisian woman)

And we also have a lot of silent “e” in French, but that’s easy to pronounce:

  • Amélie (totally silent)
  • Petite (the final “e” only gives a sound to the final “t”: “puh – teet”)
  • Parisienne (“-enn”)
  • Aime (“emm”)
  • Mère (“meyr”)

Rules for different spellings for “é”, “è”, “e” : Recap

→ “eu” in a French word practically always sounds like /ə/ (“uh”)
→ “é” always sounds like \e\ (“ey” in “hey.”) The rising mark on top is called “un accent aigu.
→ “è” always sounds like \ɛ\ (“e” in “bet.”) The descending mark on top is called “un accent grave.”

2 - French pronunciation practice: é

Repeat these sentences. The “é” sounds are underlined.
Chez le boulanger. (= at the baker’s store.)
Vous mangez chez le boulanger. (= You’re eating at the baker’s store.)
Vous mangez et buvez chez André le boulanger. (= You eat and drink at Andre the baker’s.)
Congrats!

3 - French pronunciation practice: è

Repeat these sentences. The “è” sounds are underlined. It’s more open than “é.”

Elle aime. (= She likes)
Elle aime la fête. (= She likes partying, she likes this party.)
Les boulangères aiment la fête. (= The baker women like partying.)
Les boulangères aiment les fêtes des mères. (= The baker women like when it’s Mother’s day.)

Actually, “Les” (= plural “the”) and “Des” (= plural “of the”, or “some”) can be pronounced “é” or “è.” It depends!

That’s the catch with French pronunciation. Depending on your accent, the place you were raised in, the sentence, and your personality, some “é” sounds can become “è” – and some silent “e” can become “uh”.

However, most words still only have one pronunciation. We do say boulanger with an “é” and boulangères with an “è”, and the rules in the Recap table above mostly hold true for all longer words.

At least in the real everyday modern French I hear in France!

4 - Pronouncing “eu”

Finally, the “e” by itself can also be pronounced “uh”. Like in the very common filler wordEuh” ! Your mouth is mostly closed when you say it.
There are actually two ways of saying it, between \ø\ (as in “Euh…”) and \ə\ (the “schwa sound”, like the “a” in “Tina”). But the difference is so slight that you shouldn’t bother.

Repeat these sentences. The \ø\ & \ə\ sounds are underlined:
Je veux. (= I want, silent “x”)
Je ne veux pas. (= I don’t want, silent “s”)
Je ne veux pas travailler. (= I don’t want to work. With an “é” in “travailler”.)
Je ne veux pas travailler le premier jour de l’année. (= I don’t want to work on the first day of the year. With an “é” sound in “travailler”, “premier”, “année.”)

5 - Pronunciation: final test

Are you now comfortable with these three pronunciations?

Here are two sentences you can practice to make sure you get it. To help and challenge you, only the “è” sounds are underlined! How can you pronounce them?

La mère de René avait décidé de mener son projet cette année. Son idée, c’était de faire des bonnets pour bébés.
René’s mother had decided to make her project this year. Her idea was to make baby caps.

Amélie, la petite Parisienne, aime marcher avec sa mère.
Amélie, the young Parisian girl, likes to walk with her mother.

(Watch the video lesson above to check your pronunciation.)

Congratulations ! Now you can pronounce three sounds of “e” like in everyday modern French 🎉🎉🎉

I’ll see you next week for Part 2 of 4 of this series on French Pronunciation Fundamentals. We’ll talk about nasal sounds!

Learn more, dive deeper, click on the link to these other lessons:

French filler words: “Euh” and more
Everyday spoken French: When “e” (“uh”) gets cut to speak faster
One specific French filler with many meanings: Quand Même

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!


→ If you enjoyed this lesson (and/or learned something new) – why not share this lesson with a francophile friend? You can talk about it afterwards! You’ll learn much more if you have social support from your friends 🙂

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Join the conversation!

  • Géraldine you have no idea how INCREDIBLY HELPFUL & IMPORTANT this video has been. Understanding the differences in sound and pronunciation of the letter “E” for English speakers learning French is an aspect tragically overlooked or simply ignored by many French teachers.
    It’s a difficult one to master so thanks for the tips with the English words “hey” and “bet”.
    You’re a Diamond Géraldine 💎
    et Merci Beaucoup !

  • While I have watched many of your videos, and have subscribed to your Youtube channel, this particular video format is the most helpful. I am just beginning to attempt to learn french, and your emphasis on the pronunciation with the words/sentence and translation shown on the screen was very helpful. Thank you so much!

  • Merci, Géraldine ! D’après ce que j’ai rencontré, entendu, et lu, beaucoup de Parisiens ne distingue plus entre é et è, par exemple prononçant et comme est. Aussi, d’après le dictionnaire et ce que j’ai appris, les doit être prononcer lé, pas lè, mais je l’ai souvent entendu prononcer lè en français moderne, au moins à Paris. Moi, je suis francophone, fille de mère française et père américain francophone, qui habite aux États-Unis et qui était prof de français jusqu’à il y a quelques mois. Mes deux parents étaient profs de français, ainsi que ma fille aînée. Elle a étudié à Paris pendant un an et elle n’entend pas la différence entre et et est et elle m’a dit que les deux mots ne se distingue pas, au moins à Paris ! Je lui ai envoyé cette leçon, pour elle et ses étudiants.

  • Merci, Géraldine ! D’après ce que j’ai rencontré, entendu, et lu, beaucoup de Parisiens ne distingue plus entre é et è, par exemple prononçant et comme est. Aussi, d’après le dictionnaire et ce que j’ai appris, les doit être prononcer lé, pas lè, mais je l’ai souvent entendu prononcer lè en français moderne, au moins à Paris. Moi, je suis francophone, fille de mère française et père américain francophone, qui habite aux États-Unis et qui était prof de français jusqu’à il y a quelques mois. Mes deux parents étaient profs de français, ainsi que ma fille aînée. Elle a étudié à Paris pendant un an et elle n’entend pas la différence entre et et est et elle m’a dit que les deux mots ne se distingue pas, au moins à Paris !

  • Hi Géraldine: for this blog post, as well as the previous three or four posts, the link to download the lesson as a pdf file does not work. I would appreciate if your technical guru can fix the problem. Thank you.

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