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French pronunciation (ctd): the French é and è vowels

On the previous page, we introduced French i vowel, as well as the consonants p and k. On this page, we look at two more French vowel sounds, both commonly represented in writing with the letter e.

The French "open e" (è) vowel

The first is an e sound quite similar to the English e sound that occurs in the word set. This variety of e sound is sometimes called "open e", because to pronounce this sound the mouth is held in a relatively open position (if you repeat the English words seat, set, for example, you'll feel your mouth move from a closed position in the first word to an open position in the second).

Thus open e sound is often represented in the spelling by è— that is, by the letter e with a grave accent (e.g. père, mère), or by ê— a letter e with a circumflex accent (e.g. prêt).

Listen to the e vowel in the following words. Notice also how the -e on the ends of various of these words isn't pronounced.

père "father"
mère "mother"
fête "party, celebration"
tête "head"

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The French "close e" (é) vowel

French has another vowel commonly represented by the letter e. This so-called "close e" is roughly half-way between i and the open e described above.

In the examples below, listen to the difference between the open e of tête and the close e of thé:

tête "head" - open e
"tea" - close e
pêche "peach", "fishing" - open e
péché "sin" - close e

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The next page continues with a look at the French b, d and g sounds.