Posts Tagged ‘lait’


Été and étais are pronounced differently.

Été is pronounced été, or [ete] using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

Étais is pronounced étè, or [etɛ] using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

The sound made by é is said to be closed. The sound made by è is said to be open. Using the International Phonetic Alphabet, the closed é is represented as [e]. The open è is represented as [ɛ].

The closed [e] can be heard in words like mes, les, blé, allé, des, thé.

The open [ɛ] can be heard in words like messe, belle, laide, faite, mètre. If you can say the English words get, wet, web, pen and men, you already know how to pronounce the open [ɛ] — the underlined letter in those words is the open [ɛ].

The open [ɛ] can also come at the end of a word, as it does in étais. A few other examples of words that end in the open [ɛ] include était, avait, voulait, lait.

Both vowels in été are closed — é or [e] both times. In étais, the initial vowel is the closed é or [e], but the final vowel is the open è or [ɛ].

You probably have no trouble pronouncing the closed [e] at the end of a word, like in été, mes, thé or blé. What you might have a little trouble with at first is pronouncing the open [ɛ] at the end of a word, like in étais, avait, lait or voulait.


Meh is an informal English word used (often online) to denote a person’s indifference towards something. Meh, I don’t care. It’s a good example word because it ends in the open [ɛ]. Say it aloud a few times: meh, meh, meh, meh. The sound made by eh at the end of meh is the same sound made by ais at the end of étais.

With this knowledge, say été and étais aloud. Do you now hear a distinct difference between the two?

The ais, ait, aient endings of the imperfect tense (imparfait) are pronounced using the open [ɛ]. For example, allait (as in il allait) sounds like alè or [alɛ], whereas the past participle allé (as in il est allé) sounds like alé or [ale].

The imperfect endings ais, ait, aient may be pronounced so open, in fact, that they sound like a — like the a in ma, ta, sa or [a] using the International Phonetic Alphabet. This means, for example, that you could hear savait (as in il savait) pronounced like sava. You don’t need to pronounce the imperfect endings ais, ait, aient as [a] yourself, but you should indeed do your best to use [ɛ].


été [ete]
étais [etɛ]

allé [ale]
allait [alɛ]

les [le]
lait [lɛ]

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Say aloud the French word for milk.

It’s lait, right?

Now, how did you pronounce it? Did it sound like  or ?

If we transcribe into IPA, we get [le].
If we transcribe into IPA, we get [].

Do you hear the difference between the two sounds?

Say these French words aloud: mes, chez, tes, né. All these words use é. They can be transcribed in IPA as [me], [ʃe], [te], [ne]. In IPA, [e] sounds like é.

Now say these French words aloud: belle, fesse, messe, net. All these words use è. They can be transcribed in IPA as [bɛl], [fɛs], [mɛs], [nɛt]. In IPA, [ɛ] sounds like è. Listen carefully to sound made by [ɛ]. Say belle again, but this time, hold the [ɛ] sound longer: bèèèèèèèèèèlle.

Now try this: say belle, but instead of pronouncing it correctly as [bɛl], mispronounce it intentionally as [bel], or as though it were written bél. Do you hear a distinct difference now between [bɛl] and [bel]?

Isolate [e] and say it on its own a few times: é, é, é, é, é.

How about [ɛ] now — can you isolate it and say it on its own? è, è, è, è, è.

Think about the English word meh. You know, it’s that word often used to show your indifference towards something, especially online. Meh. Meh, meh, meh. Does the vowel sound in meh sound more like [e] or [ɛ] to you?

We started this post by looking at the French word lait, and I asked you how you pronounced it — as [le] or [lɛ].

If we look up lait in the Usito dictionary, we see it transcribed in IPA. Here’s what we see:

Lait is transcribed as [lɛ]. Does that match or mismatch how you pronounce it?

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