French Corrective Phonetics Guide

The nasal vowel /ɛ̃/

The Nasal Vowel /ɛ̃/

The articulatory features of /ɛ̃/ are as follow: mid-open, front, unrounded and nasal. Examples of words containing /ɛ̃/ are fin [fɛ̃] , bien [bjɛ̃] , soin [swɛ̃] , intérêt [ɛ̃teʁɛ] , pain [pɛ̃]. Note that in Canadian French, this vowel tends to be mid-closed.

Spelling of /ɛ̃/

As we saw in the general section on nasal vowels, two main contexts exist:

a) a vowel letter + "n" at the very end of a word, e.g.: pain [pɛ̃], refrain [ʁəfʁɛ̃].

b) a vowel letter + "n" or "m" followed by a consonant letter, prince [pʁɛ̃s], souviens [suvjɛ̃], Tintin [tɛ̃tɛ̃], etc.

It is important to note that when the vowel is nasal, there is no nasal consonant pronounced. Its only role is to indicate that one must use a nasal vowel, e.g.: important [ɛ̃pɔʁtã] .

The primary spelling indications for /ɛ̃/ are "in", "im" "ien" and "ein", e.g.: fin, impossible, bien, rein. As you can see, they all involve the letter "i" in combination with the letter "n" or "m". Note also that any time you see the letter "y", it functions like "i" (e.g.: symbole [sɛ̃bɔl]).

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a) words in -ien usually represent [jɛ̃], e.g.: bien [bjɛ̃], rien [ʁjɛ̃], etc. (however, Orient [ɔʁjã] and science [sjãs] are pronounced with /ã/).

b) the words examen [ɛgzamɛ̃] , pentagone [pɛ̃tagɔn] and appendice [apɛ̃dis] are pronounced with /ɛ̃/.

c) the letters "oin" represent [wɛ̃], e.g.: loin [lɛ̃], foin [fwɛ̃].


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