French Pronunciation: That Extra Little Syllable

I don't know if anyone's addressed this on Duolingo yet but I haven't been able to find any discussion of it here or anywhere else.

I notice that French speakers sometimes add an extra syllable to the end of a word, a little vowel sound like a schwa or something slightly stronger.

An example is the Duo French male speaker's voice here (though when I return to that link I only get the female voice).

While the female voice says, phonetically (forget conjugation for a moment), "elles pass la nuit ensemble", the male voice says something like "elles passÉ™ la nuit ensemble".

The Duo French male voice does this sort of thing a lot, and it's not limited to Duo or to computer voices. I hear real live people do it too. And I hear it in French songs.

That extra little syllable doesn't really occur in English, even for emphasis. In French is it a means of emphasis, an attempt at better clarity, an affectation, or something else?

Observations? Thoughts?

October 16, 2015


Some regions of France tend to pronounce that schwa naturally. Other than that, most natives from anywhere will do it to emphasize articulation when their interlocutor doesn't understand them (or maybe if they are angry or something).

October 17, 2015

Thanks, for both your comments and the link! (I should have known Wikipedia would have something on the subject.)

October 17, 2015

I have noticed it in the male voice as well and am not really sure if it's just a slightly different dialect or if there's something else going on. Perhaps a native speaker can chime in but I myself find the listening exercises easier when it's a male speaker because of that.

In song, well, in the songs I've listened to, sometimes the singer will say the a word with the extra and then same word without it elsewhere in the same song so that may just be a rhythm thing, at least so far as I can tell in my own personal experience.

October 16, 2015

Sometimes the schwa gets really drawn out in song, and I can't even tell if it's still part of the preceding word... (I suppose technically it becomes something other than a schwa when that happens.)

October 17, 2015

Actually you do have a similar thing in English. Take e.g. the word "every". Most of the time this is pronounced with just two syllables like "ev-ry" but in songs or to add emphasis you can make that a 3-syllable word "e-ve-ry".

In French I have the impression that in normal, fast speech these end syllables are not pronounced, but in songs or to emphasise the pronunciation they can appear. So in that sense both the male and the female voice are correct.

October 20, 2015

Of course, but it's not systematic, it's very useful to make the correct number of feet (technical term for syllables in poetry) though, in both song and poetry.

October 20, 2015

Yes, I agree with respect to meter in song and poetry.

And I agree that more generally it's not a systematic phenomenon in English, though I would grant that there are occasional variations in the number of syllables that individuals might habitually pronounce in ordinary speech for a relatively small number of English words.

But to Langmut's point about bare emphasis, although there may be some exceptions, generally I wouldn't say an elided internal syllable provides a lot of opportunity in English. For example, if one were angry one might overemphasize the already stressed syllables, pronouncing "every single time" something like "EVV-ry SING-gle TIME!" (which itself has a rhythm but doesn't add any syllables).

October 21, 2015
Learn French in just 5 minutes a day. For free.