Are there any minimal pairs between ø and œ or other evidence that these are separate phonemes? I have been studying French, and so far it seems like ø is found in open syllables and œ is found in closed syllables.

Wikipedia counts them as separate phonemes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_phonology

2 Answers 2


There is an opposition between /ʒøn/ in "jeûne" and /ʒœn/ in "jeune" but the opposition between ø and œ is clearly not productive anymore.

addendum #1: as you said, the opposition exists between closed syllables (/vœf/ "veuf") and open syllables (/vø/ "vœu")

addendum #2 : by the way /œ/ is sometimes the way French people pronounce the English sound /ʌ/ (see e.g. the "gun" word). By example, Github is sometimes pronouced /gitœb/ .

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    The name of the letter e is /œ/, while œufs ‘eggs’ is /ø/, so there’s even a minimal pair in just the sounds themselves. Oct 7, 2020 at 19:06
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    I’ve always heard the letter pronounced /œ/. Perhaps it varies? Singular œuf is of course /œf/. Oct 7, 2020 at 19:16
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    I suppose my pronunciation may be labelled /ə/ – as in English, I’d generally consider schwa inherently unstressed. At least, I don’t think I’d be able to distinguish stressed /ə/ and /œ/. If I contrastively stress le, for example, I’m pretty sure I’d pronounce it [ˈlœ]. Oct 7, 2020 at 19:28
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    As a French native who treats [ø], [œ] and [ə] as separate phonemes (this isn't the case in all French accents), I'd say that “e” (the word meaning the letter) and “œufs” are not homophones, because “e” is pronounced /ə/ whereas “œufs” is pronounced /ø/. “E” can be realized as any of [ə], [œ] or [ø] (depending on context, emphasis and I think some amount of free variation), but “œufs” can only be realized as [ø]. “L'E vrai” can sound like “le vrai” [lə.vʁɛ] or “leu vrai” [lø.vʁɛ], possibly even “l'œuvrait” [lœ.vʁɛ] but I find that one a bit of a stretch. Cc @JanusBahsJacquet Oct 8, 2020 at 11:57
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    There's a short discussion of the discussion of the pronunciation of the letter E with references in the TLF article (including a discussion of the [e] pronunciation). Oct 8, 2020 at 11:59

The distinction between French open-mid and close-mid vowels is often neutralized or unstable in certain positions. The distribution of the sounds also varies in some cases between dialects, so it's a pretty complicated situation.

You're right that in general, close-mid vowels, including ø, are associated with open syllables and open-mid vowels, such as œ, are associated with closed syllables.

However, there are exceptions, which can in rare cases lead to minimal pairs. As suizokukan said, "jeûne" and "jeune" are often given as an example of a minimal pair. The "French Corrective Phonetics Guide" from bonpatron.com also lists the verb veulent /vœl/ and the (rare) adjective veule /vøl/.

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