Appendix:French spelling reforms of 1990

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The French spelling reforms of 1990 were proposed by the Conseil supérieur de la langue française and approved by the Académie française on May 3 1990. Some are now more prevalent than the still correct pre-1990 spellings but many less. On the Wiktionary, French words with revised spellings are usually listed as alternative spellings, while the traditional spelling is the main article.

Reforms[edit]

Numbers[edit]

  • Numbers are to be written with hyphens instead of spaces, to reduce ambiguity:
Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
cent vingt-et-un cent-vingt-et-un
trois cent trente-deux mille cinq cent un trois-cent-trente-deux-mille-cinq-cent-un

Words with hyphens[edit]

Many words with hyphens did not change in the plural, for example un gratte-ciel, des gratte-ciel. The reform has all compound words pluralized according to the normal French rules of pluralization; however, words that contain singular articles (such as trompe-la-mort) or capital letters (such as prie-Dieu) remain invariable.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
un après-midi, des après-midi un après-midi, des après-midis
un ramasse-miettes, des ramasse-miettes (invariable) un ramasse-miette, des ramasse-miettes

Furthermore, hyphenated words that begin with contre- or entre-, are onomatopoeic, are borrowed from foreign languages, or contain one or more words that do not occur independently lose their hyphens altogether.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
contre-pied contrepied
entre-temps entretemps
tic-tac tictac
week-end weekend
agro-alimentaire agroalimentaire

Plurals of loanwords[edit]

See also: Appendix:French nouns

Some French words borrowed from other languages retain their non-French plurals, such as un match, des matches, or did not have a diacritic that would be used if the word were a native French word. The reform gives all loanwords French plurals (usually a single s) and diacritics.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
un match, des matches un match, des matchs
un allegro, des allegros un allégro, des allégros
un pianissimo, des pianissimi un pianissimo, des pianissimos
un maximum, des maxima un maximum, des maximums
un scenario, des scenarii un scénario, des scénarios
un rugbyman, des rugbymen un rugbyman, des rugbymans

Acute and grave accents on an e[edit]

The spelling reforms also affect accents. When an é is pronounced IPA(key): /ɛ/ rather than IPA(key): /e/, it should be represented by è instead of é. Exceptions are the prefixes dé- and pré- when they precede more than one consonant sound, and the first é in médecin and médecine.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
événement évènement
je céderais je cèderais
réglementaire règlementaire

Circumflexes[edit]

Circumflexes in French generally stem from Latin and Old French roots where an s has been elided. For example, goûter is from the Old French gouster. However the circumflex does not change the pronunciation of the most words when used on the letters i and u, making it "obsolete", according to the reforms. Therefore it has been removed from nearly all words that contain it. It is kept in cases where it does indicate different pronunciation, as in jeûne (pronounced differently from jeune) and jeûner, and where it distinguishes between two homophones: that is, the masculine singular (but not the feminine or plurals) of the adjectives , mûr, and sûr (to distinguish them from the words du, mur, and sur), and the forms of the verb croitre that could be mistaken for parallel forms of the verb croire without a circumflex.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
boîte boite
brûler bruler
bûche buche
goûter gouter
paraître paraitre
piqûre piqure

Use of diaereses[edit]

In sequences such as -gue- and -gui-, a diaeresis is placed on the u and not on any other letter. This is to indicate the correct pronunciation in a more intuitive fashion:

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling Pronunciation
aiguë aigüe IPA(key): /ɛ.ɡy/
ambiguïté ambigüité IPA(key): /ɑ̃.bi.ɡɥi.te/

As eu in French normally represents [ø] or [œ], a diaeresis is added to the following words, to indicate the pronunciation:

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling Pronunciation
arguer argüer IPA(key): /aʁ.ɡɥe/
bringeure bringeüre IPA(key): /bʁɛ̃.ʒyʁ/
chargeure chargeüre IPA(key): /ʃaʁ.ʒyʁ/
égrugeure égrugeüre IPA(key): /e.ɡʁy.ʒyʁ/
gageure gageüre IPA(key): /ɡa.ʒyʁ/
mangeure mangeüre IPA(key): /mɑ̃.ʒyʁ/
plingeure plingeüre IPA(key): /plɛ̃.ʒyʁ/
rongeure rongeüre IPA(key): /ʁɔ̃.ʒyʁ/
vergeure vergeüre IPA(key): /vɛʁ.ʒyʁ/

Verbs ending with -eler and -eter[edit]

Except for appeler, jeter, and their compounds and derivatives, verbs with infinitives in -eler and -eter take a grave accent on the e (è) instead of doubling the consonant. The same rules apply to terms derived from these verbs:

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling

j’amoncelle
tu amoncelles
il amoncelle
nous amoncelons
vous amoncelez
ils amoncellent

j’amoncèle
tu amoncèles
il amoncèle
nous amoncelons
vous amoncelez
ils amoncèlent

amoncellement amoncèlement

Words ending with -illier and -illière[edit]

The last i is dropped as it is not pronounced. The exceptions are names of plants, such as groseillier.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
joaillier joailler
marguillier marguiller
quincaillier quincailler
serpillière serpillère

Words ending in -olle and -otter[edit]

Words ending in -olle and verbs ending in -otter now only require one consonant, as dropping the l or the t does not change the pronunciation. Exceptions are colle, folle, molle, and terms derived from nouns ending in -otte, such as botte ("boot") and botter, botterie, bottière.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
corolle corole
frisotter frisoter
mangeotter mangeoter

Past participle of laisser when used in combination with an infinitive[edit]

The past participle of laisser ("to let, to permit, to allow") becomes invariable (no feminine or plural forms) when followed by an infinitive. "Je les ai laissé partir" could be translated as "I let them leave".

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
je les ai laissés partir je les ai laissé partir
elle m'a laissée mourir elle m'a laissé mourir

Miscellaneous reforms[edit]

To prevent anomalies, the following additional changes have been made. The new spellings also apply to the derivatives of these words.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
absous, dissous, résous (past participle) absout, dissout, résout
appas (plural of appât) appâts
bizuth bizut
bonhomie, prudhomie bonhommie, prudhommie
boursoufler boursouffler
cahute cahutte
chariot charriot
chausse-trape chaussetrappe
combatif combattif
cuissot cuisseau
dessiller déciller
dentellier dentelier
douceâtre douçâtre
embatre embattre
eczéma exéma
ghilde, gilde guilde
imbecillité imbécilité
innomé innommé
interpeller interpeler
levraut levreau
lunettier lunetier
nénuphar nénufar
oignon ognon
pagaïe, pagaye pagaille
persifler persiffler
punch (the drink) ponch
prunellier prunelier
relais (singular) relai
saccharine saccarine
skunks sconse
sorgho sorgo
sotie sottie
toquade tocade
vantail ventail