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 Wiktionary, French words with revised spellings are usually treated 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 (particularly where fractions are involved):

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
cent vingt-et-un cent-vingt-et-un (121)
trois cent trente-deux mille cinq cent un trois-cent-trente-deux-mille-cinq-cent-un (332 501)

The nouns million, milliard etc. are not hyphenated: douze milliards trois-cent-quarante-cinq millions six-cent-cinquante-quatre-mille-trois-cent-vingt-et-un (12 345 654 321).

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
(invariable)
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 and diacritics of loanwords[edit]

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
un spaghetti, des spaghetti un spaghetti, des spaghettis

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. 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
céleri cèleri
créneler crèneler

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 most words containing it 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. It is also retained in the past historic (first and second persons plural) and past subjunctive (third person singular), by analogy with verbs of the first conjugation that contain â (which is still pronounced differently from a in some accents).

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
boîte boite
brûler bruler
bûche buche
goûter gouter
paraître paraitre
connaître connaitre
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/
arguer argüer IPA(key): /aʁ.ɡɥe/

As eu in French normally represents IPA(key): /ø/ or IPA(key): /œ/, a diaeresis is added to the following words, to indicate the pronunciation:

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling Pronunciation
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 before a mute e. 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
j’amoncellerai (etc.) j’amoncèlerai (etc.)
amoncellement amoncèlement

The verb créneler is complicated by the new rules regarding é and è:

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling
créneler crèneler
je crénelle
nous crénelons
ils crénellent
je crénèle
nous crènelons
ils crénèlent
je crénelais (etc.) je crènelais (etc.)
je crénellerai (etc.) je crénèlerai (etc.)

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, so as to preserve the suffix -ier.

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[edit]

The past participle of laisser (to let, to permit, to allow) becomes invariable (no feminine or plural forms) when followed by an infinitive.

Tu les as laissées sur la table ?Did you leave them on the table?
Je les ai laissé partir.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 between related words, and to align spelling more closely with actual pronunciation, the following additional changes have been made. The new spellings also apply to the derivatives of these words. In many cases the "new" spellings were already in use as alternatives before the reforms officialized them.

Traditional spelling Reformed spelling Reason
absous, dissous, résous
(masculine past participle of absoudre etc.)
absout, dissout, résout To match the feminine absoute, dissoute, résoute
appas pl appâts To match the singular appât
bizuth bizut To match pronunciation /bi.zy/
(word-final -th is not normally silent: cf. aneth, zénith etc.)
bonhomie, prudhomie bonhommie, prudhommie After homme
boursoufler boursouffler After souffler
cahute cahutte After hutte
chariot charriot After charrue
chausse-trape chaussetrappe After trappe (also new hyphenation rules)
combatif combattif After combattre
cuissot cuisseau Changed to use the more common suffix -eau
dessiller déciller After cil, ciller
dentellier dentelier To match pronunciation /dɑ̃.tə.lje/
douceâtre douçâtre Simpler spelling
embatre embattre After battre
eczéma exéma After other words beginning ex- /ɛɡz-/
ghilde, gilde guilde Gallicized spelling
imbécillité imbécilité After imbécile; pronounced with /l/ not /j/
innomé innommé After nommer
interpeller interpeler After appeler etc.; to match pronunciation /ɛ̃.tɛʁ.pə.le/
levraut levreau Changed to use the more common suffix -eau
lunettier lunetier To match pronunciation /ly.nə.tje/
nénuphar nénufar Simpler spelling
oignon ognon To match pronunciation /ɔ.ɲɔ̃/
pagaïe, pagaye pagaille To match pronunciation /pa.ɡaj/
(-aïe and -aye are ambiguous renderings; cf. haïe /a.i/ and abbaye /a.bɛ.i/)
persifler persiffler After siffler
punch ponch Gallicized spelling
prunellier prunelier To match pronunciation /pʁy.nə.lje/
relais sg or pl relai sg, relais pl Older spelling, to distinguish singular and plural
saccharine saccarine Gallicized spelling
skunks sconse Gallicized spelling
sorgho sorgo Gallicized spelling
sotie sottie After sotte
toquade tocade Simpler spelling
vantail ventail After vent, éventail