Être ou ne pas être, voilà la question.

Surely you can find an opportunity to say this famous line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet!

Être ou ne pas être, voilà la question.

ETT-roo nuh pah ZET-ruh, vwah-LAH lah kess-tee-YAW.
To be or not to be, that is the question.

More iambic pentameter–with a twist! Notice how the English version varies the meter to emphasize the important words: be, not, be, that, question. It’s a nice touch, which makes us sit up and notice the line. But trying to reproduce the same effect in French is a minefield. It comes out to 11 syllables, too many for English and too few for French poetry. Once again (see my post on Je suis le maître de mon destin), the French sounds inelegant.

Note that the “e” at the end of “être” falls off when it bumps into the vowel that follows. But right before the comma, that same “e” has to be pronounced. Why? Because it’s hard to pronounce three consonants in a row in one syllable. Try pronouncing trv. It’s an effort, isn’t it?

Now use the “e” to separate the “tr” from the “v” (listen to the audio file to hear it again if you need to). Much better! That’s why the French have another name for that so-called silent e: They call it “e instable” (unstable e), because it comes and goes as needed. Interesting trick, don’t you think?

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2 responses to “Être ou ne pas être, voilà la question.

  1. Great sound files! Very clear and easy to use. Thank you.

  2. I agree with Miles the sound files are superb!

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