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I see no difference between transcriptions above-mentioned words, and what words / variants would be better to use in those meanings?

  • fiancé /fɪˈɑːnseɪ/ /fɪˈɒnseɪ/ /fɪˈɒ̃seɪ/ - ODO
  • fiancée /fɪˈɒnseɪ/ /fɪˈɑːnseɪ/ /fɪˈɒ̃seɪ/ - ODO
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    What transcriptions did you find exactly that show there are no differences? And why don't you believe them?
    – ColleenV
    Jun 21, 2017 at 14:26
  • Hi, with reference to ColleenV's comment above - I've added some dictionary citations for you. Please feel free to replace them with entries from the dictionary you consulted.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 21, 2017 at 15:00
  • Another question that relates to French loan words and gender: ell.stackexchange.com/q/127687
    – ColleenV
    Jun 21, 2017 at 15:03
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    @Lawrence Your edit makes it look like the OP already knew the answer to the pronunciation question. This is not a well written question because there is one question in the headline (pronunciation) and a totally different question in the body (word choice).
    – CJ Dennis
    Jun 21, 2017 at 23:45
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    @thedarkwanderer The set of 3 variants (?) is identical in each case, even though the order of listing the first 2 isn't consistent.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 22, 2017 at 10:00

3 Answers 3

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Nearly all speakers give both words the same pronunciation—but not all speakers use the same pronunciation. Some say fē-än-sā′ for both, some say fē-än′-sā for both. The difference is just which syllable is stressed.

Here's something about the pronunciations of these words that you won't find in dictionaries. Educated people often see these as French words being used in English, so they put the stress on the last syllable and spell them with the accent: fiancé, fiancée. Putting the stress on the third syllable runs counter to the normal sound patterns of English, giving these words a foreign sound—specifically, a French sound. Uneducated people often don't know that these are French words, or don't care, so they make them conform to the normal patterns of English: they put the stress on the second syllable and don't write the accent. Some middle-class people, trying to appear more cultured or upper-class, exaggerate the stress on the final syllable. Some stress the second syllable and lengthen it in order to sound sophisticated. Each pronunciation can sound silly or pretentious to people who use the other pronunciation.

So, people's pronunciation of these words is a not-entirely-reliable indicator of social class, at least in the United States. Paul Fussell talks a little more about this kind of thing in the book Class. I don't agree with all the details of what he says there; perhaps some of these class-markers have shifted since he wrote the book (1992). But the principles still hold. Fussell hints that boyfriend and girlfriend are plain-spoken synonyms. The meaning is different, because these don't mean that the person is engaged to be married, but it's fine to refer to a person's fiancé or fiancée as their boyfriend or girlfriend.


Gradual absorption of foreign words

The moral of this for someone learning English is that sometimes English adopts a foreign word in gradual stages. At first, the word is perceived as still foreign even though it's in use within English sentences. For example, chargé d'affaires is usually italicized in writing and pronounced in French style. If the word becomes more fully absorbed into English, people drop the italics and adjust the pronunciation to fit English patterns. If the word has diacritical marks, eventually those will be dropped, too. However, fiancé is under a lot of pressure to retain the accent because the final e is pronounced; without the accent, the spelling would suggest that the e is silent. (Not so with fiancee.)

During this process, different people treat the word differently: some treat it as fully foreign, some as partly foreign, some as fully absorbed, some misunderstand it, etc. And during this process, these differences become an opportunity for people to demonstrate—or try to demonstrate—their familiarity with a respected foreign culture. Especially if the word comes from French, people can try to use what they think is a more authentic pronunciation to gain social status. Different people perceive all this with different levels of acuity, resulting in the differences in pronunciation and perception described above.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat because it is detracting a bit from the answer. Please feel free to continue the discussion there.
    – ColleenV
    Jun 22, 2017 at 16:19
  • The parts about the words' pronunciation relating to social class are US-specific. In British English, pronouncing words of French origin in a more French way (for instance, putting stress on the last syllable of bidet or fiancé) is fairly unusual, sounds Americanised, and certainly doesn't correlate with social class. Alan Ross' "U and non-U" illustrated that Anglo-Saxon words and phonology are, if anything, perceived as "posher" than Latinate or French. May 24, 2021 at 9:44
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It is pronounced the same, at least in french. As stated before, the accent does not stress the syllable but indicates a variation pronouncing the "e". The additional e makes it no longer for the female fiancée. You would, in french, make the difference by the particle: le , la , mon, ma etc...

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    Nope, in French, they're not pronounced the same: the male version is more cut at the end and the female version has a final syllable that pronounced slightly longer as if you wanted to pronounce the final unaccentuated 'e'. You may not hear it when the words are said without context, but in sentences, it's rather clear for native speakers. Jun 22, 2017 at 12:58
  • @OlivierGrégoire: Doesn't it depend on the accent? I know that Belgian French is supposed to have retained vowel length contrasts, but I was taught that in many other regions such contrasts have been completely lost.
    – sumelic
    Jul 3, 2018 at 22:07
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Both "fiance" (a man who is engaged to be married) and "fiancee" (a woman who is engaged to be married) are pronounced as [fɪ'ɑːn(t)seɪ] or [fiˈɒn.seɪ] in Br.E (mostly) and [fiː.ɑːnˈseɪ] or [fɪ'ɔn-] in Am.E. (mostly). I consulted the Abbyy Lingvo dictionaries and Cambridge, Oxford and Collin's dictionaries.

The synonym is:

  • betrothed (the person to whom one is engaged) for both fiance and fiancee.

Also "wife-to-be" for fiancee and "husband-to-be" for fiance.

If it's associated with a wedding then these words can be synonymous too:

  • bridegroom (a man who is about to get married or has just got married) for fiance.
  • bride (a woman who is about to get married or has just got married) for fiancee.
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    Bride and bridegroom are usually associated with a wedding and not necessarily during the engagement period.
    – Peter
    Jun 21, 2017 at 14:47
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    Bride and bridegroom are not synomyms for fiancee and fiance. Bride and bridegroom are the two roles at the wedding ceremony itself. Jun 21, 2017 at 17:26
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    I'm terrible at IPA, but [fɪ'ɔn-] doesn't look like a correct description of the American pronunciation. Is it meant to represent an alternative pronunciation for the middle syllable only? But in that case, why repeat the first syllable but not the third?
    – Martha
    Jun 21, 2017 at 18:25
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    @Martha The third syllable is omitted to save space in dictionaries because it's the same in both transcriptions. The second syllable differs, so it can't be omitted. This convention is used in pronunciation dictionaries like the LPD. I think that on SE, though, since we don't have that sort of space constraint, we should probably write out the full transcriptions each time to avoid any potential confusion.
    – user230
    Jun 21, 2017 at 19:11
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    As an American, I'd be very surprised to hear /ɔ/ instead of /ɑ/ in "fiance(e)".
    – Joe
    Jun 21, 2017 at 23:11

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