I know that pronunciation in English is not very consistent, but I heard rendezvous being pronounced like run-they-who, which felt very strange. Is this really the right way to pronounce it, and how did it turn out like this?

  • Listen French/German pronounciation at: forvo.com/word/rendezvous – Afriza N. Arief Feb 1 '13 at 8:59
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    @gerrit If it is a French word, then maybe yes. I asked it here because it is an English word. – user207 Feb 1 '13 at 10:53
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    A lot of the answers here are treating it as though it's a French word even when used in an English context. Sources indicate it was borrowed into English four centuries ago. – hippietrail Feb 1 '13 at 14:18
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    In general assuming that a foreign word that English has <strike>borrowed</strike>stolen is pronounced the same as in its source language is incorrect. In addition to having its pronunciation frozen the way it was taken (as appears to be the case with rendezvous), changes in standard English pronunciation will often be carried over, and in many cases (especially for place names) if it doesn't appear wrong to do so by native speakers it will end up being pronounced as if it was of English origin. – Dan Neely Feb 1 '13 at 16:19
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    When you steal something from somebody they don't also get to keep it. This makes linguistic borrowing unlike regular stealing or regular borrowing, but the only words we have for the concept are borrowing and loanword. Not to mention the fact that it was French that forced its way into English-speaking territory with the Norman invasion. – hippietrail Feb 2 '13 at 1:02

No, not run-they-who but ron-day-voo.


Both Modern French and Modern English got the word rendezvous from Middle French. It's been an English word for about four hundred and twenty years!

So simply saying it's a French word and we should mimic the modern French pronunciation is disingenuous.

English spelling is quirkier than its pronunciation. We've pretty much retained the French spelling (merely dropping the hyphen) but the pronunciation is quite different. French "r" is very different to any of the ways "r" is pronounced in English. French has nazalised vowels (the first "e" is one) but English does not.

(In fact it's quite possible that even the French meanings and pronunciation have drifted a little in the four centuries since English adopted this word.)

Both the Middle French and Modern French pronunciations are out of scope for this site for English learners. (They would be relevant in a forum, or in a linguistics site.)

The only pronunciation I know is like "ron-day-voo". Different dictionaries would render it different ways. The English Wiktionary currently uses:

/ˈɹɑndəˌvu/ or /ˈɹɑndeɪ̯ˌvu/ for American English and /ˈɹɒndɪˌvuː/ or /'ɹɒndeɪ̯ˌvuː/ for British English.

Without the IPA these would be like ron-duh-voo and ron-dee-voo. These suggest that the second "e" can also be reduced like the "e" in chicken. But I'm not familiar with these pronunciations. These are both farther from the French pronunciation and perhaps a little closer to run-they-who.

Anyway, I would render the pronunciation I know in IPA this way:

/rɒndeɪvuː/ (ɒ is the vowel in hot. In most American English accents this is usually affected by the "cot-caught merger" and is rendered ɑ in IPA.)

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    @snailplane: I wanted it to stand out from the rest of my rambling (-: I guess I'll just pick one, bold, and ditch the all caps. – hippietrail Feb 1 '13 at 14:14
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    I can't think why OP hears it as run-they-who, but that certainly seems like the most important error to dismiss straight away. Anyway, defo +1 for making the point that the English pronounciation is just that - English. I get fed up with people telling me I should pronounce such foreign imports using phonemes that simply don't exist in my language (even though in principle I'm prepared to attempt them if I'm actually speaking French, for example). – FumbleFingers Feb 1 '13 at 23:12
  • @FumbleFingers: The more I think about it, the more I think run-they-who could be based on an imperfect attempt to get the closest sound in English phonemes as possible to the Modern French pronunciation as possible. French nasalized "a" sounds more like an "o" to most English speakers than to an English "u" or "ah". I've been told Spanish "d" is closer to English "th" than English "d" so maybe the same is true of French "d". I don't think French "ez" is ever reduced to a schwa, though the dictionaries have told me some English pronunciations do reduce this part to schwa or "i"... – hippietrail Feb 2 '13 at 1:18
  • ... If French "v" is bilabial like in Spanish rather than labiodental like in English then "w" or even "b" is in some ways as good an approximation for their "v" as is our "v". Whoever devised this was either trying too hard, or possibly joking. – hippietrail Feb 2 '13 at 1:21
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    @hippie: Well, since we don't even bother attempting to replicate the sound of their capital city (which is still French, after all), I hardly see why we should bust a gut to do that with a word which we've indisputably "captured". It's ours now, so we can pronounce it how we want! – FumbleFingers Feb 2 '13 at 1:29

“Rendezvous” is a loan word — usually rendered like ron-day-voo¹ — which you can listen to here.

Rendez-vous is the French word for “appointment” (date, gathering). Its English pronunciation is very much alike how the French pronounce it :

  • (The [r] is a lost cause.)
  • The [en] is that of wand, more or less.
  • The [dez] is the [de] of decorate, only slightly more acute. (In fact, [ez] is é in French, but English only knows of the French è. It's close enough, really.)
  • The [v] is that of view.
  • The [ou] is like the English oo (fool). The s is silent.

¹ Or run, or ran, even ren.

Thanks to afriza for the link, to hippietrail for etymology, and to user22911 for de.

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    This is just not correct. Rendezvous has, like many words of foreign origin, been in English for over four hundred years. So though its origins are still quite apparent it's absolutely an English word too. 400 years ago French did not even sound as it does today. Trying to pronounce it as though it's a Modern French word in the middle of an otherwise Modern English sentence is not good advice. – hippietrail Feb 1 '13 at 14:13
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    @hippietrail Some loan words (like "garage") quickly lose their conscious connection to their source language, while others (like "Rendezvous") never really lose the it in conscious communication. Even though garage was only borrowed about 100 years ago, hardly anyone who uses it thinks of it as a French word, so its pronunciation naturally drifts with English. Rendezvous, on the other hand may be 4 time older, but it is still very much thought of as a French word (whether loan or not), and so it naturally drifts with French, because English speakers try to make it sound like French. – RBarryYoung Feb 1 '13 at 17:03
  • +1, it's less common to also hear it pronounced ren-day-voo, but I have a few times. – Lee Kowalkowski Feb 1 '13 at 21:50
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    This is quite true @RBarryYoung. I would dispute that most people feel some Frenchness when reading or hearing rendezvous or aim for Frenchness when using it. Though it's Frenchness is very obvious to many of us, I'm very sure there are as many people who would be surprised it's from French as are surprised it's not recent. It would be fun to look at a random corpus of uses to see its main contexts and collocations. Interestingly the ron-di-voo/ron-duh-voo are more Anglicized pronunciations than the ron-day-voo I prefer. It's probably the spelling that gives away it's Frenchness most. – hippietrail Feb 2 '13 at 0:47
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    @hippietrail I suppose we'll just have have to disagree on that then. In my experience, although people who know the word rendezvous may not know its origin, the people who actually use it universally know(assume) that it is of French origin. In fact, that's the reason that they do use it (instead of the perfectly serviceable word "meeting"), because of how it sounds. It sounds French, and from the spelling, anybody with even high school French can easily tell that it must have a french origin. – RBarryYoung Feb 2 '13 at 17:38

No, it is pronounced /ˈɹɑndeɪ̯ˌvu/ (ron-day-voo). Rendezvous comes from the French rendez-vous, meaning a meeting or appointment, and its pronunciation was very much influenced by French pronunciation.

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    Literally, that's “[you] go [someplace]”, the person being indicated by the agreement, and the place being amiss. (And it's vous.) – Nikana Reklawyks Feb 1 '13 at 6:55

Rendezvous is a borrowing from French and still carries with it a French pronunciation, modified to fit available English sounds: ˈrɑndeɪˌvu (like ron-day-voo).

Well! It's really very difficult for an American (all English speaking persons, in general—but not only for those) to pronounce "rendez-vous" (not "rendezvous"). The same difficulties that all peoples other than those of English mother tongue generally find in pronouncing English (US or GB).

Why is the pronunciation of "rendez-vous" so difficult? First of all:

  1. the French (like the Germans) have a very special way of "rolling" the letter "r". You will find it very difficult if you have not learned to do so as a child. See Language Guide—French Pronunciation: Consonants.

  2. Also: learning the the French nasal sound is, unquestionably, a difficult task. If you wish to exercise, please go to Language Guide—French Pronunciation: Nasal Vowels.

To resume: Do you really wish to pronounce "rendez-vous" like a real French person does? Or you could be satisfied just by pronouncing it in a decent way? In my opinion the second option would be all right for you, especially because your listener would laugh at you!

This is a sufficiently fine pronunciation for you:

run (of run ning) + de (Letter e of demonstrate) + voo (of voo-doo)

rundevoo

  • Oh, demonstrate is exactly what I was looking for :·) – Nikana Reklawyks Feb 1 '13 at 17:07
  • Actually the Germans have at least three different ways of rolling their "r", depending on where they're from. Sometimes like the French one, which comes from the same place the sound "g" comes from, sometimes like the Spanish one, which comes from the same place the sound "d" comes from, and then there's the one that's a rolling sound coming from the throat - the most striking one for me, and the hardest for me to try to mimic. – hippietrail Feb 2 '13 at 0:58
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    I disagree with this answer because it implies Anglophones should attempt to replicate the French pronunciation. I feel that's a completely untenable position. – FumbleFingers Feb 2 '13 at 1:34
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    I agree with @FumbleFingers. This word has been current in English for more than 400 years and is no longer foreign. – StoneyB Feb 2 '13 at 17:42
  • I appreciate what StoneyB says. In fact the word (actually 2 words = "rendez" and "vous") is current in English and, therefore, it has to be considered as an English word. As an European linguist, however, I like to pronounce foreign words properly. Therefore I insist in what I said: "This is a sufficiently fine pronunciation for you (Americans): - run (of running) + de (Letter e of demonstrate) + voo (of voo-doo)" rundevoo (try to roll the "r" like the Italians and Spaniards do) – user22911 Feb 3 '13 at 21:09

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