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Recently, I pronounced the word enqueue as ahn-queue. The person I was talking to said he would have pronounced it with a more normal en sound (like in Ben or den).

I'm not sure why I thought that ahn- was the way to pronounce this—it seems to be wrong according to the dictionary.

The cases that ahn- seems to be correct are two-word french phrases (e.g., en route). I also thought of envoy, which does allow the ahn- pronunciation as a second option.

Is there a pattern for which words allow or require en- to be pronounced as ahn-? Or is this just something you have to know word-by-word?

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I encourage this ensemble of ideas. –  user84900 Jul 13 at 2:07

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The list of en- words that can be pronounced /an/ rather than /ɪn/ or /ɛn/ is pretty short. From a quick search of the Carnegie-Mellon Pronouncing Dictionary, these words start with en- and can be pronounced /an/ (some have alternate pronunciations with /ɛn/):

ENCLAVE
ENCLAVES
ENCORE
ENCORES
ENFANT
ENSEMBLE
ENSEMBLES
ENTENDRE
ENTOURAGE
ENTOURAGES
ENTRE
ENTREE
ENTREES
ENTREPRENEUR
ENTREPRENEUR'S
ENTREPRENEURIAL
ENTREPRENEURS
ENTREPRENEURSHIP
ENVOY
ENVOYS

I will note also that Merriam-Webster does also countenance /an/ for envelope. However, few if any other en- words can be pronounced /an/.

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Thanks! Looks like it is a short enough list to just remember word-by-word. Out of curiosity, how did you search that dictionary - I wasn't able to figure out how to do such a complex query on the online search (or do you have to download it?). –  Justin Feb 24 '11 at 18:30
    
Yep, I downloaded it and ran this command grep '^EN' cmudict.0.7a | grep ' AA' | perl -pe 's/\(1\)//' | cut -f 1 -d\ | sort -u –  nohat Feb 24 '11 at 18:47
    
(That second grep command actually two spaces before the AA, which seems to have been swallowed up here into one space.) –  nohat Feb 24 '11 at 19:04
    
Thanks! Good to know. –  Justin Feb 24 '11 at 19:29
    
It looks like all the words in that list are nouns. Is there a connection between noun/verb and ahn/en? –  oosterwal Feb 24 '11 at 22:33

En- is pronounced in French roughly like English's ahn. Most words beginning with en- have a French origin, explaining this behavior. When in doubt, if the word looks French, go with ahn. Of course that doesn't work for all cases, for example engage or envy. I don't know of any steadfast rule to follow.

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I disagree about "Most words beginning with en- have a French origin". Most words don't. In fact quite a few of them are formed simply by adding the en- prefix to some verb (as in enqueue, engage, entrap, etc.) Here's a list of 1436 words starting with en- — scrolling through the list and picking words at random, French words are rare. –  ShreevatsaR Feb 24 '11 at 17:14
    
It's true; I didn't do any research to back up my claim. I think it's a bit beside the point; the point is more about borrowed French pronunciation causing ambiguities in English. Whether it's "most" or not (also, "most" in what terms - usage? count of words?). –  tenfour Feb 24 '11 at 17:30
    
@ShreevatsaR: You may be right about numbers (I couldn't get this list from your link); but engage and entrap have the French prefix, not the English one, according to the OED. I'd say any word that existed in French first was probably taken from French directly. Enqueue isn't even in the OED; since it does not exist in French as far as I know, it's probably an English formation. However, even the English suffix en- comes directly from French. In short, I think pronouncing ahn- for all words of French origin would be rather... courageous, as Sir Humphrey would say. –  Cerberus Feb 24 '11 at 17:46
    
@tenfour: What sense can you pick for which "most" would be true? :-) @Cerberus: Ok, I should have been more clear: For most words in English beginning with en-, the en- is not pronounced ahn as in French. Seems you agree. :-) The link is this; Markdown ate the final *: http://www.morewords.com/?en* –  ShreevatsaR Feb 24 '11 at 17:52
    
The French pronunciation of 'en' is most certainly not like 'ahn'. 'Ahn' looks like an Americanism, actually. The french 'en' is pronounced similarly to RP's 'on' (though the Americans rarely pronounce 'o' that way and have modified it to 'ah'), although the French would barely pronounce the 'n' in 'en' so it's kind of hard to write. I dunno where you get 'ahn' from though. –  Jez Feb 25 '11 at 14:09

Indeed, most of the en- words are of French origin. However, majority of them are pronounced |en|, as in envy. It is not uncommon to hear some of them mispronounced |ahn|. This is rife and quite acceptable in America, most especially for the word envelope.

All the compound French-derived words beginning with en are pronounced |ahn|. En route can also be pronounced as written.

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In British English you hear "envelope" with both /'ɛn-/ (like "end") and /'ɒn-/ (like "on"), the latter I think being a half-naturalised version of a French pronunciation. Apart from that word, I think the /'ɒn-/ pronunciation is only used for words that are still felt to be foreign, such as "entourage" and "ensuite" (if the latter is regarded as a word). I don't think there's a rule to tell which words come in this category though. –  Colin Fine Feb 24 '11 at 17:44

In American English, en- is pronounced /ɪn/, or /ɛn/.
In most of the words starting with en-, en- is a prefix that has origin from French, from Latin in.

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