Why are these words spelled differently? They have the same sound at the end, right?

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    Welcome katie! Please punctuate your sentences properly. Also, is this a real question, or just a rant? – Jimi Oke Mar 24 '11 at 18:21
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    English is the perfect language, and I'll hear no more about it! ;) – Matt E. Эллен Mar 24 '11 at 18:21
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    'Why isn't English more logical?' Both words are French, btw. -> etymonline.com/index.php?term=repartee / en.wiktionary.org/wiki/saut%C3%A9. – Tiago Cardoso Mar 24 '11 at 18:28
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    @katie, I've edited your question to conform more closely to our site guidelines (which specifically forbid rants disguised as questions). Hope you don't mind. – Marthaª Mar 24 '11 at 18:58
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    @katie: No worries :) It's usually pronounced re-par-TEE. re-par-TAY is not incorrect, only much, much less common, and only in American English, at that. – Jimi Oke Mar 24 '11 at 19:46

First, they don't sound the same at the end: sauté ends with the same sound as play, clay, foray, ballet and parquet (for the last two: in their reference US pronunciation). Repartee rhymes with party and tee!

Onto the reasons: repartee comes from the French repartie (wit), which is pronunced the same (ends like party). Because it was adopted into English a long time ago (mid 17th century), its spelling has been anglicized: it evolved to match the pronunciation (think: tee).

Sauté, on the other hand, was adopted into English in the 19th century, and kept its original spelling. In French, it is pronunced with an open "e" sound at the end1. The closest common sound in English is that of play and clay, so that's how it is pronounced.

1: Apparently, the sound [e] doesn't exist outside of diphthongs in English. It is how they pronunce bed in Australia, says Wikipedia, and cake or play in some US dialects. It's used a lot in French ("é") and Italian (“va bene!”).

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    [e] is also present in many Scottish dialects, among others. – psmears Mar 24 '11 at 21:50
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    The French word is actually repartie, with no accent. From “repartir” (go again, hence bounce off), not “répartir” (divide into parts). – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 25 '11 at 21:03

Because repartee is derived from the French repartie. There is no such word as repartée in French.

  • So it turns out that 'repartee' isn't the best example. But taking 'payee' and 'sauté' for comparison: 'payee' has been in English long enough for its spelling and pronunciation to be fully Anglicized. 'Sauté' is a more recent adoption, so we spell it as the French do and pronounce it approximately as French. – David Garner Aug 28 '15 at 10:56

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