-é - -ée

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Some words in English taken from French recently - notably 'fiancée' and 'fiancé' - are still written with the French accents by careful academic writers. The modern trend appears increasingly to ignore the accents. This is quite logical - English after all has no written accents - but displeasing to the traditionally minded among us.

If you want to use the careful, rather old-fashioned style of writing with the French acute accent over the 'e', there is one point to notice. A single accented 'é' is, in French, the masculine form. The equivalent feminine form has two 'e's, only the first of which carries the written accent - 'ée'. When a man and woman become engaged, he is her fiancé. She is his fiancée.

The same, mutatis mutandis, is true of the only other pair of words AWE can think of where it might matter - divorcé (a man) and divorcée (a woman). In all other words, we should, in English, follow the French usage - if the sex of the person does not matter, use the masculine form, with one 'é'. But in normal modern usage, just use 'ée' for most words with the '-ee-' sound. (In French, the sound of this letter is more like the '-ay' of 'say'.) You may also want to see -er - -ee for a related point of English usage.

    • Note that the adjective née ('born [as]') is the feminine form, used most often to indicate the maiden name of a married woman. The masculine equivalent is less often required in our patriarchal society. AWE, in its pedantic way, would prefer both forms to be written in italic font, to indicate that it is a foreign term. This view may well be in a minority these days.

(See also -ee for the problem of overuse of this suffix.)