The Prince and Ms. Markle: Fiancé or Fiancée?

Prince_Harry_&_FiancéeThe Royals are in the news again, this time with the engagement of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle.

The event is especially newsworthy because, as Tim Teeman writes for The Daily Beast:

“She is mixed-race, a long-overdue first for the royal family in 2017, and also American, which immediately touches a British royalist’s nerve.”

Yet, he adds, “We still love the fairytale — and what gets more fairytale than a royal wedding between handsome prince and American commoner?”

Ms. Markle will be known as the Duchess of Sussex, but for now, she is Harry’s fiancée. And Prince Harry is her fiancé. Why does she get an extra e?

Fiancé derives from French, in which every noun has a designated gender: la is feminine, le is masculine, and les is plural.

la pomme (the apple)
le pain (the bread)
le table (the table)
le four (the oven)
les etudiants (male students) / les etudiantes (female students)

La pomme est sur le table, et le pain est dans le four.
The apple is on the table, and the bread is in the oven.

In the case of a couple becoming engaged, the gender dictate in French adds an e to the feminine form:
Prince Harry is Ms. Markle’s fiancé, but she is his fiancée.

There is no difference in pronunciation; both are fee-on-SAY, with the emphasis on the last syllable.

Known as an acute accent (accent aigu in French), the mark over the e has the same angle as a backslash (/) and indicates that you pronounce the e as ay rather than eh or ee.

résumé  |  cliché

The accent mark in French words that has the same angle as a forward slash (\ accent grave in French) indicates that you pronounce the e as eh:

très (very)  |  frère (brother)

With today’s sensitivity to gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language, some prefer that fiancé represent either an engaged male or female.

A year ago, Sussex University issued a gender-inclusive language policy that instructs students and staff to use language that “avoids making assumptions about anyone’s gender identity.”

Uh oh … who’s going to tell the queen?!

For explanations and examples of other accent marks and symbols, see chapter 34 of Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from the Ruthless Editor. You’ll learn about how and where to use the tilde, cedilla, umlaut, ampersand, asterisk and percent sign.

And if you’re a new subscriber and a Francophile, you might have interest in my post about the meanings and pronunciations of French words crêpe, forte and niche.

Au revoir!

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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