The impossibility of saying “neuf œufs” in French



Day 34: Nine eggs
Originally uploaded by aaocarroll

In an essay by Jurgen Klausenburger called “The morphologization and grammaticalization of French liason”, he quotes Pierre Swiggers (“How to Order Eggs in French” in Folia Linguistica 1985) for the following data:

les œufs [le-zø] “the eggs”
des œufs [de-zø] “(some) eggs”
un œuf [??-nœf] “an, one egg”
deux œufs [dø-zø] “two eggs”
trois œufs [trwa-zø] “three eggs”
quatre œufs [katr-œf] “four eggs”
cinq œufs [s??k-œf] “five eggs”
six œufs [si-zø] “six eggs”
sept œufs [s?t-œf] “seven eggs”
huit œufs [?it-œf] “eight eggs”
*neuf œufs [avoided!] “nine eggs”
dix œufs [di-zø] “ten eggs”

On the same topic, this blog posting states the following:

I had a professor when I was in college — a linguist from Normandy whose native language was French — who was very interested in and amused by such language quirks. He would come to France in the summer and go to outdoor markets to try to get people the say neuf œufs because he thought it was funny.

Almost always, when he asked for nine eggs, the person replying would stick an adjective in between neuf and œufs — neuf beaux œufs, or neuf petits œufs, or neuf gros œufs. He said French people hesitated over the pronunciation of “nine eggs” otherwise.

The blogger who wrote this seems to think the pronunciation of *neuf œufs ought to be [nœv-ø]. This seems also to be the opinion of my beloved wife, who thinks it’s avoided because this would sound very similar to the French word for “nephew”, neveu.

So I’m a little confused. Is the missing pronunciation [nœv-ø] or [nœv-œf]? And why is it avoided?

Also, are Klausenburger and Swigger right in claiming that œufs is pronounced as [œf] after a numeral ending in a consonant other than [-z]? Do French native speakers even agree?

2 thoughts on “The impossibility of saying “neuf œufs” in French”

  1. hmm, hvis reglen er, at æg udtales med [f] til sidst eftre et ord, der slutter med en konsonant, der ikke er /s/, så burde ni æg da hedde. nøf øf, og bortset fra, at det ser sjovt ud, hvad er der så galt med det?

    Kan man egl have talord, der ender på en vokal på fransk? Hvad sker der, hvis det står før æg?

  2. ‘Neuf’ bliver til ‘neuve’ foran vokal, så den forventede udtale er enten /nœv-ø/ eller /nœv-œf/, men sjovt nok undgår fransktalende begge former.
    Jeg kender ikke noget fransk talord, der altid ender på vokal.

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