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Œ (minuscule: œ) is a Latin alphabet grapheme, a ligature of o and e. In medieval and early modern Latin, it was used to represent the Greek diphthong οι and in a few non-Greek words, usages that continue in English and French. In French, it is also used in some non-learned words, representing then mid-front rounded vowel-sounds, rather than sounding the same as é or è, those being its traditional French values in the words borrowed from or via Latin.

It is used in the modern orthography for Old West Norse and is used in the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent the open-mid front rounded vowel. In English runology, œ is used to transliterate the Runic letter odal Runic letter othalan.svg (Old English ēðel "estate, ancestral home").[1]

The word onomatopoeia with the œ ligature.


Classical Latin wrote the o and e separately (as has today again become the general practice), but the ligature was used by medieval and early modern writings, in part because the diphthongal sound had, by Late Latin, merged into the sound [e]. The classical diphthong had the value *[oi̯], similar to (standard) English oi as in coil. It occurred most often in borrowings from Greek, rendering that language's οι (= in majuscule: ΟΙ).


A number of words written with œ were borrowed from French and from Latin into English, where the œ is now rarely written. Modern American English spelling usually substitutes e, so diarrhœa has become diarrhea, although there are some exceptions, such as phoenix. In modern British English, the spellings generally keep the o but remove the ligature (e.g. diarrhoea).

The œ ~ oe ~ e is traditionally pronounced as "short E", as "long E" (which = in most dialects [ɛ] or [e] and [i] or [iː] respectively), or as an (unrounded) unstressed vowel. These three Modern-English values interchange with one another in consistent ways, just as do the values within each of the sets from the other vowel-spellings that at the Middle English stage likewise represented non-diphthongs—except for, as was recognised particularly in certain positions by Dobson (2nd ed. = 1968: 495), a tendency whereby "... long vowels are, in later use, often substituted ... cf. Pres(ent-Day) E(nglish) [iːkənɒmik] 'economic' in place of the popular [ekənɒmik], which (latter) is in accord with the normal rules and must be regarded as the traditional and naturally-developed pronunciation ...".

Note concerning words that English has borrowed from French recently that they do not come under its traditional pronunciation. Instead, in our attempts to approximate the values the French are using for œ in these non-learned words (namely, their [œ] and [ø] in terms of the International Phonetic Alphabet), English-speakers use a variety of substitutions. This involves only a few items of vocabulary, as one can see from a fairly-complete list of words in English that have spellings containing œ ~ oe. These recent borrowings from French include just the likes of: manœuvre, hors d'œuvre, œuvre, œil de bœuf, etc. Returning to the remaining majority, which does come under the traditional English pronunciation of borrowings from / via pre-modern French and from / via Latin, we can list the examples of them in the following categories, into which they have been divided by developments in our pronunciation since Middle English.

Anywhere that œ ~ oe ~ e is followed by another vowel (no matter the position(s) of stress(es) in the word, entailing that this category overlaps with certain stress-dependent ones below, in which circumstances it then overrides all of them), we pronounce it as "long E", as in: onomatopœic, onomatopœia, dyspnœa, apnœa, amenorrhœa, diarrhœa, logorrhœa, Eubœa; Bœotia(n), homœosis and its plural, homœoses, homœopathy; homœopath; homœopathic, homœostatic, homœostasis, homœozoic, homœomorphic, and homœomorphism.

In open syllables immediately following / preceding ones that bear primary or secondary stress, we pronounce an œ ~ oe ~ e as an (unrounded) unstressed vowel, that is, as the unstressed one that sounds like "short I" or instead of it for some dialects as shwa, the examples being: tragœdy, (arch)diœcese; œconomisation, œsophageal; œsophagus, œcologist, œcology, œconomise, œconomist, œconomy, œdema, œnologist, œnology, ..., pœnology, and Phœnicia(n). As another option (except in the first subset, that is, save in tragœdy and (arch)diœcese), especially when we want to enunciate more clearly, we alternatively add an additional (secondary) stress on this vowel and then pronounce it as long E.

We also use long E for œ ~ oe ~ e in a primary-stressed open syllable that lies within the final two syllables of the word (noting that, when counting the syllables in this regard, one excludes from consideration certain suffixes even if they do add syllables, such as in the following words -es and -ing, and even not-merely-grammatical suffixes like -cide if one lets the pronunciation of the unsuffixed word carry over to the suffixed one, as one however does not do in genocide, homicide, patricide, etc.), as in: subpœna(ing), phœnix(es), (fœticide, which belongs in this category if the pronunciation of its first vowel as long E indeed due to carry-over from the next word,) fœtus, Phœbe, fœtor, pœnal, Crœsus, and amœba.

And we likewise use long E for œ ~ oe ~ e in primary-stressed open syllables that lie in third-to-final position if the final syllable begins with a vowel while the one in-between ends in a vowel other than o or u (or else did prior to a blending of that vowel with the preceding consonant), as in cœliac and Mœsia(n), which thus = (depending upon the dialect) ['siːliæk] or ['siːʟiæk] and (depending more on idiolect than dialect) ['miːʒə(n)] ~ ['miʃə(n)] ~ ['misiə(n)].

This leaves for last the various situations where we have "short E", as what Dobson called in the quote above the "naturally-developed pronunciation" though "the long vowels are, in later use, often substituted":

  1. for an œ ~ oe ~ e lying in a secondarily-stressed (open or closed) syllable not adjacent to the primary-stressed one, as in (con)fœderation, œcologic(al)(ly), œconomic(al)(ly), œcumenic(al)(ly) and œstrogenic;
  2. for an œ ~ oe ~ e in a closed syllable anywhere as long as it bears some stress (so this overlaps with the preceding category), as in œstrogenic; œstrogen; and œstrus;
  3. for an œ ~ oe ~ e in a primary-stressed syllable that does not lie within the final two of the word (excepting the situation exemplified by cœliac and Mœsia(n) that we just discussed), as in Confœderates, (con)fœderate (adj.), to (con)fœderate, fœderal(ly), Œdipal, Œdipus, pœnalty, and fœtid. The likes of fœtid, though superficially exceptional here, do belong in this category because the counting properly includes also final -e that has gone silent since Middle English (and therefore has been left out by some spellings) in those situations where speakers before the -e's demise, such as Chaucer (who did not drop it in rhymes), would have had the -e as an intrinsic part of the word (rather than as just a suffix)—save for its regularly disappearing where followed with no pause by a word beginning with a vowel or sometimes /h/. As less-circumstantial evidence (than this word's Modern short E) that it contained the final -e, consider both the spelling of its earliest attestation in English recorded by the NED, within "It maketh to blister both handes, & feet, out of which issueth foetide, and stinckinge water." (in a text dating to 1599) and the immediate ancestor of the word, lying between it and Latin's fœtidus, -a, -um, namely, Anglo-Norman French fetide, attested 13th c. (in medical texts, the most narrowly datable being in manuscript from circa 1240 of Roger of Salerno's "Chirurgia").[2] — Within parallels English has to the fœtid, such as acid, arid, avid, placid, rabid, rapid, sapid, squalid, valid, vapid; gelid, intrepid, tepid; frigid, insipid, liquid, livid, rigid, timid, viscid, vivid; florid, solid, and stolid, the stressed syllable's vowel likewise has its short value (or one of its — where /w/ preceding or /r/ following has created a special short value, as in certain dialects' squalid, florid, and/or arid), again because that syllable did not lie within the word's final two, as is straightforwardly shown for these words too by their French spellings: aride, avide, insipide, liquide, livide, etc.[3]

Other Germanic languages

Œ is used in the modern scholarly orthography of Old West Norse, representing the long vowel /øː/, contrasting with ø, which represents the short vowel /ø/. Sometimes, the ǿ is used instead for Old West Norse, maintaining consistency with the designation of the length of the other vowels, e.g.mǿðr "mothers". Œ is also used to express /ø/, regardless of the length of the vowel, in the modern scholarly orthography of Middle High German.

Œ is not used in modern German. Loanwords using œ are generally rendered ö, e.g. Ösophagus. A common exception is the French word Œuvre[4] and its compounds (e.g. Œuvreverzeichnis[5]).

Like German, Danish doesn't use œ, but unlike German, Danish replaces œ or œu in loan words with ø, as in økonomi "economy" from Greek via Latin œconomia or bøf "beef" from French bœuf.


In French, œ is called e dans l'o, which means e in the o (a mnemotechnic pun used first at school, sounding like (des) œufs dans l'eau, meaning eggs in water) or sometimes o et e collés, literally o and e glued) is a true linguistic ligature, not just a typographic one (like the fi or fl ligatures), reflecting etymology. It is most prominent in the words mœurs ("mores"), cœur ("heart"), sœur ("sister"), œuf ("egg"), bœuf ("beef", "steer"), œuvre ("work") and œil ("eye"), in which the digraph œu, like eu, represents the sound [œ] (in other cases, like plurals œufs ("eggs") and bœufs ("steers"), it stands for [ø]).

French also uses œ in direct borrowings from Latin and Greek. So, "coeliac" in French is cœliaque. In such cases, the œ is classically pronounced [e], or, sometimes, in modern pronunciation, [œ]. In some words, like phénix and économique, the etymological œ is changed to a more French é.

In French placenames of German origin (mostly in and around Alsace-Lorraine, historically Germanic-speaking areas that have changed hands between France and Germany (or Prussia before 1871) a number of times), œ replaces German ö and is pronounced [œ]. Examples include Schœneck (Moselle), Kœtzingue (Haut-Rhin), and Hœrdt (Bas-Rhin).

In all cases, œ is alphabetized as oe, rather than as a separate letter.

When oe occurs in French without the ligature, it is pronounced /wa/, just like words spelt with oi. The most common words of this type are poêle ("stove", "frying pan") and moelleux ("soft"). If the oe is not to be pronounced thus, then a diaeresis, acute or grave accent needs to be added in order to indicate that the vowels should be pronounced separately. For example, Noël, poésie, poète. The exception to this rule is when a morpheme ending in o is joined to one beginning in e, as in électroencéphalogramme, or with the prefix co-, which is always pronounced /ko/ in hiatus with the following vowel, as in coefficient ("ratio", "coefficient").


The symbol [œ] is used in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) for the open-mid front rounded vowel. This sound resembles the "œu" in the French œuf or the "ö" in the German öffnen. These contrast with French feu and German schön, which have the close-mid front rounded vowel, [ø].

The small capital variant [ɶ] represents the open front rounded vowel in the IPA. Modifier letter small ligature oe (ꟹ) is used in extensions to the International Phonetic Alphabet.[6]

The Uralic Phonetic Alphabet (UPA) includes U+1D14 LATIN SMALL LETTER TURNED OE.[7]

The Teuthonista phonetic transcription system uses several related symbols:[8]



In Unicode, the characters are encoded at U+0152 Œ LATIN CAPITAL LIGATURE OE (HTML Œ · Œ) and U+0153 œ LATIN SMALL LIGATURE OE (HTML œ · œ). In ISO-8859-15, Œ is 0xBC and œ 0xBD. In Windows-1252, at positions 0x8C and 0x9C. In Mac-Roman, they are at positions 0xCE and 0xCF.

Œ and œ were omitted from ISO-8859-1 (as well as derived standards, such as IBM code page 850), which are still widespread in internet protocols and applications. Œ is the only character in modern French that is not included in ISO-8859-1, and this has led to it becoming replaced by 'oe' in many computer-assisted publications (including printed magazines and newspapers). This was due, in part, to the lack of available characters in the French ISO/IEC 646 version that was used earlier for computing. Another reason is that œ is absent from most French keyboards, and as a result, few people know how to input it.

The above-mentioned small capital of the International Phonetic Alphabet is encoded at U+0276 ɶ LATIN LETTER SMALL CAPITAL OE (HTML ɶ).

See also


  1. ^ Hall, John R. Clark (1962). A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary. Cambridge University Press. p. 108. s.v. "ēðel name of the rune for œ".
  2. ^ "spatule fetide". Retrieved 2018-09-18.
  3. ^ Note also that whether the word contained a final -e does not matter for the parallels whose stressed syllable had (not a monophthong but) a diphthong. That includes words such as humid, lurid, lucid, pellucid, putrid, stupid, and tumid, since Middle-English dialects save in the Southwest had lost the vowel-sound [y] from their sound-systems, and so the Middle-English ancestors of our Modern-Standard dialects used in any open syllable as closest approximation to that sound of the French the diphthong which they spelled in non-Romance words as iw or similar. (Because of using a Middle-English diphthong, distance from word-end did not cause the sound to vary.) Dobson (2nd ed. = 1968: 711) notes however: "... that this was the only development is difficult, though not impossible, to reconcile with the rarity, in the fourteenth century, of the inverted spelling u(e) for the native diphthong [iu] and with the fact that cultivated poets like Chaucer and Gower rhyme O(ld) F(rench) [y] with native [iu] relatively seldom, especially considering the usefulness of such rhymes. Jordan, §230 (= Handbuch der mittelenglischen Grammatik, especially the last paragraph of p. 204), therefore suggests that in highly cultivated speech a pronunciation [y:] was maintained."
  4. ^ [1] Duden online
  5. ^ [2] Duden online
  6. ^ Pentzlin, Karl (2010-04-30). "L2/10-161: Proposal to encode two missing modifier letters for extended IPA" (PDF).
  7. ^ Everson, Michael; et al. (2002-03-20). "L2/02-141: Uralic Phonetic Alphabet characters for the UCS" (PDF).
  8. ^ Everson, Michael; Dicklberger, Alois; Pentzlin, Karl; Wandl-Vogt, Eveline (2011-06-02). "L2/11-202: Revised proposal to encode "Teuthonista" phonetic characters in the UCS" (PDF).


  • De Wilde, G. et al., eds. "Anglo-Norman Dictionary". Accessed 4 April 2017.
  • Dobson, E. J. English Pronunciation 1500-1700. 2 vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1957; 2nd ed., 1968.
  • Jordan, Richard. Handbuch der mittenglischen Grammatik, I. Teil: Lautlehre. Heidelberg: Carl Winter's Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1925.
  • Murray, James A. H. et al., eds. A New English Dictionary Founded on Historical Principles: Founded Mainly on the Materials Collected by the Philological Society. 10 vols + an 11th which contains "Introduction, Supplement, and Bibliography". London: Henry Frowde, 1887–1933.

External links