Sound valuesThe vowel letter e can represent a variety of sounds: (1) Short: pet, very, herring, discretion. (2) Long, as in stressed be, he, me and in completion, region. When unstressed, a shortened variant may be heard, as in emit, acme, and the before a vowel: the apple. (3) In RP, phonetically long and open, /ɛ/, before r in there, where. (4) In RP, long with a schwa glide before r: hero, serious. (5) In RP, often when stressed before r (unless followed by another vowel), the phonetically long, central sound in her: infer, inferred, certain (but not as in peril). (6) Schwa in unstressed syllables: barrel, item, incident, robber. In RP, there is sometimes a short i-sound, as in emit, example, acme; also (varying with schwa) in unstressed medial and final syllables (packet, biggest), especially in past participles (admitted, waited). (7) A long ‘Continental’ e, often with the sound of a long English a, in loans from French (café/cafe, élite/elite, régime/regime, suède/suede, ballet, bouquet), in Italian loans (allegro, scherzo), and in the Latin phrase veni, vidi, vici (I came, I saw, I conquered). (8) Exceptionally, e has the value of short i in England, English, pretty.
DigraphsE the first element in the following digraphs:
EA.With the values: (1) Long e as in be: eat, sea, meat, defeat. (2) Long a as in chaos in four words: break, great, steak, yea, and some Irish names such as Shea, Yeats. (3) Short e as in pet in 50 base words and many derivatives: breath, health, measure, etc. (4) Phonetically long and open before r in: bear, pear, swear, tear, wear. (5) In RP, long e before r, with a schwa glide following: ear, hear, near. The same sound also arises when the e and a were formerly in separate syllables: idea, real, theatre, European. (6) In most accents, but not in ScoE, the vowel sound in her before non-final r in over a dozen words, including early, earth, learn, pearl.
EE.With the values: (1) Long e as in be: eel, see, meet, proceed. (2) In a few words, short i as in din: especially in AmE, but sometimes in RP been (‘bin’); especially in RP, but sometimes in AmE, breeches (‘britches’), and widespread in BrE coffee (‘koffy’). (3) In RP, when followed by r, phonetically long with a schwa glide: beer, cheer. (4) In loans, a ‘Continental’ long e as in matinée/matinee (from French) and Beethoven (from German).
EI.With the values: (1) Long e as in be: conceive, receive, AmE leisure. (2) Long a as in chaos in about 40 common words: eight, neighbour, reign, rein, veil, weigh. (3) In some loans, more or less as y in my: from Germanic languages (eiderdown, gneiss); from Greek (kaleidoscope, seismograph). (4) Short e as in pet: heifer, Leicester (‘Lester’), BrE leisure. (5) Schwa or unstressed i as in the second syllable of victim: foreign, sovereign. (6) Variation in either/neither between a long i and a long e sound, and in inveigle between a long e and a long a sound.
Note: EI and IE.The digraphs ei and ie (as in receive and believe) cause confusion in spelling. The dictum ‘i before e except after c’ holds good for nearly all words where the sound is long e (‘ee’ as in seen), as with conceive, deceive, perceive. There are some exceptions with ie after c (such as species), and some words with ie after c where the pronunciation is not ‘ee’ (as with ancient and glacier). There are some 30 words with ei not after c but pronounced ‘ee’, such as protein, seize, weird.
EU, EW, EAU.(1) The digraphs eu and ew generally have the value of you: euphony, feud, queue; ewe, pewter, newt. However, after alveolar and dental consonants, such as n in new, the vowel is often pronounced without the preceding y-sound in the US and in England in London and East Anglia (‘noo’). After j, l, r (jewel, lewd, rheumatism), the y-sound has generally ceased to be pronounced. (2) In sew, the ew has the value of long o, as it did for the pre-20c spelling shew for show. (3) In -eur, in loans from French, eu may have the stressed value of the sound in RP and AmE her (connoisseur, saboteur), but in RP the -eur of amateur may be schwa. (4) In loans from French, the trigraph eau typically has a long o value (bureau, plateau), but in bureaucracy it has the short o of democracy, and in beauty has the same ‘you’ value as eu and ew: but see EAST ANGLIA. (5) In loans from German, eu has the value ‘oi’: Freudian, schadenfreude.
EY, EO.(1) The digraph ey has the values: long a in chaos in they, convey, survey; long e in key; and long i in eye. See Y. (2) The rare digraph eo has no single dominant value: short e in jeopardy, Leonard, leopard; long e in people; long o in yeoman.
Note. The letter combinations of the above digraphs also occur with separate, non-digraph values, as in react, create, pre-existing, deity, reinstate, reopen, reunite.
Following EIn addition to the above, a following e has special functions that alter the value of a preceding letter: (1) When it directly follows another vowel letter, that letter has its long value: after a as in maelstrom, after e as in digraph ee (wheel), after i as in tie, fiery (despite fire, wiry), after o as in toe, after u as in Tuesday. These patterns occur less often in mid-word position, where the e may disappear before a suffix (argue/argument, true/truly) or where the letters may be pronounced separately (diet, poet, duet). Occasionally a following e indicates an anomalous digraph value which confuses learners: friend, shoe. (2) A word-final following e may serve to mark the distinction between the hard and soft values of the consonants c, g: hard in music, dig, soft with following e in convince, urge. Sometimes, it indicates a preceding long vowel at the same time: face, page. The e may be retained in an inflected form to avoid ambiguity (contrast singing/singeing), as well as exceptionally in ageing (although aging also occurs, especially in AmE, in which it is the preferred form). (3) After final s, e sometimes distinguishes a word that ends in voiceless s from a plural s that is pronounced /z/: contrast dense, dens. (4) After final th, e may distinguish a verb with voiced th from a noun with voiceless th: sheath/sheathe, teeth/teethe, wreath/wreathe, but not in a mouth/to mouth. In breath/breathe, cloth/clothe the e may also mark a change in vowel quality.
Magic EAfter consonants, final silent e may give a long value to a vowel immediately before the consonant. This practice arose with the change in value of the preceding vowel at the time of the Great Vowel Shift, after which the final e fell silent. Examples for each vowel are take, eve, quite, hope, lute. This usage, often referred to as magic e (perhaps so called because it operates, as it were, at a distance), also sometimes occurs after two consonants: waste, change. When a suffix beginning with a vowel (such as -ing) is added, the final e disappears, but the preceding vowel remains long: desirable, hoping. As a counterpart to this convention, a word with a short vowel and a single final consonant is required to double its consonant, so as to avoid confusion in such pairs as planning/planing, hopping/hoping.
Silent EIn many words, final e has no implications for pronunciation. It may silently mark a vowel that was once pronounced (as in have) or has been borrowed from French (as in deplore, ignore). In some combinations, it is a conventional device after certain consonants, especially dg and v, which do not usually occur in final positions in English: judge, give. In many words, a long e is indicated both by a digraph and by a final silent e: receive, lease, needle, BrE meagre. Some patterns with silent e: (1) After final /v/, particularly when the preceding vowel is short, in common monosyllables (give, have, love, contrast shave, alive, move, rove), in forms with -lv, -rv (twelve, solve, carve, curve, etc.), and with the suffix -ive (active, motive, etc.). (2) After m, n in some common monosyllables (come, some, done, none, shone, but contrast company, home, son, on, tone); similarly in some polysyllables (cumbersome, destine, engine, discipline, but contrast random, mandolin, origin). (3) In stressed vowel plus -re endings: bore, core, more, restore (contrast abhor); similarly in are, were. (4) After a short vowel and -dg: badge, bridge, knowledge, porridge. (5) In non-final position in heart, hearth, hearken (contrast hark), and height (not *hight). (6) Medial e dropped is some words (hindrance, disastrous), but not in others (preponderance, boisterous). (7) In -ate endings of nouns and adjectives (all with a short vowel sound), but not verbs: contrast a graduate/to graduate, moderate/to moderate. (8) In -ite: definite, favourite, opposite. Contrast calcite, Canaanite, Hittite with deposit, habit, benefit. A similar contrast occurs between the unit of time minute (‘minnit’) and the adjective minute (‘my-newt’). (9) After a consonant plus l, indicating that the l-sound is syllabic: apple, steeple. A similar convention once applied to such words as BrE centre, in which the sound is now schwa. (10) In unstressed final -ure: brochure, figure (contrast murmur, mature).
VariationsThe use of e frequently alternates with other letters or in certain cases is optional:
Latin and French prefixes.(1) Historically, there has been some uncertainty in the spelling of words with the Latin prefixes in-, dis-, and their French equivalents en-, des-. Formerly, there was much free variation between in-/en- and en-/des-, as in imploy/employ, surviving in such pairs as insure/ensure (which are not strict synonyms), and BrE dispatch/despatch (AmE dispatch only), and inquire/enquire (in which there are slight differences in meaning in BrE, and AmE favours inquire). (2) A similar French/Latin variation is found between French-derived letter, enemy, engineer and Latin-derived literal, inimical, ingenious, and between e and a in the final syllable in pairs like assistant/consistent, dependant/dependent: see A.
Vowel variation.(1) Agentives. There is variation between -er and -or in the spelling of the agentive suffix in the words adapter/adaptor, adviser/advisor, convener/convenor, imposter/impostor: see O. Alternatives such as briar/brier also occur, as do such heterographs as drier/dryer and friar/frier. (2) Endings in -y. The endings -ie, -(e)y may occur as alternatives: bogie/bog(e)y, curtsy/curtsey. The adjectival suffix -y normally entails omission of a final e in the base word (race/racy), but holey (‘holey socks’) and gluey are exceptions. Alternatives such as bony/boney and stony/stoney also occur, but without variation for comparatives and superlatives: bonier, stoniest. There is grammatical variation in the use of e when words ending in -y inflect to -ie (city/cities, pity/pitied), but alternatives arise with honey, money (honied, monies or honeyed, moneys). (3) Morphological variation. Varying vowel values between grammatically or derivationally related words are often reflected in a switch from a digraph or magic e to simple e: deep/depth, sleep/slept, succeed/success, lead/led, leave/left, reveal/revelation, receive/reception, thief/theft, serene/serenity. Elsewhere, however, e may be replaced by a different vowel altogether: clear/clarity, compel/compulsion, desperate/despair. In addition, a spelling change does not necessarily represent a change in sound (height/high, proceed/procedure, speech/speak), and sometimes a sound change is not reflected in a change of spelling: deal/dealt, dream/dreamt, hear/heard, to read/he read.
Omitting or retaining E(1) The letter e may be optionally dropped or kept before the suffixes -able, -age, and -ment: judgment/judgement, likable/likeable, lovable/loveable, milage/mileage. (2) Adjectives ending in consonant plus -le lose the final -e when -ly is added: able/ably, possible/possibly, probable/probably, simple/simply. (3) While some nouns that end in -o add -s to form their plurals, others add -es, and others still vary, as with pianos (not *pianoes), potatoes (not *potatos), and both ghettos and ghettoes, often causing uncertainty. (4) The prefixes for-/fore-, by-/bye- are sometimes treated as interchangeable: forego is used with the meaning of both to go before and to go without (which strictly should be forgo); and both by-law and bye-law are found. (5) In some words initial e has been lost by aphaeresis: squire from esquire, sample from example, state from estate.
American and British differences(1) BrE generally has e in adze, axe, carcase, premise, programme, artefact, and words of the type analogue, catalogue, while AmE commonly has adz, ax, carcass, premiss, program, artifact, and analog, catalog. BrE to centre has past tense centred, whereas AmE to center has centered. (2) In some words, where AmE follows a standard pronunciation for e, BrE gives it a value for a: clerk, Derby, sergeant (in which the pronunciation is the same as in the surnames Clark, Darby, Sargent). (3) Where AmE generally has jewelry, BrE generally has jewellery. (4) Where e in such words as hostile, missile has no value in AmE, in BrE it makes these words rhyme with smile. (5) BrE whisky contrasts with AmE and IrE whiskey as a generic name, but many people nonetheless keep the spelling whisky for the Scottish product and whiskey for the Irish and American products, regardless of the varieties of English they use. (6) In AmE, story and stories can mean both ‘tales’ and ‘floors of a building’, while in BrE they only refer to ‘tales’, the form for floors of buildings being storey/storeys. (7) Pronunciations differ for lieutenant: BrE ‘leftenant’, AmE ‘lootenant’. (8) See also various points in the sections Digraphs (EE and EI), Silent E, and Variations above.
E1 / ē/ (also e) • n. (pl. Es or E's ) 1. the fifth letter of the alphabet. ∎ denoting the fifth in a set of items, categories, sizes, etc. ∎ (e) Chess denoting the fifth file from the left, as viewed from White's side of the board. ∎ denoting the lowest-earning socioeconomic category for marketing purposes. 2. (E) a shape like that of a capital E: [in comb.] an E-shaped stately home. 3. (usu. E) Mus. the third note of the diatonic scale of C major. ∎ a key based on a scale with E as its keynote. E2 • abbr. ∎ Earth. ∎ East or Eastern: 139° E. ∎ Easter. ∎ inf. the drug Ecstasy or a tablet of Ecstasy. ∎ engineer or engineering. ∎ English. ∎ [in comb.] (also e) electronic: E-commerce. • symb. Physics ∎ electric field strength. ∎ electromotive force. ∎ energy: E = mc2. E3 • symb. (₠) euro(s).
e • symb. ∎ (also e−) Chem. an electron. ∎ (e) Math. the transcendental number that is the base of Napierian or natural logarithms, approximately equal to 2.71828. e3 / ē/ • n. (pl. e's ) an e-mail system, message, or messages.• v. (e'd, e'ing) [tr.] 1. send an e-mail to (someone): e me to make an offer.2. send (a message) by e-mail.
• (ital.) Maths., symbol for eccentricity (of an ellipse or other conic)
• (or e.) electromotive
• (or e) Physics, symbol for electron
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for electron (or proton) charge
• (ital.) Chem., symbol for equatorial conformation (of molecules)
• Physics, symbol for positron (in e+)
• Maths., symbol for the transcendental number 2.718.282 …
• (bold ital.) Maths., symbol for unit coordinate vectors (in ex, ey, ez)
• Meteorol., symbol for wet air
• indicating the fifth vertical row of squares from the left on a chessboard
E-boat in the Second World War, an enemy torpedo boat.
E-number a code number preceded by the letter E, denoting food additives numbered in accordance with EU directives.