Entree, entry, or entrée?

If you're going to use it, say it right

Pronunciation sometimes makes the word. If someone has taken a bit part in a movie, one might say she got an “EN-tree-level acting job.” But if you say that first job has launched her career, one might say that first job was her “on-TRAY into Hollywood.”

But is it spelled the same way?

Before we get to that, we need to discuss the various ways of breaking and entering.

The word “entry,” Webster’s New World College Dictionary says, means “a) the act of entering; entrance b) the right or freedom to enter; entree,” as well as a passage into a place, or an item in a list, etc.

And the word “entree,” WNW says, means “a) the act of entering b) right, permission, or freedom to enter, use, or take part in; access.” And, of course, “entree” is also “the main course of a meal” or, “in some countries, a dish served before the main course or between the fish and meat courses.” But that “entree” is usually pronounced more like “ON-tray” than “on-TRAY.”

Hmm. By those definitions, that first job gave our budding actress both “entry” and “entree.” But which one of those spellings gave her “on-TRAY”?


Both entries come from the same root, most closely the French “entrée.” But we English-speakers were using “entry” in the early 14th century; we didn’t go back to the French spelling until the early 18th century, The Oxford English Dictionary says. The OED lists one definition of “entrée” as “The privilege or right of entrance; admission,” specifically “the privilege of admission to a Royal Court.” That sounds like the kind of entrance to Hollywood our budding actress was getting.

But wait! One entry in OED’s “entry” entry is “The becoming a member of an institution.” That also sounds like the ticket to stardom. Alas, the OED calls that usage “obsolete.”

Are we getting close to the answer?


Here’s one major clue: The major dictionaries all have a single pronunciation for “entry”: “EN-tree.”

You can write that her bit part was an “entry” into Hollywood. But it would need to be pronounced “EN-tree.” But doesn’t something so momentous deserve better? Doesn’t it deserve some more, um, pretentious pronouncement?

Then go ahead; say she got “ON-tray” into Hollywood. (It’s hard to find any dictionary that pronounces it “on-TRAY.”) But spell it “entree.” When she’s a diva, maybe, you can refer to her “entree.” Until then, plain “entry” will suffice. You could, of course, just say she got her foot in the door, or her big break, or something that doesn’t evoke the Royal Court.

If you must use “entree,” at least use it correctly. “A few parade entrees stood out from the rest,” as one news report had it, makes one wonder if it was a parade of food. The word wanted there was “entries,” the plural of the plain, vanilla “entry.”

One more thing: Do you have to use the accent on “entrée”? Only if you want to impress someone, or charge more for your food. “Entree” has thoroughly entered English (though some dictionaries prefer the accent). And though it’s feminine in French, we Americans use the double “e” even if our “entree” is a lot of bull.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.