FRENCH PRONUNCIATION

For English native speakers French pronunciation might be a little bit tricky, but on the other side it can also be an advantage. There are quite a lot of similarities between these two languages.

 

In this lesson you will find a detailed explanation of pronunciation of French vowels, nasal vowels and consonants.

 

Once you have mastered these rules you won't have problems neither with spelling nor with pronunciation. 

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French Vowels

 

Phonetic spelling

Sample words

General spellings

[i]

ee

vie, midi, lit, riz

i, y

[y]

ee rounded

rue, jus, tissu, usine

u

[e]

ay

blé, nez, cahier, pied

é, et, final er and ez

[ø]

ay rounded

jeu, yeux, queue, bleu

eu

[ɛ]

eh

lait, aile, balai, reine

e, è, ê, ai, ei, ais

[œ]

eh rounded

sœur, œuf, fleur, beurre

œu, eu

[a]

ah

chat, ami, papa, salade

a, à, â

[ɑ]

ah longer

bas, âne, grâce, château

a, â

[u]

oo

loup, cou, caillou, outil

ou

[o]

oh

eau, dos, escargot, hôtel

o, ô

[ɔ]

aw

sol, pomme, cloche, horloge

o

[ə]

uh

fenêtre, genou, cheval, cerise

e

 

Vowels that do not exist in English are marked in blue.

 

French semi-vowels

 

Phonetic spelling

Sample words

General spelling

[w]

w

fois, oui, Louis

oi, ou

[ɥ]

ew-ee

lui, suisse

ui

[j]

yuh

oreille, Mireille

ill, y

 

French nasal vowels

 

Phonetic spelling

Sample words

General spelling

[ã]

awn

gant, banc, dent

en, em, an, am, aon, aen

[ɛ̃]

ahn

pain, vin, linge

in, im, yn, ym, ain, aim, ein, eim, un, um, 
en, eng, oin, oing, oint, ien, yen, éen

[œ̃]

uhn

brun, lundi, parfum

un

[õ]

ohn

rond, ongle, front

on, om

 

In words beginning with in-, a nasal is only used if the next letter is a consonant.

Otherwise, the in- prefix is pronounce een before a vowel.

 

French Consonants

ex + vowel

egz

examen, exercice

ex + consonant

eks

exceptionnel, expression

ch (Latin origin)

sh

architecte, archives

ch (Greek origin)

k

orchestre, archéologie

ti + vowel (except é)

see

démocratie, nation

c + e, i, y; or ç

s

cent, ceinture, maçon

c + a, o, u

k

caillou, car, cube

g + e, i, y

zh

genou, gingembre

g + a, o, u

g

gomme, ganglion

th

t

maths, thème, thym

j

zh

jambe, jus, jeune

qu, final q

k

que, quoi, grecque

h

silent

haricot, herbe, hasard

vowel + s + vowel

z

rose, falaise, casino

x + vowel

z

six ans, beaux arts

final x

s

six, dix, soixante (these 3 only!)

 

There are a lot of silent letters in French, and you usually do not pronounce the final consonant, unless that final consonant is C, R, F or L (except verbs that end in -r).

 

 

Liaison: French slurs most words together in a sentence, so if a word ends in a consonant that is not pronounced and the next word starts with a vowel or silent h, slur the two together as if it were one word.

S and x are pronounced as z; d as t; and f as v in these liaisons. Liaison is always made in the following cases:

  • after a determiner: un ami, des amis
  • before or after a pronoun: vous avez, je les ai
  • after a preceding adjective: bon ami, petits enfants
  • after one syllable prepositions: en avion, dans un livre
  • after some one-syllable adverbs (très, plus, bien)
  • after est
  • It is optional after pas, trop fort, and the forms of être, but it is never made after et.

 

 

Silent e: Sometimes the e is dropped in words and phrases, shortening the syllables and slurring more words.

 

  • rapid(e)ment, lent(e)ment, sauv(e)tage /ʀapidmɑ̃/ /ɑ̃tmɑ̃/ /sovtaʒ/
  • sous l(e) bureau, chez l(e) docteur /sul byʀo/ /ʃel dɔktoʀ/
  • il y a d(e)... , pas d(e)... , plus d(e)... /yad/ /pad/ / plyd/
  • je n(e), de n(e) /ʒən/ /dən/
  • j(e) te, c(e) que /ʃt/ /skə/ (note the change of the pronunciation of the j as well)

 

 

Stress and Intonation: Stress on syllables is not as heavily pronounced as in English and it generally falls on the last syllable of the word. Intonation usually only rises for yes/no questions, and all other times, it goes down at the end of the sentence.

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