How to Pronounce French Consonants

Learn the pronunciation of French consonants

This tutorial presents an overview of the rules of European/metropolitan French pronunciation, focusing on the vowels, consonants, stress, and intonation patterns that are different from American English. For more practice with comprehension and pronunciation, please check the listening and repetition exercises.

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For more French learning through authentic videos, I recommend Yabla French and FluentU. For audiobooks and lessons of modern French, try French Today. I've recommended some French books at Amazon, and Interlinear books are great for learning French by reading literal translations in English. Need even more French? Try the French courses at Udemy

French Consonants

Many of the consonants in French are very similar to the consonants in English. A few differences include:

  1. [p], [t] and [k] are NOT aspirated in French so try not to let that extra puff of air escape from your lips.

  2. Consonants that are alveolar in English are generally dental in French. Try to rest your tongue just behind your teeth instead of on the alveolar ridge for [t], [d], [s], [z], [l] and [n].

  3. The letter h is never pronounced, but you need to remember to distinguish the h non-aspiré from the h aspiré. Most words belong to the first group, but for the words that have an h aspiré, there are two characteristics that make them different: the definite article does not reduce to l' (called elision) but remains le or la and word boundaries are maintained so that sounds do not link (absence of liaison). Most words with an h aspiré are of Germanic origin.


    h non-aspiré h aspiré
    l'habitude la hache
    l'herbe le hall
    l'heure le haricot
    l'histoire le hasard
    l'homme le hibou
    l'honneur le homard
    l'huile le hockey

  4. [R] is articulated further back in the throat (with the back of the tongue) and is usually the hardest French consonant for English speakers to pronounce correctly. It is a voiced uvular fricative sound and does not have an effect on preceding vowels the way that American English r does. It must remain consistent in all positions, regardless of the other vowels and consonants that may be adjacent to it.


    Initial After consonant Between vowels Before consonant Final
    rusé droit arrêt partout mer
    rang gris courir merle pire
    rose trou pleurer corde sourd

  5. In the majority of words with the grapheme ch, the pronunciation is [ʃ], but it is also pronounced [k] in words of Greek origin. It is silent, however, in the word almanach.


    ch = [ʃ] ch = [k]
    chercher archéologie
    réchauffer chaos
    chérubin chrétien
    architecte écho
    catéchisme orchestre
    Achille chœur

  6. The graphemes gu and qu can be pronounced three different ways: [g], [gw], [gɥ] and [k], [kw], [kɥ], respectively. The majority of words are pronounced with simply [g] and [k], but the spelling will not tell you which sound to pronounce, so you'll just have to learn them individually.


    [g]
    [gw]
    [gɥ]
    anguille jaguar aiguille
    fatigue iguane ambiguïté
    guérilla lingual linguiste
    distinguer Guadeloupe  


    [k]
    [kw]
    [kɥ]
    question adéquat quiescent
    qualité aquarium équilatéral
    équivalent square ubiquité
    quartier équateur équidistant


  7. Even though most final consonants are not pronounced in French (see below), there are a few exceptions, especially with words ending in -s. In words ending in a consonant + s or -es, the s is silent. However, if a word ends in -as, -ès, -is, -os, or -us, then the s is sometimes pronounced.


    final s silent final s pronounced
    cadenas atlas
    débarras pancréas
    accès aloès
    exprès palmarès
    logis oasis
    clos vis
    dessous albatros
    confus sinus
    dehors ours

 

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