French Pronunciation

How to pronounce French vowels and consonants


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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 Pronunciation / La prononciation

For a more in-depth look at French pronunciation, try to the French Phonetics tutorial.

French Vowels
IPA 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

[ɑ] is disappearing in modern French, being replaced by [a]. Vowels that do not exist in English are marked in blue.

 

French semi-vowels
IPA 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
IPA Phonetic spelling Sample words General spelling
[] 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

[œ̃] is being replaced with [ɛ̃] in modern French

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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