Silent Letters in French

What NOT to pronounce in French spelling

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

Silent Letters in French

French, like English, is not written phonetically. Vowels can be represented by several different letter combinations and many letters are actually not pronounced. (You can thank early "linguists" who changed the spelling of many French words, with complete disregard to pronunciation, so that it was closer to Latin orthography.)

  • The final consonant of many words is silent. Sometimes a final c, f, l or r are pronounced though.

    Final c, f, l, r silent

    blanc cléf outil parler
    franc cerf sourcil chercher
    tabac nerf gentil habiter
    estomac   persil fermer

    Final c, f, l, r pronounced

  • bouc œuf fil car
    lac sauf avril mer
    avec veuf civil pour
    donc actif col hiver

  • Similar to English, final -e in most words is not pronounced. For feminine adjectives and nouns, this generally means that the final consonant of the masculine form will now be pronounced.


    Masculine
    Feminine
    vert verte
    grand grande
    canadien canadienne
    boulanger boulangère
    chat chatte


  • As mentioned above, a few silent letters were placed in French orthography for the prestige of being more similar to Latin. Other letters are now silent for other historical reasons (i.e. perhaps the pronunciation changed, but the spelling did not.) The following words all have silent letters:

sept rang fils trop
rompt sang pouls camp
aspect œil saoul chocolat
instinct fauteuil cul crédit
pied ail Renault riz
nid drap sirop nez

 

  • A few plural nouns change their pronunciations to include silent letters, whereas these consonants are pronounced in the singular form:

un œuf des œufs
un bœuf des bœufs
un os des os

 


 

French Phonetics: Learn French Pronunciation



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