How to Pronounce French Words

Three Parts:Pronouncing French LettersAdditional Pronunciation GuidelinesSpecific Words and Phrases

To speak French properly, you'll need to learn how to correctly pronounce French words and phrases. Memorizing the pronunciation of each letter and other general pronunciation rules will make the process easier, but it may also help to memorize a few specific examples you'll use quite often.

Part 1
Pronouncing French Letters

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    Pronounce French pure vowels. Most vowels in French are considered "pure" vowels. In other words, you need to pronounce each vowel exactly as it is instead of adding extra sounds at the end and turning them into diphthongs (one syllable with two distinct sounds).[1]
    • For instance, in American English, you'd typically add an extra yuh sound at the end of "a" and "e," or an extra wuh sound at the end of "o" and "u." You should not apply these extra sounds when pronouncing French vowels.
    • Also note that you should pronounce vowels in an elongated manner when they are part of a final closed syllable (an ending syllable in which a consonant follows the vowel).
    • Pure French vowels are pronounced as follows:
      • a, à, â: ah
      • a, â: ah, stretched longer
      • e: uh
      • e, è, ê, ai, ei, ais: eh
      • œu, eu: eh, rounded
      • é, et: ay
      • eu: ay, rounded
      • i, y: ee
      • u: ee, rounded
      • ou: oo
      • o, ô: oh
      • o: aw
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    Learn French semi-vowels. Some vowel combinations aren't pure vowels, so when you pronounce them, you'll need to glide through the sound as though it were a diphthong.
    • The French semi-vowels and their pronunciations are:
      • oi, ou: w
      • ui: ew-ee
      • ill, y: yuh
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    Practice French nasal vowels. To pronounce a nasal vowel, you'll need to lower the soft palate of your mouth so that air passes out from both the nose and mouth while you speak.
    • Since English has no distinct nasal vowels, learning to pronounce French nasal vowels may require some practice.
    • Note that nasal vowels typically appear as combinations of vowels with certain consonants.
    • The following is a guideline to nasal vowel pronunciation:
      • en, em, an, am, aon, aen: awn
      • in, im, yn, ym, ain, aim, ein, eim, un, um, en, eng, oin, oing, oint, ien, yen, éen: ahn
      • un: uhn
      • on, om: ohn
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    Pronounce French consonants. Most French consonants are similar to English consonants, but the placement of your tongue should vary in several instances.
    • The letters "p," "t," and "k" should be pronounced with a hard edge. In American English, you'd usually follow these letters with a small exhale, but you should omit that exhale when speaking French.
    • Whenever you would expect to pronounce a consonant by placing the tongue against the upper ridge of your hard palate, reposition the tongue so that it rests just behind your teeth. You'll need to do this for the vowels "t," "d," "s," "z," "l," and "n."
    • Similarly, you'll need to reposition your tongue further back into the mouth when pronouncing the French "r." This makes the letter sound more guttural.
    • Pronounce the French letter "c" with the English k sound, but use the English s sound to pronounce the French "ç."[2]
    • The French "g" should have a hard g sound when placed before "a," "o," or "u." When placed before "e" or "i," or when placed at the end of the word, "g" should have a softer j sound.
    • The letter "h" is typically silent.
    • The "q" or "qu" consonant should sound harder, making it closer to the English k than the English qu.

Part 2
Additional Pronunciation Guidelines

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    Drop certain ending consonants. In most instances, the letters "d," "s," "t", and "x" are not pronounced at all when they are placed at the end of a word.[3]
    • Most of the other consonants should be pronounced when they land at the end of the word, but you should vocalize them less, making them seem nearly silent.
    • The letters "c," "f," "l," and "r" should be silent when placed at the ends of some words, like "blanc" or "gentil," but you'll need to vocalize them at the end of other words, like "avec" and "civil."
    • You should not pronounce the final "e" of most French words. As such, when switching from masculine to feminine adjectives and nouns, you'll usually need to make the final consonant harder when using the feminine version. For instance, the masculine "grand" should have a nearly silent "d," but the feminine "grande" should have a hard "d" and a silent "e."
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    Note several liaison rules. Liaison can be a difficult concept to grasp since it doesn't occur in English. The boundary between two words often blends together in French, causing the final consonant of one word to link itself to the beginning of the following word. This phenomenon is referred to as "liaison."
    • The sound of some consonants will change as a result of liaison. More specifically, "d" will sound like t, "s" will sound like z, and "x" will sound like z. The letter "p" is also used in liaison, but you don't need to change its sound.
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    Apply equal stress across the word. In English, only one syllable of each word receives stress, causing the vowels of the remaining syllables to reduce in volume and formation. This isn't true of French, however.
    • When speaking French, each syllable must receive equal amounts of stress, which means that all vowels should be pronounced in full formation.
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    Learn about intonation. Differences between English and French intonation can be somewhat subtle, so this is another guideline you may need to consciously practice before you can master it.
    • In English, the stressed syllable has the highest pitch, and any other syllable within the word or sentence drops. In French, the intonation is always highest at the beginning of the sentence, and it gradually drops throughout the remaining syllables.
    • In English, the intonation rises near or at the end of any question. In French, the intonation only rises at the end of a "yes/no" question.

Part 3
Specific Words and Phrases

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    Practice French greetings. Greeting someone will be the first thing you need to do when you meet someone who speaks French, and offering a polite farewell will be the last thing you do when you end the conversation.[4]
    • Hello
      • Translation: Salut
      • Pronunciation: sah-loo
    • Good morning / good afternoon
      • Translation: Bonjour
      • Pronunciation: bong-zhoor
    • Good evening
      • Translation: Bonsoir
      • Pronunciation: bong-swahr
    • Good bye
      • Translation: Au revoir
      • Pronunciation: oh ruh-vwahr
    • Good night
      • Translation: Bonne nuit
      • Pronunciation: bonn nwee
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    Exchange current states of being. Shortly after beginning a conversation, you should ask the other individual how he or she is currently feeling. When you're asked the same thing, you'll need to know how to pronounce your reply.[5]
    • How are you?
      • Translation: Comment allez-vous?
      • Pronunciation: kommahng tahlay voo
    • Very well
      • Translation: Très bien
      • Pronunciation: tray byang
    • So-so
      • Translation: Comme ci, comme ça
      • Pronunciation: kum-see, kum-sah
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    Make introductions. If you're speaking to someone new, you need to introduce yourself by offering your name and asking for his or hers.
    • What is your name?
      • Translation: Comment vous appellez-vous?
      • Pronunciation: kom-mohn voo-za-peh-lay voo
    • My name is...
      • Translation: Je m'appelle
      • Pronunciation: juh mah-pell
    • Pleased to meet you
      • Translation: Enchanté
      • Pronunciation: ohn-shahn-tay
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    Use polite phrases. Etiquette is part of any language, and proper pronunciation is an important part of being polite.
    • Excuse me
      • Translation: Excusez-moi
      • Pronunciation: ex-koo-zay mwah
    • Sorry
      • Translation: Désolé
      • Pronunciation: day-zo-lay
    • Pardon me
      • Translation: Pardon
      • Pronunciation: pahr-dohn
    • Thank you
      • Translation: Merci
      • Pronunciation: mare-see
    • You're welcome
      • Translation: De rien
      • Pronunciation: dah ree-ehn
    • Please
      • Translation: S'il vous plaît
      • Pronunciation: seel voo play
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    Give simple replies. When you're asked a simple “yes” or “no” question, you need to know how to pronounce your reply if you wish to make your answer understood by the other party.
    • Yes
      • Translation: Oui
      • Pronunciation: wee
    • No
      • Translation: Non
      • Pronunciation: nohng
    • I don't know.
      • Translation: Je ne sais pas.
      • Pronunciation: zher ner say pah
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    Find out information. You'll inevitably have some questions, and knowing how to pronounce some of the words commonly used in many questions will make it easier to convey your inquiry.
    • Where?
      • Translation: Où?
      • Pronunciation: oo
    • When?
      • Translation: Quand?
      • Pronunciation: kahng
    • How?
      • Translation: Comment?
      • Pronunciation: kommahng
    • Why?
      • Translation: Pourquoi?
      • Pronunciation: poor-kwah
    • Who?
      • Translation: Qui?
      • Pronunciation: kee
    • Which?
      • Translation: Lequel? / Laquelle?
      • Pronunciation: ler-kell / lah-kell
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    Ask for help. Learning French can be difficult, so if you need help, there's no shame in asking for it. Of course, knowing the correct pronunciation for these “help” questions and phrases will make it easier to actually get the assistance you need.
    • Do you speak English?
      • Translation: Est-ce que vous parlez anglais?
      • Pronunciation: essker voo pahrlay ahng-glay
    • Please speak slowly.
      • Translation: Parlez lentement.
      • Pronunciation: par-lay lehn-ta-mohn
    • I don't understand.
      • Translation: Je ne comprends pas.
      • Pronunciation: zher ner kong-prahng pah
    • Can you help me?
      • Translation: Est-ce que vous pouvez m'aider?
      • Pronunciation: essker voo poovay may-day

Article Info

Categories: French