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A Quick Guide to Pronouncing French

French pronunciation is often trickier than Spanish for an English speaker. But a few basic rules should get you through most of BOND OF FIRE.

“A” as the “a” in “father.”

“AI” as the “ay,” as in “pain.”

“AU” as the “o,” as in “taupe.”

“C” is pronounced like “k” when it appears before a, o and u, but

Soft like “s” when it appears before e, i, and y.

“Ç” is always pronounced like “s.”

“E” is usually barely pronounced, as the “e” in “open.”

“É” as the “ay” in “may.”

“È,” “Ê”, “EI” as the “eh” in “pet.”

“EAU” as the “ow” in “show.”

“G” is hard, as in ‘get,’ before a, o, and u but

Soft “zh” before e and i.

“H” is always silent.

“I”, “Ï,” “Δ as the “ee” in “sweet.”

“J” as the “zh” in “measure.”

“O” as in “spoke.”

“OI” sounds like “wa.”

“OU” as the “oo” in “soup.”

“Q” is pronounced as “k.”

“R” ‘gargle’ is always pronounced by placing the tongue at the back of the throat. It sounds like a softer version of some people spitting. It’s very soft in educated casual speech.

“S” is pronounced as “z” when it appears between two vowels;

Elsewhere, it’s pronounced as the “s” in “sit.”

“U” as in “yu” “puke.” “it’s pronounced with the lips more rounded and the tongue more raised than an ‘oo’.

“UE” is pronounced [approximately] “weh,” as in “suede.”

“UI” is pronounced “wee,” as in “cuisine.”

Nasal vowels

When making a nasal vowel, breath escapes partly through the nose and partly through the mouth. French has three of these but English has none.

They occur when a syllable ends in a single n, m or nt. In this case, the last consonants are not pronounced but the previous vowel is nasalized instead.

“On” is a nasal “o” as in the ‘on’ in phonecard when you don’t enunciate the ‘n’. “long,” for example, bon (“good”).

“In” is a nasal “i”. It’s pronounced like the ‘en’ in “penguin” when you don’t enunciate the ‘n’ as in “bang,” for example, vin (“wine”).

“An” or “en” is a nasal “a”. It sounds like the ‘on’ in “honk” as in “vanish,” for example, blanc (“white”) or lent (“slow”).

“Un” is a nasal “u”. It sounds like the ‘un’ in “punkin’”, the slang for “pumpkin”.


Hélène is pronounced ay-len.

Jean-Marie is pronounced zhawn-marr-ee.

Unlike English and Spanish, individual syllables in a word aren’t usually emphasized, or “stressed.” Individual syllables can therefore be pronounced with approximately equal importance.

Warning: very broad generalization! Consonants at the end of a word aren’t pronounced unless they’re added to the following word in a “liaison.” That happens when the next words begins with a vowel or a silent “h.” But this is not universally true. Often you have to know the word to be sure whether or not it is pronounced. For example, with the word “plus”, you pronounce the ‘s’ when you mean “more” and you don’t pronounce it when you mean “no more”.

Much of French pronunciation comes from the word’s history, not its current spelling.

A circumflex over a vowel tells you that the word was once spelled with an ‘s.’ For example, tâche or ‘task,’ île or ‘isle,’ cðte or ‘coast,’, and forêt or ‘forest.’


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