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Nasal vowels in French

  • 1600

The sound "an" in "mange" belongs to the French "nasal vowels", which are sounds made by expelling air through the mouth and nose with no obstruction of the lips, tongue, or throat.

Usually, vowels followed by "M" or "N" are nasal. When the nasal consonant is followed by another vowel, the vowel and consonant are both voiced. For example:

(click on the speaker button to hear the audio)

You can practice your pronunciation skills with this link for the sound "an":

French has 4 nasal vowels:

"en" and "an":

  • "en": e.g., in "vendre" (to sell). "en" becomes "em" before a "M" and a "P": e.g., in "emporter" (to bring)
  • "an" becomes "am" before a "B" and a "P": e.g., in "jambe" (leg) and in "camp" (camp)

"oin", "ein", "ain", and "in":

  • "oin": e.g., in "moins" (less)
  • "ein": e.g., in "peindre" (to paint)
  • "ain": e.g., in "pain" (bread)
  • "in": e.g., in "fin" (fine). "in" becomes "im" before a "M" and a "P": e.g., in "imprimer" (to print)


  • "on": e.g., in "garçon" (boy). "on" becomes "om" before a "M" and a "P": e.g., in "pompe" (pump)


  • "un": e.g., in "un" (one) or "brun" (brown)
November 11, 2013



Is there a phonetic difference between "in" ,"an" and "un"?? Because they sound the same to me most of the times :( (the words themselves are easy to tell apart though)

"ain" in "pain" sounds a lot like "in" in "vin", or "an" "mange" (w/o the n). Is there an actual difference? When I started learning french I though the "ain" in "pain" should sound more like "ai" in "j'ai" or "mais", but now I realize that is not true. Is it because of the "n"?

  • 1600

Most of the times, "in" sounds almost the same as "un". (ex: the adjective "fin" (fine, or thin) and the article "un" (a)). "an" never sounds like "in" or "un".

"ain" in "pain" sounds a lot like "in" in "vin", but NOT like "an" in "mange", and NOT lile "ai" in "J'ai" or "mais".


Note that in France, globally, the difference between "in" and "un" tends to disappear. In northern France, some people would even be very surprised to learn that there is indeed a difference! The difference is still heard though in southern France.

So if you come to France, don't worry about this detail, because most Frenchmen don't.


Indeed I am very surprised, I'm from Paris, and to me "in" and "un" sound exactly the same. It's like we have only 3 different nasal vowels (with many writings).


Thanks for confirming this. They do indeed sound different! I guess I wasn't paying enough attention.


Hey guys!

@thakelo: You can think of an/en sounding like "aw" in "awful" (from American English) but with a nasal quality, of course.

The "in" is like the a in "at"/"hat"/"cat" but with a nasal quality.

The "un" is like the "un" in "under" or the "u" in "ugh!"/"up".....just make it nasal.

All of the above words refer to American "non-regional" pronunciations.


This helps clear up things, actually. And I'm not even American, but, I am able to get what you mean. Way better than poring through paragraphs of linguistic jargon


Cool, glad it helped. Good luck with French. Where are you from?


I'm from India, actually :)-from a place called Kochi & doing my Master's in French Translation and Interpretation in Pondicherry (former French colony)


Ah, mais c'est trop fort, ca! Alors que ton francais doit etre formidable!

(Excuse-moi de pas utiliser les accents. Je regarde cette page avec mon laptop, la.) :D


C'est quoi, ta langue maternelle? :D


im also from tamilnadu pondy


That actually helped. Merci!


Salut! De rien. :D


LOL! How can an "American" pronunciation be "non-regional"!


As in, from no region of the U.S., a country that spans from one ocean to another, has 6-7 time zones, etc. It's a generalized American accent. If you heard a person speaking that way, you'd know they were American, but not from what part of the U.S.

Now, if your contention is that the U.S. is a "region", I would have a hard time with putting Hawaii, Guam, New York, Alaska, Florida, California, Puerto Rico, Michigan, etc. in one "region". Hawaii is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Alaska practically connects Russia with Canada. South Florida is close to the Bahamas and Cuba. Shall I go on?

The economy of California alone is larger than that of France or India. The country spans an enormous range of latitudes and longitudes. The United States has virtually every type of climate, terrain, culture, language, history, etc. and no official language. One could debate this forever but I did put "non-regional" in quotes to begin with.

If you met me, there is no way you'd have any idea what part of the U.S. I am from. Many people fit this mold, especially if they grew up in multiple U.S. regions.

The U.S. is the most ethnically diverse society in the world. The U.S. is the most mobile society in the world.

There are multiple regions within the U.S.


Very useful, thank you


No problem! Thanks for your kind words. I'm so happy it helped!


I am having trouble with 'in' -- when I pronounce vin, using an American English 'an' with a nasal ending, my french friend says my pronunciation is incorrect. That my vin should be similar to 'uhn' with nasal ending. vin = 'vunh' not 'van'. Can you help me? Thank you for your lesson above.


I'm french and I'm trying to explain something most foreigners don't get right. Sounds like "un" "on" "an" are written with an ending n, but that ending n is not prononced. Not even slightly. Neither ~n nor ~ng. Nothing. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true (nowadays).

These sounds are just like other vowels. If you prononce and record a 3-seconds "o" sound and then only listen to the second in the middle, it still sounds like a "o", doesn't it ? Well, it's exactly the same with for instance "an". I can speak a "an" that lasts forever, and if you pick a sample anywhere in the middle, it still sounds like a "an", despite the fact it has been cropped and the ending is absent. This demonstrates there is no n-ending sound at all.

Forget about nasal ending since there is no such thing for these vowels in standard modern french. You may use "nasal" to describe these vowels, but please don't use "ending" because the end is not different from what precedes it. The nasality is the same all the way long, it's not concentrated at the end like in some other languages.

PS : if there is a liaison, like in "un ami", then a normal n is pronounced so we hear "un nami", but this is a totally unrelated phenomenon.


There's a sentence to memorize the four nasal sounds, which are indeed all pronounced differently: Un bon vin français So if you think you pronounce the nasals here in a same way, you should search for a difference listening to natives ;)


Forvo: different persons pronounce the word you order. Here with un bon vin français http://el.forvo.com/search/un%20bon%20vin%20fran%C3%A7ais/fr/


I can see you're making old informative posts as stickies. This is a great idea Remy, but I think It would be more fruitful to create a new thread that links to all the interesting and important threads that offer informative information about learning French. Like the Dutch contributors have done in their thread.

Currently they are all in the Forum graveyard, never to be seen.

  • 1600

Thanks for your comment Dessamator, here you go! https://www.duolingo.com/comment/4013405


This is awesome, thank you so much!


Excellent, I hope you spread the word to the other incubator contributors. I think the Dutch team found the perfect way to reduce repetitive questions :).


I still can't distinguish the sound between un and en in a sentence.


That's the most difficult part of French pronunciation for me.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t72xMFwf6e0 This is from a show on German and French TV explaining differences between the two cultures. Is it true that more and more people pronounce "un" and "in" the same and that a lot of French people can't hear the difference?


In my experience, in Paris (and in the north I think) they don't seem to make any difference, but the people in the south do. In fact they make the "in" quite differently. I hate these two vowels. I can pronounce everything perfectly but the "un" drives me crazy because I can't seem to get it right


How about the diphthong in "oui"? It definitely sounds nasal, but doesn't seem to fit one of these four categories (at least to my uneducated ear.)


Why do you think it's nasal? Nasal vowels do not exist in e.g. English, but in English you do have the two sounds of this word: the w in ''why'', ''when'', ... and the i in ''seek'', ''beer'' but short.


In the notes on nasal sounds 'un brun ours' would the n in brun be a lison ( Liason ?) onto 'ours' ?


old question i know. so: -you never say 'un brun ours' but 'un ours brun'. adjectives often follow the noun. -however, there is indeed a liaison when an adjective ending with 'n' is followed by a noun starting with a vowel, as in 'bon anniversaire' or 'prochain arrêt', where the adjectives are pronounced as in the feminine form ('bonne' and 'prochaine') and the vowel is not nasal.




Is it thruth that the circuflée does not used anymore ?¿

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