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French tips. How to read French?

French alphabet: 26 letters, 6 vowels. (a, e, i, o , u, y), y is a special case, called a semi-vowel, sometimes acting as a consonnant, sometimes as a wovel.


Names of the letters: ("é" is pronounced as in "café") Ah, Bé, Cé (=Sé), Dé, Eff, Gé ("g" as in giraffe), Hash, ee, Jee (as the 2nd "g" of "garage", Kah, èll, èmm, ènn, Oh, Pé, Qü, Err, Ess, Té, Uh, Vé, Doobl-vé, eeks, ee grèk, zèd.

The most important thing to know, is that a consonnant alone has no sound in French, If it's not followed by vowel. This rule explain there's a lot of mute letters in French. Some letters has only a function once written, to mark a plural, etc, but no role at oral.

SOUND OF THE WOVELS: (the wovel read without another wovel, because 2 vowels can give a different sound) A= Ah. There's 2 different "A" sounds in French. The open "a", noted "ɑ" in the international phonetics alphabet, it's the same "ah" as in "father". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Open_back_unrounded_vowel.ogg It's a long "a sound", with the mouth wide open, the tone is increasing. It can be written either with a simple "a", or with a "â".

Examples of French words with this sound: bas (low), âne (donkey), grâce (grace), château (castle)

The 2nd "A sound" is a shorter a, with the tone decreasing, and softer than the first "ah". It is noted "a" in the international phonetics alphabet.

Examples of French words with this sound: chat (cat), ami (friend), papa (dad), salade salade)

"A" can wear 2 different accents: â and à.

The letter "i".

The letter "i" makes always a "ee" sound. (except if combined as another wovel, as said below)

Ex: ami (friend), midi (noon), giraffe (giraffe)

"I" can wear the tréma or the circumflex accent: î and ï. The ^ doesn't change the sound, only keeps the souvenir of a former "s" now disappeared in the modern French word.

The "i" can be written either with a "i" or a "y" (but it's less common), the "y" is then a vowel. Examples: Vichy (city of France, and the name of a cloth)

The letter "u"

"U" makes a very special sound, noted "y" in the International phonetics alphabet, but this sound can't be found in English, it's not "oo", or "e", it's a specific sound, you have no other way to train youself to tell it. You can find it in German: ü.

"U" can wear 3 diffrent accents ù (only found in the word "où" (where) to make it distinct from the word "ou" (or); or can wear a "û" or a "ü". http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AClose_front_rounded_vowel.ogg

Examples of words: voiture (car), pointu (sharped)...

The sounds "O"

How to write the sounds "o": you can write them "au"="eau"="o", and "o" can wear an accent (ô)

O, as "A", can have 2 different sounds. The "o" noted in the international phonetics alphabet simply "o", is the closed, "o", its sound. http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AClose-mid_back_rounded_vowel.ogg This o is made with a very round mouth, with the tone increasing.

The other "o" is noted "ɔ" in the international phonetics system, you've already noticed that there's different "o", the "o" in "homme" (man) and in "océan" (ocean) is not pronounced the same.

Homme:http://www.forvo.com/word/homme/ (noted "ɔ") http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AOpen-mid_back_rounded_vowel.ogg And Océan:http://www.forvo.com/word/oc%C3%A9an/#fr (noted "o") http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File%3AClose-mid_back_rounded_vowel.ogg

The rule is, that when you have a "o" followed by 2 consonnants, as in "homme", the 2 consonnants are 2 "m", you have the same pronounciation "ɔ", same thing than in "somme" (sum), "bosse" (hump), "botte" (boot), "colle" (glue) etc... This same sound is also when the "o" is before a "r", a "l", etc.. (maybe I'll find a clearer rule) Ex: parole (word), école (school), or (gold), sol (ground).

When the "o" sound ends a word, it should be pronounced "o", as in "océan". Ex: Numéro (number), Dos (back). When a "o" is before a "s" or a "z", it should be pronounced as in "océan" in standard French. Ex: Rose (pink), chose (thing), poser (put).

NB: As for the "a" sound, there are geographic variations for the 2 "o" sounds, in some regions they are pronounced in a different way. I'm talking about Standard French here.

The ô is generally pronounced as in "océan": fantôme (ghost), hôtel (hotel), tôt (early)...

"Eau" or "au", is generally pronounced as in "océan". Ex: bateau (boat), chaud (hot), autre (other). For instance "pomme" (apple)=pɔm and "paume" (palm) = pom.

In words from Latin orgin, the final "um" sounds like "ɔm" Ex: sébum (sebum), album (album), capharnaüm.


"Ou" is noted "u" in the international phonetic alphabet, and is always pronounced like the "ou" in "you". Sous (under)=http://www.forvo.com/word/sous/#fr

The letter "e"

Alone, the letter e, without accent, and without consonnants or other wovel, is always pronounced like in "je" (I), "le" (the). It is noted "ə" in the phonetics alphabet. http://www.forvo.com/word/je/#fr The "e" sound is a lit lighter than the "eu" sound. Ex: Jeu (game) = http://www.forvo.com/word/jeu/#fr

When the letter is followed by a consonnant, the pronounciation change.

This letter can wear 4 different accents: é, è, ê, ë.

é, called "e accent grave", is noted "e" in the phonetics system, it's the same sound than in the English and French "café". http://www.forvo.com/word/caf%C3%A9/#fr

è is called "e accent aigu", is noted "ε" in the phonetics system. You can write this sound è=ai=ei=ê When a "e" without accent is followed by two consonnants, it's always pronounced "è". Ex: neige (snow), forêt (wood), princesse (princess), maison (house), père (father), terre (earth), belle (beautiful, feminine) http://www.forvo.com/word/neige/#fr

When "e" without accent is followed by "r", it can be pronounced "é" or "è". - For the infinitive forms of the verbs, it's always "é". Ex: chanter (to sing), etc... - When it's at the end of a word, it's usually pronounced "é", as for the infinitives, but there are some exception: "Cher" (expensive) should be pronounced "ché", but is pronounced "chèr" -When it's inside a word, it's pronounced "è": "chercher" (to search) = "chèr-ché"

"e" without accent followed by a consonnant, makes a "è" or a "é" sound, except if it's at the end of a word, (if the word has more than one syllabe) Ex: é: "les" (the, plural), "des" (some), etc... Ex: è: "veste" (vest), "geste" (gest", etc... Ex: e: chattes (female cats), tu aimes (you love)

eu, œu, œ

The sound "eu" is almost the same than the "e" sound (see above the "e" section) Eu =œu. Ex: jeu (game), œil (eye), vœu (wish), Je veux (I want). The normal spelling for "oeu" is "œu", but sometimes it's impossible to make with the keyboard.

œ can be pronounced either "eu" or "é". The right way to pronounce it in "Œdipe" (Oedipus), œnologie (Oenology), œsophage (esophagus) is with a "é" sound, but you will hear a lot of pronounciation with "eu".

s, ss and z

The rule is simple. "s" is pronounced as "ss" (as in "salt"), except if the "s" is between TWO vowels. In this case it's pronounced as a "z". (as in "zebra")

Example: usé [u-zé], Asie [a-zi], fantaisie [fan-tay-zi], basique [ba-zik]

Stable [sta-bl], aspirateur [ass-pi-ra-teur], assurance [a-ss-u-ran-ss]

"ss" sound: sel (salt), chasse (hunting), astre (celestrial body), herse (harrow). "s" as a "z" sound and "z": zèbre (zebra), phrase (sentence), etc..

Be careful: Poison (, "z" sound, poison), Poisson ("ss" sound, fish)

"ph" and "f"

"Ph" is always pronounced as "f". Facile à faire (easy to do)=http://www.forvo.com/word/facile_%C3%A0_faire/ Pharmacie (pharmacy): http://www.forvo.com/word/pharmacie/ Ex: facile (easy), pharmacie, phrase (sentence), etc...

The letter "c"

"C" has 2 pronounciations. The hard one, as a "k" in "kart". Ex: acteur (actor), caméra (camera)

And the soft one. It makes a "ss" sound like in "salt". Ex: Merci (Thank you), céleri (celery).

It makes the "ss" sound only when followed by a "i" or a "e".

"ille", "eille" and "aille"

Here, the doble "l" , because of the "i" before, sound like a beginning "y" (as in "yard", "you") Ex: Abeille (bee), paille (straw), fille (girl)

Exception fot the "ille". It is not always pronounced "y", it can also sound as normal "L". Ex: Mille filles. (one hundred girls), the firt "ille" is prononced the soft way, "L" sound, and the second in "filles", is pronounced the hard way, as a "y". http://www.forvo.com/word/mille_filles/


"Gn" is always pronounced as the Spanish ñ, the same than in "foreign". EX: Agneau (lamb, baignoire (bathtub), saigner (to bleed).

The nasals: "an", "on", "in".

Some can also be found in Hindi, and Portuguese, for instance. They're made through the nose.

"An", noted "ɑ̃" in the international phonetics system. Can be written: an, en (and am and em), [and "aen" in the city of "Caen".] Ex: maman (mum), mensonge (lie), temps (time), champ (field) [Spelling rule: before a "m", a "p" or " ab", we have to write" em" or "am" instead of "an" or "em", as in "temps", "champ", etc...] Chant (song) =http://www.forvo.com/word/chant/ Tips: try to pronounce "an" though the nose, an without insisting on the "n" sound, or to pronounce a "a" throught the nose. You can also pronounce "ang", but without the "g".

"On" is noted "ɔ̃". Can be written: on or om. (but it's never written "om" at the end of the word) Ex: bombe (bomb), nous lisons (we read), pont (bridge), torchon (tea towel). http://www.forvo.com/word/pont/#fr Tips: try to pronounce a "o" through the nose. Or the English "on" through the nose, without insisting on the "n" sound.

"In" is noted "ɛ̃". Can be written: in/im/ain/ein/un. Ex: imbécile (moronic), interdit (forbidden), destin (fate), main (hand), sein (female breast), lundi (monday). A demain (see you tomorrow)=http://www.forvo.com/word/%C3%A0_demain/#fr Tips: try to pronounce " u" through the nose, or the English "en" through the nose without insisting on the "n" sound.

March 29, 2014



Very helpful. I just started French on Duolingo, and probably like many other users out there, I had a pretty hard time reading the words presented to me. So thank you very much. :)


I will had one more section tomorrow (today I'm too busy), I will finish the vowel and maybe add a section about one or two consonnants.


"I will add..."
Also, you missed the 'e' sound in the alphabet, third paragraph.


Thanks. When I'm tired I make a lot of mistakes in French as in English.


Don't worry about it, we all do. ;-)


In your exemple for long A, the word bas (low) is a bad choice, that's a short A.


I don't know, "bas" is transcripted "bɑ" in the dictionnary I looked up, and on the "atilf "(a very good site), gives this same phonetics transciption: http://atilf.atilf.fr. The difference between the phonetics letter "a" and "ɑ" is hard to explain, it's better to listen to the audios, I didn't mean that the "long a" is really longer as an arabic long vowel.


'Bas' is said with a short A, makes no difference if the meaning is Low or Sock. Except maybe when singing M.Jackson's hit... ;-)
Or insisting that it is V-E-R-Y looooow. If I were you, I would select another example. I'm not you, so thanks anyway and bye.


I don't understand your comment, we are talking about "a" and "ɑ" in the international phonetics system, not really about the vowel length. Do you mean "bas" should be transcripted "ba" instead of "bɑ"?


Edit: yes, I think I understand, you want me to put "ba:", yes, you're right, but I don't know how to explain it, you can help me to rephrase, but I have to keep the "bas" example. How would you rephrase it to explain, but being short?


I think the easiest is to either remove "bas" from the examples, or move it down to the second list. There's no need to modify the discussion about types of A pronunciation, it's just a bad choice of example. I don't see why you would want to rephrase anything... Just pick any word you like with a long A instead of 'bas' and you're set...


My original remark is about your words in the article, just after the wiki link, where you wrote "it's a long A" and then you list bas (short A) along with words with a long A (âne etc..). Bas should be in the second list with chat ami etc. That's all and it's not a life or death matter.


yes, I understood, but you should rephrase it to make it better, because I have no idea for now. I'd like the article to be clear and helpful, you're right, it's a mistake.


Thanks. That's a pity we can't keep the discussions in a same place on duo. It's so messy. Have you got some ideas to improve it? I made it alone, and I'm not a linguist, it can have some vaguenesses. As integra said, the "bas" example is a bit confusing, but I think it can help to pronounce this "a" sound, what's your opinion?


Well, I believe very few (if any) people on Duo want to become a linguist specialized in the way the sound 'a' is pronounced in every region of the "francophonie", so to me it sounds like an invaluable resource for everyone struggling with French pronunciation. It's a good start, very well written and concise enough not to discourage anyone.

That being said, I don't believe the 'eu' sound is so close to the 'e' one (well, to an untrained English speaker ear, yes, maybe), I'd describe it as between 'e' and 'u' : make the 'e' sound, keep expulsing air as you change your lips to form the 'u' sound. When you're right in the middle of the two, you got the 'eu'.

Also, the 'a', depending on the region and the register of the language being spoken, I think there are clearly 3 different sounds to it : 'a' sort and straight forward; 'à' is more open, it's closer to the way an English speaker makes the 'a' sound, pulling the outer ends of the mouth back; and the long 'â' sound going towards the 'o' sound, you described it correctly.


I would love to see pronunciation examples, like you presented, formed into a Duolingo drill section. Voici un Lingot pour vous.


Merci, je vais compléter la page quand j'aurais le temps, ça me demande un peu de travail, je vais essayer d'expliquer les combinaisons de lettres comme "ai", ou "ille".


I just started French on Duolingo :)


I found a good explanation more detailed about the French "y" pronounciation here on Duolingo: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/2421326


Merci beaucoup! This was very useful! I needed it. xD


I will add more ;-)


Very helpful, thanks!


This is very, how do you say, helpful


To help us remember how to pronounce "poison" and "poisson" correctly, we were taught, "Poisson sans boisson est poison." ("Fish without drink is poison.") I've remembered that for around 3 decades now. :-)


Thank you so much, this was very helpful!! I only recently started learning French and I really needed this

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