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French Pronunciation guide

Grammar Dec 30, 2022

French pronunciation can seem daunting at first but it gets easier with practice.

In this course, we consider the following aspects of French pronunciation.


The French alphabet

French consonant sounds

French vowel sounds

French letter combination

French nasal sounds

The two types of h in French




The French alphabet

The French language has 26 alphabet. Written same way as in English but with different pronunciation.

See the table below

Letter Sound Letter Sound
a ah n ehnn
b bay o ohh
c cay p pay
d day q koo
e ehh r aihr
f eff s ess
g jhay t tay
h ahsh u ooh
i ee v vay
j jhee w doo- bluh- vay
k kahh x eex
l ehll y ee-grek
m ehmm z zed

French consonant sounds.

Most French consonants are pronounced as in English. But there are a few variations. Here are some rules to remember.

The letter c

The letter c can be pronounced in different ways:

C before a, o, u

When c comes before a, o, u in a word, it is pronounced like the c in come.


D’accord (dah-kor), meaning OK

Café (kah-fay), meaning Café.

C before e, i, y

When c comes before e, i, y it's pronounced like the c in city.


Cinéma (see-nay-mah), meaning cinema.

Merci (mehr-cee), meaning thanks.


This ç known as c cédille is also pronounced like the c in city.


Français (frah-say), French.

Garçon (gahr-soh(n)), boy.

The letter g

The letter g has a soft g sound and a hard g sound.

g before e, i

When g comes before e and i it's pronounced like the s in treasure.


Nager (nah-zhay), to swim.

g before a, o, u

When g comes before a, o, and u, it's pronounced like the g in get.


Gâteau (gah-toh), cake

The letter h

In French, the letter h is always silent.


L’hôtel (loh-tehl ), hotel

Habiter (ah-bee-tay**), to live.**

The letter r

r in French is pronounced at the back of the throat and somewhat dragged.


Livre (lee-vr), book

Vivre (vee-vr), to live.

The letter s

s between two vowels

When s appears between two vowels, it is pronounced like z.


le visage( lo vee-zazh), face

valise (vah-leez), suitcase.

When s begins a word

s at the beginning of a word is pronounced like s in sun.


Sel (sehl ), salt.

samedi(sahm-dee), Saturday.

When t is followed by ion.

The letter t sounds like the English t but when it's followed by ion it's pronounced like an s.


Station (stah-syoh(n)),

Silent consonants

Final consonants of French words are usually silent, except when they end in c, f, l, r.


Le fruit (luh frwee), meaning fruits

Nous (nooh), meaning us

Chaud ( shoh), meaning hot.

Choix (chwa), meaning choice.

Where final consonants are pronounced

In French, final consonants that end in c, f, l, r are pronounced.


Hôtel (oh-tehl), meaning hotel.

Professeur( proh-feh-suhr), meaning teacher.

Cher(shehr), meaning dear.

Avec (ah-vehk), meaning with.

Chef (shehf), meaning chef.

French vowel sounds

While English has 5 primary vowel sounds, French has 6 namely:

a, e, I, o, u, y.

One difference between French and English vowels is that a lot of French vowels are accented. (à, â, é etc)

Accents may affect how a vowel is pronounced. It could all serve to differentiate between words.

See also

Here are French vowel sounds and examples.

Vowel sound example meaning
a, à â ah like fan, la, là ,âge the, there, age
e uh like burn le the
é ay like lay étudiant
e ,è,ê eh like get belle,père,tête beautiful.father,head
i,î ee like feet. vite fast
o,ô oh mot , hôtel word, hotel
o ohh like love les pommes apples
u ew tu you
y ee like feet pays country

Silent e

Except for some short words like je, le, etc, an unaccented e at the end of a word is silent.


Where e is silent

Elle (ehl), she

Surprise (sewr-preez), surprise.

Where e is pronounced

Je (juh), meaning me.

Le (luh), meaning the.

De (duh), meaning of.

ce (cuh), meaning this.

French letter combination

Letters Sound Example Meaning
ai,ei,et eh like met vrai, neige,secret true,snow,secret
ez,er ay like may avez,parler have, to speak
au,eau. oh like boat chaud, l’eau hot,water
ou ooh as in you amour love
oi wah as in moi me
ui wee like week lui him\her
ch sh like sheep (when followed by a vowel) chat cat
ch k like king (when followed by a consonant) Chrétien. Christian
ss s. like sit. Poisson fish
ll l like nil elle
ll(between i and e) usually y like yes famille familly
il(last sound) y like yes travail work

French nasal sounds

Pronounce the following sounds through your nose, so they come out with a nasal quality.

Letters Sound Example Meaning
an,am,en,em ah France,encore, employ France,again, employ
in,im ,ain,aim. a(N) matin,important,le pain,faim morning,important, bread,hunger
on,om oh(N) maison,nom house,name
un uh(N) un one

Other aspects of French that affects pronunciation are liaison, elision and enchainement.

Before we consider these terms, let's take a closer look at the letter h in French.

The two types of h in French.

French has two types of h, the h muet(mute h) and the h aspire(aspirated h).

Despite their names, neither of them is pronounced.

If so, why bother with the differences?

Knowing the difference is necessary to avoid certain grammatical errors, which we will learn about as we progress.

Examples of words with a mute h

Habiter (ah-bee-tay), to live.

L’hôtel (lo-tehl), hotel.

Examples of words with aspirated h

Les haricot (ley- ah-ree-koh), beans.

Le héro (le ay-ro), meaning hero.

Le homard (luh ohmahr), lobster.


What is a liaison?

If a word that ends in a consonant is followed by another word that begins with a vowel or a mute h, The last consonant and the first vowel are linked and pronounced together.

This process is known as Liaison.


Vous avez (voo-zah-vay), you have.

In this example, s is linked with a to give us the zah sound.

This is one process that contributes to the free flowing of French words.

Other examples

Comment allez-vous? (Commahn-tallay-voo?), how are you?

Vous avez (vooh- zah- vay), you have.

Deux homme (duh-zohm), two men.

Un enfant (uhn-nahn-fahn), a child.

When not to use a liaison.

There are instances when a liaison must not be used. As doing so would lead to being misunderstood.

After 'et'

A liaison does not occur after the word et (and)


Vingt et un (vehn-tay-uhn), meaning twenty one.

In front of an aspirated h

There is no liaison with an aspirated h.


Le hockey (luh-oh-keh), meaning hockey.

Des héros (day ay-roh), meaning heroes.


When a word ends in a vowel and the following word also begins with a vowel or a mute h, the first vowel is dropped and the remaining consonant joined to the second word with an apostrophe.


Le + été becomes l’été (lay_tay) meaning summer.

Le + histoire becomes l’histoire (lee-stwar) meaning history.

La + eau becomes l’eau (loh), meaning water.


Enchaînement occurs when you link the last consonant sound of a word to the first vowel or mute h that follows it.


Elle est (eh-leh), she is.

Il a (ee-lah), meaning he has.

Sept ans (seh-ta(n)), 7 years.



I write about English and French, how to apply them professionally and in social encounters.