French Pronunciation can be quite tricky for beginners, but it doesn’t have to be burdensome. Understanding the most basic pronunciation rules is a passport to a smoother learning journey for new French learners.
This article is a quick but thorough guide to French Vowels that will be useful if you struggle with pronunciation. Keep reading.
Basic oral vowels
The vowel “A”
|/a/||“ah" like the American English “father” but with your tongue just a bit higher and further forward.||la|
The vowel “E”
|The vowel “E”||IPA||Description||Example|
|before a double consonant||/e/||It's pronounced “eh" like “bed” in American English||une pelle|
|before final pronounced consonants||la mer|
|at the end of monosyllables, when e comes after a consonant||/ə/||It's similar to the sound “uh" in American English “her"||le|
|at the end of a syllable, inside a word||petit|
|before a single consonant and a vowel||le cheval|
|final||silent||It's not pronounced.||une cave|
|at the end of monosyllables when e follows another vowel||une roue|
The vowel "I"
|/i/||It’s like the “ee” (pronounced /i:/) in the English word “knee.”||un livre|
The vowel “O"
|The vowel “O”||IPA||Description||Example|
|is the final sound in a word||[o]||It’s similar to English’s long “o” (pronounced /əʊ/) sound as in "go”, but without the diphthong to a "ʊ" sound at the end.||trop|
|is followed by a z sound||rose|
|has a circumflex (ô)||allô|
|When O is followed by any consonant sound other than [z]||[ɔ]||It’s similar to the short u sound (or /ʌ/) as in the English word "son."||sonner|
The vowel “U"
|The vowel “U”||IPA||Description||Example|
|after g- and q-||silent||It's not pronounced.||la guitare|
|in most case||/y/||The vowel u is pronounced as a mix of the two sounds above: try to make the sound ee with rounded lips.||une rue|
The French nasal vowels
Normally when a vowel or vowel combination is followed by the letters m or n, that vowel is nasalized. When this is the case the letters m or n are not pronounced; they serve only to mark the nasalization. And these nasal vowels are pronounced by passing air through the mouth and nose.
Example: un bon vin blanc (a good white wine)
The letters 'on' are pronounced with the nasalized vowel [ɔ̃]
The letter combinations 'ain', 'aim', 'eim', 'ein', 'in', 'im', 'ym', 'yn' and 'ien' all have the nasalized vowel sound [ɛ̃]
The letter combination 'un' is pronounced with the nasalized vowel [œ̃] .
The letters 'an', 'en', and 'em' are pronounced with the nasalized vowel [ɑ̃]
Broken nasal vowels
If the m or n is followed by a mute e, the vowel is not nasalized.
If a vowel immediately follows the m or n and that vowel is not a mute e, the m or n is part of the syllable of this vowel and is therefore not nasal.
We are closed to the end of this article, be patient. The next thing you need to understand is how semi-vowels work.
The rule is, when followed by another vowel, vowel sounds like /i/, /y/, and /u/ are transformed into the semi-vowels /j/, /ɥ/, and /w/. These semi-vowels, also called glides or semi-consonants, are vowel-like segments that behave like consonants.
|[j]||[i]||bien, un accueil|
|[ɥ]||[y]||huit, la pluie|
The sound [j] also appears as a single consonant, with very different spellings:
e.g.: aïe, œil, payer, maquiller, oublier
Diphthongs (vowel combinations)
|ai / ei||/e/||pronounced like /e/ in the English word “bed”. Note that adding an n at the end of the combinations ai or ei will form a completely different sound. ain and ein are nasal vowels.||faire, seize|
|au / eau||/o/||pronounced like /o/ in the English word “boat"||faux, un gâteau|
|eu / œu||/œ/, /ø/||like ay but with lips rounded to produce an oh-like sound||une heure, la sœur|
|ou||/u/||pronounced like "oo" in the English word “root"||une roue, fou|
|oi||/wa/||pronounced like the combination "oa"||un roi, le poisson|
So that's pretty everything you need to know about French Vowels. To understand the way they work, it is especially important that you pay attention to native speakers when they talk and try to imitate them as much as you can.
Of course, you don’t need to be in France to do that. There are plenty of French-speaking movies and videos on the Internet that will aid you in learning French pronunciation without stripping away the fun because learning without fun is not worth it!
If you're interested in learning other pronunciation aspects, check out our blog posts. I hope this guide will be helpful to you. Share with us all the vowels that you find the most challenging in the comment below. Happy learning!😎