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Basic French pronunciation rules

Here we do not intend to list all French pronunciation rules, we collected only those rules which are significantly different to English ones and therefore when you use Easy-to-Learn French Phrases they can be very helpful to understand why "this word" is pronounced "this way".

  1. Stress in French words always falls on the last pronounced syllable
  2. The final letter "e" is normally not pronounced, the preceding consonant is pronounced.
  3. Final consonants are usually silent, except of "c", "f" and "l" which are generally pronounced. As in English, in plural most French words add an "s", however, the last "s" in a word is not pronounced. Example: enfant and its plural form enfants are pronounced the same way. There are exceptions like fils, gaz, ouest, sud, autobus and others. See also liaison rules when some final consonants become sounded.
  4. "ç" is always pronounced as /s/ (Garçon, leçon, façon)
  5. Letter "h" is never pronounced
  6. Liaison rules: when a French word ends with a consonant and the next begins with a vowel or a silent "h" the final consonant joins the following vowel to form a complete syllable. The pronunciation in this situation can be different: consonants "s" and "x" are pronounced as /z/ (les‿enfants, deux‿enfants), "f" is pronounced as /v/, "d" as /t/.
  7. Elision rules: French letters "a" and "e" in the words le, la, ce, je, me, te, se, de, ne, que is dropped when the word that follows them begins with a vowel or silent "h". (l'enfant)
  8. Nasal sounds. They are indicated by vowel + "n" or "m", where vowel becomes nasal and "n" or "m" is not pronounced. Please note that only when used alone (such as in words un, en, ton) or followed by a consonant (except another "n" or "m"), vowels together with "n" or "m" will form a nasal sound. If a consonant is followed by a vowel, both vowel and consonant will be pronounced (une)
  9. There are six masculine French adjectives and three feminine possessive adjectives that change their form if they precede a word beginning with a vowel or silent "h".
  10. beau - bel (beautiful) (un beau garçon - un bel homme)
    ce - cet (this, that) (ce garçon - cet enfant)
    fou - fol (mad) (un fou rire - un fol espoir, un fol appel)
    mou - mol (soft) (un mou matelas - un mol oreiller)
    nouveau - nouvel (new) (le Nouveau Monde - le Nouvel An)
    vieux - vieil (old) (un vieux camarade - un vieil ami)
    French feminine possessive adjectives ma, ta, sa (my, your, her) change to the masculine form mon, ton, son (ma maison - mon école; ta vie - ton expérience; sa vie - son œuvre)

French letter combinations and their French sounds:

French letter
combinations
French sound Comments Examples Exceptions
ai
/e/; /ɛ/
pronounced like "e" in "bed" aimer, lait  
au, eau
/o/
pronounced like "o" chaud, tableau  
eu, oeu
/œ/, /ø/
heure, deux
ier
/je/
  papier, calendrier  
ill, il
/ij/
pronounced like "y" in "yes" famille, œil, travail mille, ville, tranquille, village
ou
/u/
pronounced like "oo" vous, ouvrir
oi, oy
/wa/
pronounced like the combination "oa" voici, voyage  
ui
/ɥi/
pronounced like the English word "we" nuit, puis, aujourd'hui  
ch
/ʃ/
pronounced like "sh" chat, chocolat cœur, chaos, christ, psychologie, technologie...
gn
/ɲ/
pronounced like "ni" in "onion" gagner, montagne If the "g" and "n" are in two different sillables or begin a word both consonants are pronounced: ignition, gnome
gu
/g/
pronounced like "g" in "get" guère  
qu
/k/
Pronounced like "k" in "ski" (not aspirated) quatre, qui, masque  
th
/t/
théâtre  
tion
/sjõ/
French "ti" here is pronounced like "si" conversation  
en, an, am, em
/ɑ̃/
French nasal sound encore, croissant, champ, ensemble  
aim, ain, ein, eim, im, in, ym, yn
/ɛ̃/
French nasal sound magasin, faim, demain, peinture, brin, timbre, thym  
oin
/wɛ̃/
French nasal sound moins, loin  
on, оm, eon
/ɔ̃/
French nasal sound maison, nom, pigeon  
un, um
/œ̃/
French nasal sound brun, parfum  

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