Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants

To talk about the particular sounds of a language, we refer to the International Phonetic Alphabet. You will hear the pronunciation of these sounds on the next few tracks. For now, we will concentrate on the sounds that present the most challenges for an English speaker.

French Vowels and Semi-Vowels

French vowels are pronounced with none of the diphthong sound of their English counterparts (in other words, the gliding sound between two vowels). Listen to the difference between the French /a/ and the English “a” in the name Ann(e).


Ann   Anne

Table 1-8

French Vowels and Semi-Vowels

Ipa Symbol

Letter or Letter Combination

French Word



chat, ça va, campagne


regarder, acheter, rester


e, è

veste, père


e, é

les, Céline, Valérie



ici, Philippe


ou, où

vous, toujours, où



tu, étudie


ou, o (before i)

oui, chouette, loin


i, ill

bien, maillot de bain



peu, euro


eu, oeu

soeur, neuf


o, au, eau

vélo, chaud


mort, donner


  • /a/: The French “a” is always pronounced like the “a” of the English word “ah.”

  • /y/: This sound, which does not exist in English, is pronounced as if you were pronouncing the /i/ of Philippe, but with your lips rounded, to form the sound of the word tu.

  • /w/ and /j/: These semi-vowels do not exist in English. They are pronounced very quickly, as are consonants (thus their status as almost vowels)!

Les Voyelles Nasales

In French, when a vowel is followed by an “m” or an “n,” the “m” or “n” is not pronounced and the vowel is pronounced with a nasal sound.


Table 1-9

Les Voyelles Nasales

IPA symbol

Letter Combination



maison, onze



un, demain, copain



enchanté, Henri

Note that when an ending nasal vowel occurs in a liaison (as in the phrase, un ami), the vowel is denasalized, and the ending “m” or “n” is pronounced.

French is known for the rolling “r” sound. You can learn to roll your r's, too, with just a little bit of practice. Start to make a “k” sound and hold it. Close your throat a little bit, breathe out slowly, and start to say “raw.” Don't worry if it starts to come out as “graw” — keep doing it. Practice this a couple of times a day, and you'll soon sound just like Gérard Depardieu.

French Consonants

In general, French consonants are pronounced crisply, and do not have the aspiration (puff of breath) found in English consonants. Note the difference between the pronunciation of a French and English “t” in the name Thomas.

Thomas   Thomas


A few consonants and combinations to watch out for in French:


Table 1-10

<tgroup cols="2"> <colspec colname="col1" colnum="1" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <colspec colname="col2" colnum="2" colwidth="50%" colsep="0" rowsep="0" align="left"/> <tbody> <tr> <td><p><B>Letters</B></p></td> <td><p><B>Examples</B></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>ch</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>chat, chocolat</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>gn</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>espagnol, ligne</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>qu</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>qui, quand</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>s</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>poison</emphasis></p></td> </tr> <tr> <td><p>ss</p></td> <td><p><emphasis>poisson</emphasis></p></td> </tr> </tbody> </tgroup> </table> <ul> <li><p>“ch”: Note that although in general, “ch” is pronounced like “sh,” there are a few words in which it is pronounced like “k”: Christine, for example.</p></li> <li><p>“s” and “ss”: When found in the middle of a word, “s” is pronounced like a “z,” while “ss” is always pronounced as an “s.”</p></li> </ul> <h2>The French “r”</h2> <p>The French “r” is more guttural than the English one, made at the back of the throat instead of at the front.</p> <p><emphasis>arrondissement</emphasis></p> <p><emphasis>ravi</emphasis></p> <p><emphasis>rare</emphasis></p> <p><emphasis>projet</emphasis></p> <div class="npmo"> <img src=""> <div class="npcp"><p><B>TRACK 14</B></p></div> </div> <!--/gc--> <div id="pagination"><ul><li class="prev"><a href="" title="General Pronunciation Rules">General Pronunciation Rules</a></li><li class="next"><a href="" title="Punctuation Marks">Punctuation Marks</a> </li></ul></div></div> <div id="coda"> <div id="rel"><div class="n5">Related Articles</div><ul> <li><a href="" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants - French </a></li> <li><a href="" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> French Vowels - Voyelles française - French Pronunciation </a></li> <li><a href="" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> UN - French Pronunciation of UN </a></li> <li><a href="" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> French Nasal Vowels - Voyelles nasales françaises - French Pronun... </a></li> <li><a href="" zT="18/1YL/Zn"> ON - French Pronunciation of ON </a></li> </ul></div> <div id="sec"><div class="n5">Read More Pronouncing and Writing French</div><ul><ul class="col1"><li ><a href="">The Alphabet</a></li> <li ><a href="">Accents</a></li> <li ><a href="">General Pronunciation Rules</a></li> </ul><ul class="col2"><li class="btO">Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants</li> <li ><a href="">Punctuation Marks</a></li> <li ><a href="">Activité 1</a></li> </ul></ul></div> </div> <script>if(zSbL<1)zSbL=3;zSB(2);zSbL=0</script> </div> <div id="widgets"><script type="text/javascript">if(z336>0){w('<div id="adB">'+ap[0]+at[4]+as[0]);adunit('','','',ch,gs,300,250,'1','bb',3);w('</div>')}if(z155>0){w('<div id="adP">'+ap[0]+at[4]+as[0]);adunit('','','',ch,gs,336,155,'1','ps',4);w('</div>')}</script> <div id="pg" class="pane"><div class="n3">Shopping</div><div class="cntnr"><a href=""><img src=""></a><h4><a href="">THE EVERYTHING LEARNING FRENCH BOOK</a></h4><p><a href="">By Bruce Sallee and David Hebert</a></p><div id="fp"><a href="">Buy This Book</a></div></div></div> <div id="toc" class="pane"><div class="n3">French Sections</div><ul><li><a href="">Pronouncing and Writing French</a></li> <li><a href="">Using Everyday Expressions</a></li> <li><a href="">Developing a Basic Vocabulary</a></li> <li><a href="">Understanding Articles</a></li> <li><a href="">Using Nouns</a></li> <li><a href="">Subject Pronouns and Forming Present Tense Verbs</a></li> <li><a href="">Asking Questions and Giving Orders</a></li> <li><a href="">Negating Words and Phrases</a></li> <li><a href="">Objects, Prepositions, and Pronouns</a></li> <li><a href="">Using Adjectives</a></li> <li><a href="">Understanding Adverbs</a></li> <li><a href="">Forming Past-Tense Verbs</a></li> <li><a href="">Using Reflexive Verbs</a></li> <li><a href="">Forming the Future Tense</a></li> <li><a href="">Forming the Conditional Tense</a></li> <li><a href="">Understanding the Subjunctive Mood</a></li> <li><a href="">Traveling in French-Speaking Countries</a></li> <li><a href="">Studying and Working in French-Speaking Countries</a></li> <li><a href="">Family, Friends, and You</a></li> <li><a href="">Your House or Apartment</a></li> <li><a href="">Answer Key</a></li> <li><a href="">French-to-English Glossary</a></li> <li><a href="">English-to-French Glossary</a></li> <li><a href="">Verb Conjugation Tables</a></li> </ul></div></div> <script type="text/javascript">zCi();validateForms();</script> <div id="abf" style="padding-right:0"><ol class="crumbtrail"><li class="home"><a href="">Home</a></li><li><a href="">French</a></li><li><a href="">Pronouncing and Writing French</a></li><li>Pronunciation of Vowels and Consonants</li></ol></div> <div id="aboutinfo" class="hlist"><div id="morefrom"><h6>Visit other sites:</h6><ul><li><a href="" rel="nofollow">Calorie Count</a></li><li class="last"><a href="" rel="nofollow"></a></li></ul></div> <ul id="siteinfo"><li><a href="">SiteMap</a></li><li><a href="" rel="nofollow">Help</a></li><li><a href="" rel="nofollow">Privacy Policy</a></li><li><a href="" rel="nofollow">Your Ad Choices</a></li><li class="last"><a href="" rel="nofollow">Contact Us</a></li></ul> <ul id="companyinfo"><li class="last"><a href=" " rel="nofollow">Buy Books</a></li></ul><div id="disclaimer"> </div></div></div> <script type="text/javascript"><!-- zPxA[zPxC]=new Image();zPxA[zPxC++].src=""; adclose() //--> </script> <script type="text/javascript">(function(){var po=document.createElement('script');po.type='text/javascript';po.async=true;po.src='';var s=document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(po,s)})();</script> </body></html>