French Pronunciation Guide

Guide to basic French pronunciation for English speakers

When you start to learn French, you soon notice that you can understand many French words or make a good guess as to the meaning of quite a few of these words. There are at least 4000 words which have the same spelling and meaning in English and French, together with thousands more that have similar meaning but differ only slightly in spelling..

However, in most cases, the pronunciation of words in French differs significantly from that of the corresponding words in English.

Let us look in more at how letters are pronounced in French.


a a is pronounced like "˜a' in the English word fat, examples: balle (bal), salade (sal-ad).

é e with an acute accent (é) is like "˜a' in late, examples: cafè (ka-fay), qualité (kal-i-tay).

Note that -er at the end of a French word is often pronounced like é.

è e with a grave accent (è) is like "˜e' in men, examples: crème (krem), metre (metr).

ê e with a circumflex accent (ê) is similar to è, examples: bête (bet), fête (fet).

e e without any accent is like "˜e' in sister, examples: Renault (ruh-no), regard (ruh-gar).

At the end of a word, e is silent except in words of one syllable, examples: je (zhuh), ne (nuh).

When followed by one or two consonants, e is often pronounced like é, example: assez (as-ay) or è, example: elle (e-l).

i i is like "˜ee' in feet, examples: Paris (pa-ree), riche (ree-sh).

o o is like "˜o' in cot, examples: objet (ob-zhay), poste (po-st).

ô o with a circumflex accent (ô) is like "˜o' in hole, examples: rôle (rohl),hôtel (oh-tel).

ou ou is like "˜oo' in hoot, examples: route (root), coup (koo).

u u in French has no equivalent sound in English - it is almost an "˜ee' sound. To pronounce u, try to round your lips tightly, examples: avenue (av-ny), excuser (ex-ky-zay).

eu eu is like "˜u' in urge, examples: acteur (ak-tur), euro (ur-oh).

With syllables ending in n or m, these letters are not pronounced. Instead they modify the sound of the preceding vowel:

an/am an is like "˜an' in want, but pronounced as one syllable. Say it with your mouth wide open and tongue held down, examples: encore (on-kor), piquant (peek-on).

on/om on is like "˜awn' in fawn, examples: oncle (awn-kl), question (kes-ti-awn).

in/im in is like "˜an' in fan, examples: train (tra), index (an-dex), faim (fa).

un/um un is like a nasal version of "˜u' in fun, examples: brun (bruh), parfum (par-fuh).


Most French consonant sounds are similar to their English equivalents. However, you should be aware of the differences with the following consonants:

c c before e or i is like "˜s' in see, example: facile (fa-seel).

c before any other letter (except h) is like "˜k' in English, example: café (ka-fay).

ch is like "˜sh' in English, example: riche (ree-sh).

ç c with a cedilla (ç) is always like a long "˜s', example: Français (fro-say).

g g before e or i is like "˜s' in pleasure, example: rouge (roo-zh).

g before any other letter (except n) is like "˜g' in got, example: gamme (gam).

gn is like "˜ny' in canyon, example: vignette (vee-nyet).

h h is always silent, example: hôtel (oh-tel).

j j is like "˜s' in pleasure, example: je (zhuh).

ll ll is like "˜y' in yes, example: famille (fam-ee-y).

qu qu is always like "˜k', example boutique (boo-teek).

r in spoken French, "˜r' is emphasised more strongly than in English, example: route (root).

The most effective way to learn correct French pronunciation is to obtain a language course on audio cassette, video cassette or CD-ROM that features native speakers of the language.

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