French Grammar: French Pronunciation – Basics

FRNGrammarBasicPronunciation

French Grammar: French Pronunciation – Basics
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French Grammar: Basic French Pronunciation – Overview
la grammaire française: la prononciation française – les rudiments

Being able to pronounce French words correctly is an important part of learning the language.  Good pronunciation is essential for making yourself understood by native speakers!  This lesson will give you the basics of French pronunciation, in order to help get you started. Your pronunciation will improve over time, as long as you practice! 

Study:

Being able to pronounce French words correctly is an important part of learning the language.  Good pronunciation is essential for making yourself understood by native speakers!  This lesson will give you the basics of French pronunciation, in order to help get you started. Your pronunciation will improve over time, as long as you practice!

The good news is that about 40% of English words are derived from French, so you will recognize a lot of vocabulary as you progress through your study of French.  However, even words that are spelled identically in both languages are pronounced differently in French than they are in English.

Like English, French pronunciation is very quirky.  French has silent letters, single letters that can have more than one sound, and many exceptions to its own general rules of pronunciation.  At some point, you should consult the additional pronunciation lessons (Vowels and Vowel Sounds / Nasal Vowel Sounds / Consonants and Consonant Sounds) for more in-depth explanations of different aspects of French pronunciation. In the meantime, this simplified lesson will give you an idea of how to pronounce new words correctly.

Five (5) Basic French Pronunciation Rules

1)  Syllable Stress:

The one thing you can always rely on with regard to French pronunciation is syllable stress.  French words are always stressed on the very last pronounced syllable!

au revoir (‘oh ruh-VWAHR) : goodbye
français (‘frahn-
SAY) : French
madame (‘mah-
DAHM) : Mrs. / ma’am
université (‘oo-nee-vayr-see-
TAY) : university

2)  Final ‘-E’ & Final ‘-ES’ / Final ‘-ER’ & Final ‘-EZ’ / the word “ET”:

Both final letter ‘-e’ without an accent mark and final ‘-es’ without an accent mark are normally silent, never pronounced.  However, the consonant that immediately precedes the final ‘-e’ or ‘-es’ is pronounced.

(Je) parle (‘pahrl) : (I) speak
voitu
re (‘vwah-TYOOR) : car
(Tu) dî
nes (‘deen) : (You) eat dinner
télépho
nes (‘tay-lay-FUHN) : telephones

Final ‘-er’ and final ‘-ez’ without an accent mark is usually pronounced ay, like in the English word ‘day’.

chanter (shahn-TAY) : to sing
demand
er (‘duh-mahn-DAY) : to ask / to ask for
tomb
er (‘tohm-BAY) : to fall
ch
ez moi (‘shay MWAH’) : at my house
finiss
ez! (‘fee-nee-SAY) : finish!
attend
ez! (‘ah-tahn-DAY) : wait!

The French word “ET” means and.  Like final ‘-er’ and final ‘-ez’, it is pronounced ay, like in the English word ‘day’.

Et vous? (ay VOO’) : And you? (formal)
toi
et moi (‘twah ay mwah’) : you (informal) and me
le français
et l’espagnol. (‘luh frahn-SAY ay less-pahn-YOHL’) : French and Spanish

3)  Final Consonants:

Most final consonants in French are silent, not pronounced.  However, final c, r, f, and l usually are pronounced.  Use the consonants in the English word ‘C a R e F u L’ in order to help you to remember to pronounce final c, r, f, and l.

avec (‘ah-VECK’) : with
bonjou
r (‘bohn-ZHOOR) : hello
neu
f (‘nuff) : nine
anima
l  (‘ah-nee-MAHL) : animal

4)  Élision:

For French speakers, when a pronounced letter ‘a’ or ‘e’ at the end of a one-syllable word is followed by a word that begins with a pronounced vowel sound, the result is not a pleasant-sounding combination.  For this reason, the pronounced ‘a’ or ‘e’ at the end of a French word is usually dropped when the next word begins with a vowel sound or a silent letter ‘h’.  The dropped vowel is then replaced with an apostrophe.  This is called élision (contraction).  Élision occurs with the letters ‘a’ and ‘e’ in the following words: je, me, te, se, ne, ce, de, que, le, la.

Je adore le enfant. –> Jadore lenfant.
(‘zhah-DOHR lahn-FAHn’)
I love the child.

Je étudie la histoire. –> Jétudie lhistoire.
(‘zhay-too-DEE leess-TWAHR’)
I study history.

Tu te habilles. –> Tu thabilles.
(‘too tah-BEE-yuh’)
You (informal) are getting dressed.

Il ne a pas de argent. –> Il na pas dargent.
(‘eel nah pah dahr-ZHAN’)
He has no money.

le homme que elle aime –> lhomme quelle aime
(‘luhm kell EMM’)
The man that she loves

5)  Liaison:

Often, the final consonant of one word may be pronounced if the word that follows it begins with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, or y) or a silent ‘h’.  This is called liaison (linking).  When liaison occurs, the pronunciation of certain final consonants may differ from the way they are normally pronounced – the consonant ‘d’ is pronounced like a ‘t’; the consonant ‘f’ is pronounced like a ‘v’; the consonants ‘s’ and ‘x’ are pronounced like a ‘z’.

unétudiant (‘uhNay-tyoo-dee-AHN’) : a (male) student
gran
dhôtel (‘grahnToh-TELL’) : big hotel
neu
fheures (‘nuhVUHR’) : nine o’clock
Faite
sattention! (‘fehtZah-tahn-see-OHN’) : Pay attention!
deu
xamis (‘duhZah-MEE’): two friends

Adapt: 

Bonjour!  Comment allez-vous?
Hello!  How are you (formal)?

Je vais très bien, merci.  Et vous?
I am very well, thank you.  And you?

Tu aimes les maths?
Do you (informal) like math?

Oui, j’aime les maths et les langues.
Yes, I like math and languages.

Vous habitez à Rennes?
Do you (formal) live in Rennes?

Non, j’habite à Paris.
No, I live in Paris.

La fête est chez toi?
Is the party at your house?

Non, la fête est chez Henri.
No, the party is at Henri’s house.

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