French Grammar: Nasal Vowel Sounds
French Grammar: Nasal Vowel Sounds
la grammaire française: les sons des voyelles nasales
Understanding vowels (les voyelles) and vowel sounds is an important part of the French language. You need them to read, write, and speak French well! Many parts of French depend greatly on getting vowel sounds right, so listen carefully!
French vowels (les voyelles) play an important role in correctly reading, writing, speaking, and understanding French! Learning to enunciate vowels well can help you speak more like a native French speaker.
As in English, French vowels are spoken without any kind of block or stop in the airway. All vowels are formed with the mouth OPEN and air moving freely. See the lesson Vowels and Vowel Sounds for more information on how to correctly pronounce French vowels.
French also contains several nasal vowel sounds (les voyelles nasales) which kind of make it sound like the speaker’s nose is stuffed up. Actually, though, nasal vowel sounds are the result of pushing unobstructed air through your nose and mouth at the same time during speaking. French nasal vowel sounds occur when one or more vowel letters precede a nasal consonant (‘N’ or ‘M’) at the end of a word OR followed by another non-nasal consonant. These French nasal vowel sounds include: ‘AN’, ‘AM’, ‘EN’, ‘EM’, ‘IN’, ‘IM’, ‘AIN’, ‘AIM’, ‘EIN’, ‘EIM’, ‘UN’, ‘UM, ‘IEN’, ‘ON’, ‘OM’, and ‘OIN’.
This all may sound confusing, but it really isn’t once you get the hang of it. Listen carefully to the audio examples in the “Explore” section of this lesson, and repeat the way that the nasal vowel sounds are pronounced. Your pronunciation will improve over time, as long as you practice!
Nasal Vowel Sounds:
AN / AM / EN / EM : All four of these nasal vowel sounds are pronounced alike when they occur at the end of a word OR when they are followed by a consonant other than ‘N’ or ‘M’. This sound is created by opening your mouth wide and dropping your jaw. To approximate this sound, pronounce the English word ahhh while pinching your nostrils.
Le temps fait beau en France en septembre.
The weather is nice in France in September.
L’enfant mange souvent un grand sandwich de jambon.
The child often eats a big ham sandwich.
Maman est enfin dans l’ambulance.
Mom is finally in the ambulance.
IN / IM / AIN / AIM / EIN / EIM / UN / UM / IEN : All of these nasal vowel sounds are pronounced alike when they occur at the end of a word OR when they are followed by a consonant other than ‘N’ or ‘M’. This sound is created by spreading your lips apart and opening your mouth just slightly (like you do when you smile). To approximate this sound, pronounce the a sound of the English word cat (without an Upstate New York accent!) while pinching your nostrils.
NOTE : The ‘I’ in the nasal vowel sound IEN is pronounced like a y, as in the English word yes.
Alain est américain mais son cousin est marocain.
Alan is American but his cousin is Moroccan.
Bien, je suis certain que Martin a faim.
Well, I am certain that Martin is hungry.
Hein? Un parfum de Reims? Impossible!
Huh? A perfume from Reims? Impossible!
ON / OM : These two nasal vowel sounds are pronounced alike when they occur at the end of a word OR when they are followed by a consonant other than ‘N’ or ‘M’. This sound is created by rounding your lips tightly and closing your mouth. To approximate this sound, pronounce the English word oh! while pinching your nostrils.
Combien de ces bons garçons ont onze ans?
How many of these good boys are eleven years old?
Ta tante et ton oncle sont confortables, non?
Your (informal) aunt and uncle are comfortable, right?
On monte et on tombe.
We climb and we fall.
OIN : This nasal vowel sound occurs at the end of a word OR when it is followed by a consonant other than ‘N’ or ‘M’. To approximate this sound, pronounce the wa sound of the English word want while pinching your nostrils.
J’ai besoin de soins.
I need medical care.
La vache a besoin de foin.
The cow needs hay.
Le café est moins loin du coin que la banque.
The café is less far from the corner than the bank is.
CAREFUL! If the vowel + ‘n’ or ‘m’ combination is followed by a vowel or another ‘n’ or ‘m’, the resulting vowel sound is not a nasal vowel sound.
plane (not nasal)
cousine (not nasal)
certaine (not nasal)
pleine (not nasal)
chienne (not nasal)
une (not nasal)
bonne (not nasal)
Bonjour! Comment allez-vous?
Hello! How are you (formal)?
Comme ci, comme ça.
Tu empruntes le manteau brun?
Are you (informal) borrowing the brown coat?
Non, je prends mon anorak.
No, I am taking my parka.
Simon vient à l’université lundi?
Is Simon coming to the university on Monday?
Oui, Simon et Simone viennent ensemble.
Yes, Simon and Simone are coming together.
Normalement, les étudiants mangent où?
Normally, where do the students eat?
Les étudiants mangent normalement dans un restaurant italien.
The students normally eat in an Italian restaurant.
Vous commandez du poisson ou de la viande?
Are you all ordering fish or meat?
Nous commandons de la dinde, du pain et du vin blanc.
We are ordering turkey, bread, and white wine.
- YouTube/LRC Michigan: Introduction to Nasal Vowels a-o-e
- YouTube/YouLearnFrench: Pronunciation of Nasal Vowels in French
- YouTube/French with Mathilde: Nasal vowels
- YouTube/French From Beginners to Advanced: phonétique opposition on – an-en
- YouTube/French from Beginners to Advanced: phonétique – opposition ein-in an-en
- YouTube/French From Beginners to Advanced: phonétique – voyelles nasales
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: Hello (good day) – Bonjour
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: good evening – Bonsoir
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: see you tomorrow – À demain
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: I understand – Je comprends
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: I am 22 years old – J’ai vingt-deux ans
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: You’re welcome – De rien!/Don’t mention it
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: here(hi)hey – Tiens
- YouTube/speakado FRENCH: Good Luck – Bonne chance
- LanguageGuide.org: Nasal Vowel Sounds
- spelland sound.com/Unlocking French Pronunciation
The LEAF Project
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