Want to know how to pronounce french? Here are a few basic guidelines that will help you to understand the special sounds that make up the french language.
We write from our own experience speaking, living and breathing french for many years, and we’ll try and explain in easy to understand terms (no jargon!)
You might also be interested in this online french course, which will really help you improve your conversational french, whether you’re a beginner or more advanced.
Syllables – French Pronunciation
The first important aspect of learning how to pronounce french is the way the syllables are stressed – you’ll find that the emphasis is often on the last syllable, ie at the end of the word. For example, bonJOUR, not BONjour; impossIBLE; not impOSSible.
Learn French Audio
If you’d like to listen as you read, click on the blue button below to hear the examples (marked in red) pronounced.
R is one of the most difficult things to master when learning how to pronounce french – at least for english speakers because it doesn’t exist in our language. It’s a gutteral sound, a little like gargling – or as one of our friends says, coughing up a hairball! [le metro, fromage, pomme de terre].
Another distinctive french pronunciation sound is the nasal n in different combinations with vowels such as a, i, u, or o. It sounds like a soft ‘ng’ in english (eg “sung”) but without the hardness at the end. [un; gant; matin, question.]
You’ll no doubt recognise the cedilla (ç) which is pronounced like a soft “s”; the “c” can still sound soft even without the cedilla, when it is followed by “e” or “i” [ça va bien, merci]. C can also sound “hard” like a “k” when it is followed by other vowels such as a or o [camembert, carte].
Vowel sounds and their different combinations can be challenging. Vowels can also have accent marks which subtly change the sound. Please see our detailed pronunciation page for some examples.
What You Don’t Pronounce
There are a few consonants which are silent, often at the end of the word. These include:
- d [plus tard, pied]
- s; for example café (singular) and cafés (plural) are pronounced the same; another common combination is ais [café, cafés, jamais]
- h [horaire, heure]
- t [s’il vous plaît]
- z [allez, vous avez]
Here are some other interesting combinations:
- The French “ch” is pronounced like the English “sh” [chambre, champignon]
- g before e or i can sound like s in “measure” [gendarme, fromage]
- ll can sound like the english y in yes [famille, papillon]
- ail like the “i” in “sight” with a kind of “y” sound at the end – [travail]
- er is like the “a” in “say” but sharper [regarder, parler]
- oin – like “oi” in moist and then a soft “ng” at the end [coin, moins]
- oui – like “ooee” [oui]