les syllabes


In previous chapters, we have analyzed intonation, stress, liaison and elision as separate phenomena. We now focus on the structure of the syllables in order to show that these phenomena are related. The syllables of spoken French tend to begin with a consonant and end with a vowel (often called a CV syllable), as illustrated in the title of this chapter:

les voyelles nasales /ã/, /ɛ̃/, /õ/ et /œ/

In addition to oral vowels, French also has four nasal vowels. Oral vowels are produced mainly within the oral cavity. Nasal vowels are produced when air passes through the nose as well as the mouth.
English has nasal-like vowels in words such as sing and impossible, but the nasal consonants /n/ and /m/ are still pronounced. These consonants are not pronounced in French when following a nasal vowel. The consonant is totally assimilated into the vowel pronunciation.


les symboles phonétiques

In the phonetic alphabet, a single symbol or letter corresponds to a single sound, unlike the traditional alphabets of English or French. The phonetic alphabet is provided here as a means for indicating pronunciation more consistently and precisely. Note that a single French sound may correspond to several different spellings or combinations of letters.

les accents

The acute accent (´), l'accent aigu, and the grave accent (`), l'accent grave, are used to indicate the quality of the vowel sound represented by the letter e.

A. Listen to each example and repeat.


The differences between French and English pronunciation will be analyzed in the Phonétique section of each chapter.

Time spent practicing your pronunication will yield maximum results as long as you imitate carefully the model of your professor. Practice saying the words and expressions in this section until you can repeat them with ease and fluency.



In French, stress (l'accentuation) is placed on the final syllable of a word. This is very different from the placement of stress in English which varies according to the word itself. Notice that French stress falls on the last syllable whereas English stress may fall on any syllable (word initial, word medial, or word final). This means that word stress is easily predicted (and learned!) in French.


La consonne /R/

The French /R/ sound bears no resemblance to the American or English sound typically associated with the letter r. The French /R/ is a fricative produced when air "rubs" against the back of the throat. The result is a sound similar to a light clearing of the throat. To produce a French /R/, place the tip of the tongue behind the lower teeth and actively produce friction in the back of the tongue.
A. Listen and repeat.


Les voyelles /i/ /y/ /u/

English speakers, especially those from the southern US, tend to "stretch" or distort vowels giving rise to what are called diphthongs. A diphthong is actually a combination of two sounds, a vowel and a glide or semi-vowel. Pronounce the English words I, out, and boy and you will note that the vowel actually changes its or sound. Try saying each word slowly and note how your jaw moves during the vowel.

Les semi-voyelles

The vowel sounds /i/, /y/, and /u/ are transformed into the semi-vowels /j/, /ɥ/, and /w/ when followed by another vowel. The sound /j/, often referred to as the 'yod' may occur in final position, spelled -ille or -il (la fête du Travail). It can also occur before a vowel (bien, hier). The result is that two written vowels are pronounced as a single syllable.
A. Listen and repeat.


Les voyelles moyennes

Native English speakers often have problems differentiating between [e]-[ɛ], [ø]-[œ], and [o]-[ɔ]. The main distinction to be made here is that the first vowel of each of these pairs is more closed than the second, meaning that the mouth is not as open.
Furthermore, when compared to similar vowel sounds of English, the French vowel is always pure and constant. Compare and repeat the pronunciation of the following:



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