French 500: French Pronunctation in 20 minutes
The accent aigu ´ can be only be on an E. At the beginning of a word, it often indicates
that an s used to follow that vowel, e.g., étudiant.
The accent grave ` can be found on an A, E, or U. On the A and U, it serves to
distinguish between homonyms, e.g., ou (or) vs où (where).
The accent circonflexe ^ can be on an A, E, I, O, or U. The circonflexe usually indicates
that an s used to follow that vowel, e.g., forêt. It also serves to distinguish between
homonyms, e.g., du (de + le) vs dû (past participle of devoir).
The accent tréma ¨ can be on an E, I, or U. It is used when two vowels are next to each
other and both must be pronounced, e.g., naïve.
The cedille ¸ is found only on the letter C. It changes a hard c sound (like k) into a soft c
sound (like s), e.g., garçon.
(adapted from http://yoyo.cc.monash.edu.au/~mongoose/french/pronunciation.html)
ou: Pronounced "oooo". [fou, clou, bout]
u: To master this somewhat disdainful sound put your lips in the shape for a "oo", and try
to say "ee". It is often found at the end of past-tense words. [cru, lu, élu]
eu: A shortened version of "er" in "her", without the rolling r. [feu, peu, creux]
é: pronounced like the English -ay as in "say", "bay", but without the glide towards i.
Note that "-er" and "-ez" at the end of a word are pronounced the same way as "é". Many
French verbs in the infinitive end with -er. [pré, été, clé].
Think Gregorian chant. Some people will have you believe that there are four French
nasals, but in reality all nasals closely resemble one of two. Below I have given
instructions for four nasals, but you really only need to use "un" and "in".
* an: This is pronounced like the "a" in "car" (without using your tongue for the
"r"), but with half the sound travelling through your nose. In effect it sounds like "on".
This sound is also used for "am", "em", "en" and "ean". [tente, ambré, angle]
* om: Like the "o" in "on", but half through the nose. Also used for "on". [ton, bon,
* in: Like the "a" in "ban", but blown half through the nose. Also used for "ain",
"aim" and "ein". [pin, intéressant, intention]
* un: Like "eu" above, but half through the nose. Also used in "um" and "eun". [un]
1) an unaccented "e" at the end of a word should not be pronounced. [bête, perle, faire]
2) “oi” is pronounced “wa” [toi, boire, foire]
3) “au” and “aux” are pronounced “oh” [faux, taux, beau]
Most of the time, do not pronounce final d, s, t or x in French words. [appétit, surplus,
r: The French "r" sound is fairly different from the English one. In English, "r" is soft,
round. In contrary, in French, "r" is guttural and must be pronounced like Scottish people
do (maybe, a little bit less guttural !). [rue, retenir, retard]
ch: The French "ch" is pronounced like the English "sh" [chat, chien, charade]
j: The French "j" is pronounced pretty much like the English "g" (as is "gin"), but a little
softer. [je, jardin, Jacques]
h: In French, the character "h" is not pronounced. [hôtel, haricot, hâche]