This page gives us an overview of the rules of French pronunciation. In addition to the audio buttons with example words in French, standard IPA symbols and English phonetic spelling are used to clarify each sound.

Click on these links to go to one of the following sections:
1) Unaccentuated vowels
2) Accentuated vowels
3) Vowel combinations
4) Nasal vowels
5) Consonants

1) Unaccentuated vowels


The French vowels are a, e, i, o, and u. Vowels can occur either unaccentuated (e.g. chat), accentuated (e.g. hôtel), or as vowel combinations (e.g. beau).
Here is a table with the pronunciations for the single unaccentuated vowels:

Vowel(s) Sound French sample words Phonetic
spelling
IPA
character(s)
a table, sac, chat, baggage, matin ah [a]
e genou, second, cheval a
(
[ə]
-er/-et manger, et e [e]
i and y lit, minute, courir, système, physique ee [i]
o botte, homme, vélo, indigo oh [o]
u jus, tissu, utile ue or ü [y]


Note that e is pronounced differently when it stands before -r or -t. In those cases, it sounds more like an English "ay" but without the effect of the "y".


2) Accentuated vowels



2.1) What are the different accents?

There are only three accents in French (shown here on top of the e):
accent aigu / é
accent grave \ è
accent circonflexe ^ ê

2.2) Pronunciation changes caused by accents

Fortunately, the only vowel, for which the three accents have a noticeable effect on its pronunciation, is the e. The phonetic effects for all other vowels are negligible and will not be discussed here.

The table below lists the effects of each of the existing accents on the e:

Accent Sound French sample words Phonetic
spelling
IPA
character(s)
é enchanté, également, désolé ay w/o the y [e]
è frère, après, très, problème ae [ɛ]
ê être, fenêtre, même, fête aeh [ɛ] (more open)


3) Vowel combinations


Vowels can also cluster together to form vowel combinations. There are only a few possible combinations in French listed in the table below:

Vowel combination Sound French sample words Phonetic
spelling
IPA
character(s)
ai maison, mauvais, j'ai ay w/o the y [ɛ]
au/eau journaux, beau oh [o]
eu/œu sœur, fleur, œuf, bleu ea in 'to earn' [œ]
oi voici, toi, boire wa [w]
ou beaucoup, bonjour, nous oo [u]
ui/oui oui, cuisine, huit, je suis ew-ee [ɥ]


4) Nasal vowels


Nasal vowels are a bit difficult to learn since we do not have anything like it in English. A good rule of thumb is: Every time a vowel precedes an n or m in the same syllable, that vowel becomes "nasal". Listen to our audio examples and try to imitate what you hear.

Nasal vowel Sound French sample words IPA
character(s)
an tant, enchanté, Orléans [ã]
en/in bien, matin, ingénieur, jardin [ɛ̃]
on maison, bon, marron [õ]
un un, quelq'un, lundi [œ̃]
̃̃̃

5) Consonants


Consonants are all the letters that are not vowels. Most of the French consonants are pronounced the same way as in English. Usually, all consonants located at the end of a word are silent and not pronounced (e.g. trois, petit).

The following list only discusses those consonants, for which the pronunciation is different from the English one:

Consonant(s) Sound French sample words Phonetic
spelling
IPA
character(s)
c beaucoup, lecture, redacteur k [k]
ce, ca France, excercer se, sa [s]
g Belgique, également, passage 1st or 2nd g in 'garage' [ʒ] or [g]
gn gagner, mignon nie (short) [ɲ]
h hôtel, haute, aujourd'hui [mute]
j jardin, jaune, je 2nd g in 'garage' [ʒ]
r rouge, courir, être guttural r [ʀ]