The reason why “tous” is pronounced differently is grammatical. The word “tout” has different grammatical values in French : it can be an indefinite adjective, an adverb, a noun, an indefinite pronoun or a neutral pronoun. In this article, I’ll explain “everything” (pun intended) clearly, with many examples.
I’ll start this lesson with a tip on when to pronounce the S of “Tous”.
1 – When do you Pronounce the S of Tous ?
This is a shortcut: I’m sure you’ll find examples when this doesn’t work, but it will help you out.
- When “tous” is at the end of the sentence, The S is pronounced
Je l’ai acheté pour nous tous : I bought it for all of us – “tous” is pronounced “toossss”, the S is pronounced
- When “tous” is after a verb, the S is pronounced
Nous sommes tous là: all of us are here – “tous” is pronounced “toossss”, the S is pronounced
- When “tous” is followed by “les”, so with “tous les” the S is silent
Tous les jours: every day – “tous” is pronounced “too”, the S is silent
- There are other occasions of course
Tous pour un et un pour tous: one for all and all for one – Both “tous” are pronounced “toossss”, the S is pronounced
And since we are on the “tout” pronunciation subject…
- Tout – spelled this way, with a T at the end, is always pronounced “too”.
The T is silent (but watch out, there may be a liaison involved…)
- Toute and Toutes – so Te or Tes at the end, are always pronounced “toot”.
The T is pronounced because it is followed by a vowel.
The E and the S are silent.
If you don’t understand what a liaison is or why the final E and S are silent, you should study French pronunciation, since this is pretty basic.
Now if you want to understand why you pronounce (or not) the S of “tous”, read the explanation below – it’s not that hard to follow, I promise!
2 – Tout, Toute, Tous, Toutes = French Indefinite Adjective
A – What is an “Indefinite” Adjective?
An adjective is a word which adds some meaning to another word, usually a noun or a pronoun. Like a color for example.
“Indefinite” is a grammatical term which means “non-specific”.
So, as an adjective, “blue” for example is quite specific. “Most” or “several” are examples of indefinite adjectives in English. They give a notion of quantity, but it’s not specific.
When used as an indefinite adjective, “tout” modifies a noun, introduced (or not) by an article, a possessive or demonstrative adjective, or a pronoun.
In other words, when you have “tout le”, “toute la”, “tous les”, or “toutes les”, it’s likely that you are using an indefinite adjective…
B – French Pronunciation of Tout – Indefinite Adjective
As an indefinite adjective, “tout” as four forms in French
- Tout (t silent – too) + masculine singular word
Tout le monde = everybody
- Toute (t pronounced – toot) + feminine singular word
Toute la journée = all day long
- Tous (s SILENT – too) + masculine plural word
Tous les jours = every day
- Toutes (t pronounced – toot) + feminine plural word
Toutes les commandes = all the orders
C – Expressions Using Tout – Indefinite Adjective
Tout as a French indefinite adjective is part of many expressions:
- Tous les 36 du mois = once in a blue moon (too)
- Prendre tout son temps = to take one’s sweet time (too)
- Toutes taxes comprises (TTC) = tax included (toot)
- En tout cas = in any case (too)
- Tous les deux jours = every other day (too)
3 – Tous, Toutes = Indefinite Pronoun
A – What is an Indefinite Pronoun?
A pronoun is a word which replaces another word, usually a noun. For example, instead of repeating my name “Camille”, I use the subject pronoun “I”. I could also use “Me”, another kind of pronoun.
Knowing the grammatical function of the word you want to replace is key to choosing the right pronoun. Translating English to French is not going to work: you first need to know “what” (meaning the grammar role of the word) you want to replace.
Read my blog article about French pronouns to understand this concept better.
And we talked about “indefinite” above: it means non-specific.
B – French Pronunciation of Tous or Toutes – Indefinite Pronoun
When used as an indefinite pronoun, there are only two forms:
- “Tous” (S PRONOUNCED = toossss)
- “Toutes” (t pronounced, toot).
It means “everyone” or “all of us, all of them, all of you”, and always replaces several persons (not one person, and not things).
These pronouns often go after a verb.
It will make more sense with the examples:
- Vous êtes tous là = everybody is here, you all have arrived – S pronounced “tousssss”
- Vous avez tous choisi = everybody has made a choice, all of you have made their choices – S pronounced “tousssss”
- Ils commencent tous à boire = they all start to drink – S pronounced “tousssss”
- Tous pour un et un pour tous = all for one and one for all – S pronounced “tousssss”
- Elles ont toutes une bague = everyone of them (feminine) has a ring
4 – Tout = Noun
“Le tout” is a masculine noun meaning “the whole thing”, “the entire thing”.
It’s pronounced “too”.
- Le tout représente beaucoup d’argent – the whole thing adds up to be a lot of money.
Now you pretty much know all you really need to know about “tout” and its pronunciation.
What follows is quite advanced grammar…
5 – Tout = Neutral Pronoun
I cannot tell you simply what a “neutral” “pronoun” means because to me, these two words together don’t really make sense… But it’s a grammatical term, so, I have to use it here (and chances are you’d have to learn it for your French class…)
When used as a neutral pronoun, “tout” replaces a thing, never a person.
“Tout” – neutral pronoun – has only one form: “tout” pronounced “too”.
It means “all” or “everything”:
- C’est tout = that’s all
- Tout va bien = everything is fine
- Je comprends tout = I understand it all / I understand everything
- Merci pour tout = thank you for everything
6 – Tout = Adverb
An adverb is yet another word which modifies a word! An adverb doesn’t modify a noun or pronoun (adjectives do). An adverb modifies a verb (it “ads” to the verb, like “quickly” in English), an adjective or another adverb.
“Tout” is used as an adverb when it is in front of an adjective (except possessive and demonstrative adjectives, as seen above, in this case “tout” is an indefinite adjective) or another adverb.
It means “extremely, entirely”.
As an adverb, “tout” is invariable, it has only one form: “tout” pronounced “too”.
- Ils sont tout contents d’être ici – they are absolutely happy to be here
Note that when “tout” comes before a feminine adjective starting with a consonant or a pronounced H, then it becomes “toute” or “toutes”, both pronounced “toot”.
This is a big exception for an adverb, which usually has only one form, and quite an advanced and confusing concept (I am positive most French people don’t know that rule).
- Elles sont toutes contentes d’être ici – they are absolutely happy to be here.
Contrast the use of “tout” indefinite pronoun versus “tout” adverb
This is so subtle…
- Ils sont tous contents d’être ici – all of them are happy to be here.
“Tous” is an indefinite pronoun, it replaces a bunch a people and it’s pronounced “toos“.
- Ils sont tout contents d’être ici – they are extremely happy to be here.
“Tout” is an adverb, it modifies the adjective “contents” and it’s pronounced “too”.
7 – When Tout Sounds Like Toute…
Now, this has to do with spoken French and modern French pronunciation…
When “tout” is followed by “de”, and we speak fast, the two words are going to glide together and sound like “toot”, making it sound like you said “toute(s)”.. Confusing right?
- Je reviens tout de suite – I’ll be right back
Maintenant, vous savez tout sur tout !!
Tout is explained in depth, with audio, many examples, exercises and then illustrated by a story (loaded with “tout” examples in context) in my French learning audio method À Moi Paris level 3.
For this concept as in everything in French, I believe that learning in context is super important: you need to develop a sense, an “ear” for “tout” and its pronunciation.
When the French speak French, they don’t analyse the grammatical structure of the sentence! We don’t know whether we’re using a pronoun, an adjective or an adverb! We just know the correct pronunciation of “tous” (too or toos), because we’ve repeated the sentences enough that we know what sounds right.
Once you’ve understood the grammar rules, you too need to develop your French ear. And French Today’s audiobooks are the best way to do it!