French letters lock together to create specific French sounds: understand this and you will not only be able to read French with ease, but gain confidence with your general French pronunciation.
First, I’ll record the different sounds that you will find in the French language, starting with the vowels and then the consonant sounds, and illustrate the sounds with examples in the form of a fun sentence. I’ll then focus on some challenging French sounds like the French U and the French R, explain the concept of liaison, and finally, I’ll give you pointers on how to improve your spoken French pronunciation.
This free lesson comes with audio recordings made by a French Parisian native (yours truly). Click on the link next to the 🎧 headphones to play the audio of the sounds and many examples.
In any language, written letters combine to make sounds. Sometimes it’s rather logical – like the word “dog” in English – sometimes much less, like the name “Sean” which is pronounced like [Shon]…
The good news is that French pronunciation is much more predictable than English pronunciation. Knowing how French letters group together to make a sound and the rules that govern French pronunciation will be a tremendous help.
First you may want to start by learning the French Alphabet.
French Alphabet Pronunciation
Please press on the audio player to hear my recording of the French alphabet. I left just enough time for you to repeat out loud.
a, b, c, d, e f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o ,p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.
Now, the alphabet states the names of the letters. Not necessarily their pronunciation. Written letters combine together to make sounds. Let’s see how!
Let’s start with the most important French sounds : the French vowels.
19 French vowel Sound Pronunciation
There are 6 vowels in French : A, E, I, O, U and Y (i grec).
These vowels with often combine with other vowels to spell out different French sounds.
Here is a recap, however, to get a deeper understanding of how each individual vowel is pronounced in French, I suggest you follow this link to my free audio lesson on French vowel pronunciation.
I got really creative with my examples: I created full sentences loaded with the sound I wanted to illustrate. Use the audio to repeat them out loud! It’s a great way to exercise your French pronunciation and create reflexes!
You know a French teacher? Please share this lesson with him/her. I’m quite sure they too will find it useful!
|Letters||Pronunciation Tip||Example Sentence|
|1||a, à||Like “ah” in English|
When a is written à, the pronunciation doesn’t change.
|Anne va à la plage.|
Ann goes to the beach
|2||â||Not always pronounced differently (Like most Parisians, I don’t pronounce it differently), but sometimes makes the a sound a bit longer.||Anne regarde son âne.|
Anne looks at her donkey.
|3||ai||A and I combine together to make the sound è. Note this sound is featured in French conjugations imparfait endings : ais, ai, ait, aient||Anne aimait son âne. |
Anne loved her donkey.
|4||au, eau||All these letter combine to make the sound o, like the o in “toe”. This sound can also be spelled “o” or “ô” (see below)||Au parc, Anne a de l’eau.|
At the park, Ann has water.
|5||an, am, aon||A sometimes combien with the letter N or M to make a nasal sound an. Follow this link to my free audio lesson to understand French nasal pronunciation and rules. This sound can also be spelled “en” and “em” – see below.||L’ambulance a un grand panneau blanc.|
The ambulance has a large white panel.
|6||ain||Here we have another nasal pronunciation. This sound can also be spelled “in”, “im” or “un” – see below.||Anne a faim : elle mange du pain.|
Anne is hungry: she eats some bread.
|7||e, eu||Sound a bit like the i in “sir”.|
Note that the letter e is very often silent in French, like featured in the pronunciation of the word cartes where both the final e and s are silent (the word ends on the t sound).
|Je veux acheter ce jeu de cartes. |
I want to buy this card game.
|8||oeu, eu||Like the er in “her” in English.||Ma soeur aime les fleurs.|
My sister loves flowers.
|9||è, ê, e||Like the English sound in “hair”.||Cet hôtel avec la fête est près de la mer.|
This hotel with the party is close to the sea.
|10||é, e||This sound doesn’t really exist in English, but is very common in French. |
It’s a bit like “ay” but with a closed mouth.
The French é sound is often found in the end of a word spelled as “er” or “ez”.
|Éléonore et Anne sont allées à la plage l’été dernier.|
Eleonore and Anne went to the beach last summer.
|en, em,||Another way to spell the same French nasal sound than in “an, am, aon” above.||En avant, ensemble !|
|11||i, y||Like the ee in “see”.||Il va y aller avec son ami Yves. |
He’s going to go there with his friend Yves.
|in, im, un||Here is another way to spell the same vowel sound as in “ain” above.||Un matin, un lapin a pris un bain ? Impossible !!|
One morning, a rabbit took a bath? Impossible !!
|o, ô||Pronounced like the o in “toe”. It’s the same sound spelled by “au, eau“.||Oh là là, l’hôtel Bonobo est très joli. |
Oh my, the Bonobo hotel is really pretty.
|14||o||Pronounced like the o in “not” or “son”.||Cet homme donne une corde a votre bonne.|
This man gives a rope to your maid.
|15||on||The nasal sound based on the o sound.||Son mouton a une toison très longue.|
His sheep has a very long coat.
|16||ou||Pronounced a bit like “oo” in English but without moving the lips (in English, the lips modulate on the “oo”; the French “ou” sound is clipped).||Où allez-vous ? Nous voulons aller à Tombouctou !|
Where are you going? We want to go to Tombouctou!
|17||oi||Pronounced like “wa” in English.||Toi ou moi? On décide à trois !|
You or me? Let’s decide on three!
|18||oin||Another nasal sound…||J’ai besoin de moins de soin.|
I need less medical care.
|19||u||This sound doesn’t exist in English. |
Form an English “ee” sound (French “i“) then push your lips way to the front.
See my detailed explanation below.
|Tu as vu ? Lulu a conduit une voiture.|
Did you see? Lulu drove a car.
Would you like to train more on French pronunciation? My audio lesson features full descriptions and pictures guiding you on how to place your mouth, lips and tongue, and many pronunciation drills!
Check out my downloadable audio lesson Secrets of French pronunciation to study French anywhere, at your desk on on the go on your mobile phone.
In-depth audiobook covering the foundations as well as the difficulties of today’s French pronunciation
How To Pronunce the French U Sound?
The French “u” sound often eludes students of French. It’s often described as closed to the English “oo” sound, but in reality, it’s much closer to the English “ee” sound.
Start by making a French i sound, so like “tea”, “fee” or simply “me” in English.
Then don’t move anything inside your mouth. But push your lips way out as a kiss, and then curl them up a bit as if you wanted to touch your nose.
Here is what you should be hearing. Ti—-iiiii-uuuuuuu
I find that it’s a huge help to start with the I sound and try to find the U as you’re saying the I.
Then you can add consonants : bu, mu, su, tu, lu…
Another way to find the U sound is to find a word you can pronounce. Many English speakers know how to say “tu” (you in French). So use this “tu” as a tuning fork.
Whenever you need to come up with your U sound, say “tu” out loud a couple of times, then isolate the U sound and repeat it a couple of times…
Now let’s move to the next group of French sounds: consonants.
What are French Nasal Sounds?
A French nasal sound is a specific way to pronounce French vowels. The various French nasal sounds are displayed in this fun example : un bon vin blanc (a good white wine).
The French could have used some kind of accent to indicate a nasal sound. Like ã ĩ õ… It would have made things so much simpler! Instead, we write a nasal sound in French with a vowel followed by an N or an M.
When To Pronounce N or M or a Nasal Sound?
A vowel can lock into a nasal pronunciation with a vowel + N or M is used:
Ex: an (year), on (we), un (a), en (in),
At the end of a word
Ex: son (sound), pain (bread), fin (fine)
Is locked in by a consonant – at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word
Ex: oncle (uncle) , ample, ombre (shade), orange, bonjour (hello), ambulance, ont (they have)
In other words a vowel would unlock the nasal combo.
Un = nasal
Une = not nasal because of the e.
How do you make a French nasal sound?
A nasal pronunciation has to do with the air flow at the back of your mouth. Many people can just find the sound by mimicking the audio. If it’s not the case for you, I have several precise solutions to unlock this French sound: I invite you to follow this link to my free audio lesson about French nasal sounds – with many examples.
Now let’s move on to other French consonants.
17 French Consonants Sounds Pronunciation
The very good news is that French consonants are pronounced pretty much the same way English consonants are. Let me list the French consonant sounds, give you some pronunciation tips and illustrate the French pronunciation with some fun sentences I made up specially for you!
Please share this article with your French learning friends, on social medias, forums, with your French teachers… This really helps me out and encourages me to write more free content!
Now play the audio recordings and remember to repeat out loud – not just in your head!
|Letter||Pronunciation Tip||Example sentence|
|1||b||Pronounced like in English||Le bébé boit un bon biberon.|
The baby drinks a nice baby bottle.
|Before e or i sounds like s. |
Elsewhere sounds like k
|C’est certain que Caroline et Coralie aimeront ces citrons acidulés.|
It’s certain that Caroline and Coraline will like these acidic lemons.
|ç = s||“ç” also sounds like s||Et ton garçon, ça va ?|
What about your boy, is he OK?
|Most of the time sounds like ‘sh‘. Sometimes like k.||Christophe cherche le chemin pour aller chez Charlotte.|
Christophe is looking for the way to go to Charlotte’s house.
|4||d||Pronounced like in English. Often silent at the end of a French word.||Denis vend un grand domaine dans le Doubs.|
Denis is selling a large estate in the Doubs (French region).
|5||f||Pronounced like in English. |
F Makes a liaison in v (as featured in neuf ans [neu van])
|Fabrice est veuf depuis neuf ans.|
Fabrice has been a widower for nine years.
|6||g||Like the g in “go”.||Gabrielle se gare devant la grille du garage.|
Gabrielle parks in front of the garage fence.
|7||g=j||Before i and e, sounds like the s in “leisure” (like a French “j“)||Comme beaucoup de gens, Giselle aime les giraffes.|
Like many people, Giselle likes giraffes.
|h||H is silent is French, meaning that it is not aspirated as it is in English – unless its a foreign word. Some h’s in French prevent any liaison before them. |
Watch out! Th is pronounced like a “t” in French!
|Arthur et Théodore habitent en haut d’un salon de thé. |
Arthur and Théodore live on top of a tea house.
|j||Sounds like the s in “leisure”, just like g + i or e.||Je sais : je vais ajouter de l’huile de jojoba !|
I know: I’m going to add some jojoba oil!
|k||Same as English. Not very common in French.||Karine fait du kayak au Kentucky.|
Karinne is kayaking in Kentucky.
|8||l||Same as in English, pronounced the same when double l.||Les lutins allument la lune qui luit alors toute la nuit.|
Elves ignite the moon which then shines all night long.
|9||ill=y||“ille, ail(le), euil(le), ouil(le) etc…” combination features a sound similar the the y in “yahoo”.||Les abeilles lèchent le miel qui coule de la bouteille. |
The bees lick off the honey that is dripping off the bottle.
|10||m||Same as in English except when featured in a nasal sound as explained above.||Emmanuelle a mangé mes mirabelles !|
Emmanuelle ate my prunes!
|11||n||Same as in English except when featured in a nasal sound as explained above.||Nathalie et Noémie vont organiser l’anniversaire d’Anémone la nuit du neuf novembre.|
Nathalie an Noémie are going to organize Anemone’s birthday on the night of November nine.
|12||p||Same as English. Often silent at the end of a word.||Papa parle beaucoup avec Pierre et Pedro.|
Papa speaks a lot with Pierre and Pedro.
|q/qu=k||Sound like k. |
Sometimes the u of the “qu” is pronounced in a latin word (as featured in “aquarium”).
|Qu’est-ce qu’elle dit ? Quelqu’un a rayé la laque de son aquarium ? Mais quand ??|
What is she saying? Someone scratched the varnish or her fish tank? But when?
|13||r||Ah… the infamous French r. See below for tips on how to pronounce the French r. It’s softer than you think, and in any case, it’s never the Spanish rolled r.||Renée et Raoul rient rarement de rien.|
Renée and Raoul seldom laugh because of nothing.
|s||Same pronunciation as in English. |
Watch out, the letter s is often silent at the end of a word.
Also, a written S between two vowels makes the sound z.
|Salut ! Sophie sait que ses soeurs sont aussi ici ?|
Hi! Does Sophie know her sisters are here as well?
|14||t||Same pronunciation as in English. Often silent at the end of a French word. |
Th is pronounced “t” in French!
|Timothé et Thomas ont sauté à l’élastique du haut du petit pont.|
Timothé et Thomas bungee jumped from the top of the small bridge.
|15||v||Same pronunciation as in English.||Véronique et Valérie vont en ville avec leur voiture : vroum-vroum !|
Véronique and Valérie are going downtown with their car: vroum-vroum!
|Sometimes pronounced like a v or sometimes as an English w… Not a common letter in French hence my crazy example…||Elle a perdu son kiwi dans le wagon lit !|
She lost her kiwi in the sleeping car!
|17||z||Same pronunciation as in English. |
Note that “ez” make the sound é – this is important for French verbs.
Also, a written S between two vowels makes this sound z.
|Chère Zoé : oseriez-vous venir visiter le zoo avec moi ? |
Dear Zoé: would you dare to come visit the zoo with me?
Now, let me help you help you with the French R.
How To Pronounce A Perfect French R
All it takes is 3 simple steps:
- stick your whole tongue to the top of your mouth.
This preparation step is very important: concentrate and really try to glue your tongue, back and front to the roof of your mouth.
- lower only the tip of your tongue and press it hard against the back of your LOWER front teeth.
- Open your mouth and create a vibration in your throat, where you say the G of “get” in English.
That’s how you’ll pronounce a perfect French R.
Your tongue is going to make like a curvy slide as you can see on the exaggerated picture I drew to illustrate this lesson. More tips and audio practice in my free audio lesson on how to pronounce the French R sound.
Now let’s talk about a very important French pronunciation concept : the dangerous liaisons!
What Are Liaisons in French Pronunciation?
“Une liaison” in French pronunciation is the fact that the final written consonant of a word becomes the first sound of the following word.
That sound may be the sound of the written consonant, or change slightly.
Let’s take an example.
The final S of “ils” is totally silent.
“I-L-S” in French will never be pronounced [ils] nor [ilz]
However, the final silent S of “ils” will affect the following word, the “ont” in liaison.
“Ont” (pronounced [on]) will be started by the S of the “ils”, which becomes a Z sound in liaison.
So in pronunciation, “ils ont” is pronounced [il zon]
Examples of French Liaisons
Let me provide some examples with audio recordings.
- Un ami – a/one friend – liaison in N between “un” and “ami”
- C’est un ami – He’s a friend – 2 liaisons in a row here: liaison in T between “est” and “un”, liaison in N between “un” and “ami”.
- Un petit enfant – a little child – liaison in T between “petit” and “enfant”.
- On a – we have – liaison in N between “on” and “a”.
- Chez elle – at her place – liaison in Z between “chez” and “elle”.
- Un grand enfant – a tall child – liaison in T between “grand” and “enfant”
- Nous avons – we have – liaison in Z between “nous” and “avons”.
- Ils ont – they have – liaison in Z between “ils” and “ont”.
- Deux heures – 2 hours – liaison in Z between “deux” and “heures”.
- Ce n’est pas ici – It’s not here – liaison in Z between “pas” and “ici”.
- Ils ont été – they have been – double liaison: first one in Z between “ils” and “ont”, second one in T between “ont” and “été”.
- Mon premier amour – my first love.
There is a lot to say about French liaison, more than I can include in this general guide about French pronunciation. Yet – you guessed it – I have already published a free lesson with audio, exclusively available on French Today’s blog! Learn everything there is to know about French liaisons with 100 examples and audio recordings.
Now that I’ve laid down the basics of French pronunciation for you, let me answer a critical question: how do you sound more French?
How to sound French?
In this free lesson, you learned the major French sounds.
If you have a great ear mouth coordination, you may be able to mimic my audio recordings and learn French pronunciation that way.
In my downloadable audio lesson Secrets of French Pronunciation, exclusively available on this website, I explain thoroughly how to place your mouth, lips, tongue to produce the different French sounds, explain all the pronunciation rules and provide many examples with audio recordings and audio drills. The whole lesson is logically structured to help you progressively build up your understanding of French pronunciation. And for many students, this lesson made a huge difference.
Yet, to really improve your French pronunciation, the key is to repeat whole sentences. So you get not only the individual sounds, but also develop an ear for how they all flow together, and get the music of the French language. I suggest you check out my French audiobooks, recorded at several levels of enunciation to help you master both traditional and modern spoken French pronunciation.
You may be interested in this other article about how to improve your French accent. As a matter of fact, a whole section of this French Today blog is dedicated to French pronunciation. Check it out!