Why An Apostrophe In French ? French Elision Audioguide

Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Je t’aime. Why is there an apostrophe in French? How do you pronounce it? This apostrophe is called “elision” and it replaces a vowel.

So let’s take a closer look at this French apostrophe, study what elision means in French, how we use it and the pronunciation of French words spelled with an apostrophe.

Before I explain the concept of elision in French… did you mean liaison: French word linking like in [des_Zamis]? People often mistake the two terms. Liaisons in French are explained with 100 audio examples in another one of my free lessons: follow the link!

This free French lesson – like many on French Today’s blog – features audio recordings. Click on the link next to the headphones to hear the French pronunciation.

So, back to this strange French apostrophe mark.

What’s the French Apostrophe Called?

The symbol used for the concept of elision is called an apostrophe: Une apostrophe in French.

It’s either sort of a single quotation mark or like a comma (depending on the font you’re using to type), but the apostrophe is located to the top right of a letter. It’s the ‘ in… it’s!

J’aime l’hiver.
I love winter.

Why Is There An Apostrophe in French?

The apostrophe replaces a vowel. Why exactly did someone decide to kick that vowel out of the word in spelling? Because of the pronunciation.

Sometimes in French, when there are two vowel sounds one after the other, it’s not easy to pronounce.

Try saying : Je te aime.
Now try saying: Je t’aime. Easier, don’t you think?

So people started saying “je t’aime”, and at one point, someone decided to change the spelling to match the pronunciation of “Je t’aime” – a pretty common expression since that’s how to say ‘I’m in love with you’ in French.

Nowadays, a lot of French people would use the everyday modern French way to speak and say: j’t’aime
Will we one day spell “je t’aime” “j’t’aime”? Maybe… but we’re not there yet.

Ok, that’s for the French apostrophe. But what is “elision”?

What Does an Elision Mean?

Did you know the elision was a grammatical concept which exists also in English? However the rules of elision are not the same between English and French. Let’s see the differences.

What’s an elision in English?

Fish n’ chips, I can’t, I’m, Shouldn’t… All these are examples of elisions in English.

So an elision is the omission of one or more sound in a word.

An apostrophe replaces the letters that are no longer written.

Now let’s study the French version of the elision.

What’s an elision in French?

Elision in French is called une élision, or l’élision. Same word as in English, slightly different pronunciation.

In French, we also use an apostrophe to replace a letter. But the apostrophe replaces only one vowel which is no longer used for spelling that succession of words.

And only a few short words take elision.

What Words Take an Elision in French?

6 elisions in French (mostly)

Je, le, de, ne, que, se, ce, me, te and la (the only one ending in another vowel than “e”) take elision.

This means that when “je, le, de, ne, que, se, ce, me, te and la” are followed by a mute h or a vowel, you will drop the “e” (the “a” for “la”) and replace it with an apostrophe in spelling.

  1. Le ami (the friend, masculine) becomes l’ami in elision.
    The “e” of “le” is replaced in spelling by an apostrophe.
  2. La amie (the friend, feminine) becomes l’amie in elision.
    The “a” of “la” is replaced in spelling by an apostrophe.

Some French words are spelled with an apostrophe like aujourd’hui: today in French, which has evolves through time from “au jour de hui” which you could translate as ‘in the day of now’… So it’s indeed an omission of the “e” of “de” here as well.

This happens to other ‘longer’ words such as “quelqu’un” (someone), “puisqu’elle” (because she) but they are all elisions of “que”.

Is there an elision with “si” in French?

“Si” – if in French only takes elision when it’s followed by il(s).

Si il(s) > s’il(s)
But si elle(s) remains does not take elision.

So if you read a “s” followed by something else, it’s a “se”… probably a pronominal verb form.

Is there an elision before people’s name?

Do you say “de Antoine” or “d’Antoine”?

The answer is vague: it depends!

If it’s a common French first name that French people know and would recognise, then yes, you would have a liaison. Everybody in France would write and say “d’Antoine” because “Antoine” is a common French first name.

If it’s a foreign first name, then the elision could be confusing and make people believe that name started with a “d”. In that instance, you would not apply elision and would write “de”.

For example, “de Amir”.

Yet… if you know many people called Amir, and that name is very familiar to you, you may make the elision and say “d’Amir”…

As I said, there is no clear cut answer. Even the French Academy cannot have an answer for everything!

Elision is explained in depth with audio and then illustrated within the story part of my French audio method for beginners.

À Moi Paris Audiobook Method

A new approach to learning both traditional and modern French logically structured for English speakers.

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More Details & Audio Samples

If you enjoy learning French language and culture in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided French pronunciation.

How Do You Pronounce A French Word With an Apostrophe?

The apostrophe in French is absolutely silent: it’s not pronounced whatsoever, no hhhh sound or anything.

An apostrophe is only a written symbol used to indicate a vowel was been dropped.

Why are words spelled the way they are? Why in English do you write ‘colonel’ but pronounce it [kernel]? Who knows?

However, what’s important to understand with the French apostrophe is that the consonant before the apostrophe is pronounced with the vowel sound after the apostrophe just like if they were attached, as if it all formed a single word.

No pause, no hhhh… just like one word.

Elision is very common in French, and it’s very important you master elision and its correct pronunciation to sound French.

11 Examples of Elisions – French Words With an Apostrophe

Now I will give you examples taken from the novel part of my beginner French learning method À Moi Paris L1, chapter 7.

  1. De Anne > d’Anne
    Of, from, about Anne
  2. Je habite > j’habite
    I live, I am living
  3. Que il > qu’il
    That he/it
  4. La école > l’école
    The school
  5. Ce est > c’est
    It is, she is, he is
  6. Ne êtes > n’êtes
    Are not
  7. Le hôtel > l’hôtel
    The hotel
  8. Se appelle > s’appelle
    (He/she) is named
  9. Me appelle > m’appelle
    (I) am named, my name is
  10. Te aime > t’aime
    Love(s) you
    (watch out, this happens to « te » not « tu » in formal French writing)
  11. Je étudie > j’étudie
    I study, I am studying

Voilà – you now understand the apostrophe in French and the concept of elision.

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Author: Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Camille Chevalier-Karfis

Born and raised in Paris, I have been teaching today's French to adults for 25+ years in the US and France. Based on my students' goals and needs, I've created unique downloadable French audiobooks focussing on French like it's spoken today, for all levels. Come to Paimpol and enjoy an exclusive French immersion homestay with me in Brittany.

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