French Pronunciation: Your Easy Guide

What’s the most uniquely challenging skill to master when learning French?

Why, the French pronunciation, of course!

Luckily, many of your accent-related issues can be easily fixed.

In this blog post, you’ll learn the rules and sounds of pronouncing words in French, get handy learning tips and find additional guidance on your journey to making your French words sound just right.


General French Pronunciation Rules

French Letters Aren’t Pronounced the Same as Their English Counterparts (Mostly)

Like English, French has 26 letters, and most French consonants sound the same as they do in English. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are vowel and consonant sounds in French that don’t exist in English. Moreover, things like accent marks and ligatures make French pronunciation extra complicated. And it’s not just about nailing the sound of each letter—you also need to account for how the sounds of these letters change in relation to the other letters or words they’re with.

Luckily, phonetics tables can help you out with that. And here’s a post that will help you establish a good understanding of placement, voicing and emphasis that’s unique to French speakers:

When Stressing Sentences, Use Inflections Unique to French

Unlike English’s use of a relatively free system of intonation and stress, French has three major rhythm rules:

  • When continuing a sentence, use a slight rising inflection.
  • Declarative sentences are said with a falling inflection.
  • Yes/no questions can be asked using a simple rising inflection at the end of a declarative sentence.

Be Aware of Common Pronunciation Mistakes

As you can imagine, French pronunciation is a bit tricky to master for native English speakers. You can check out this video on common pronunciation mistakes in French and how you can avoid them:

The Trickiest Parts of French Pronunciation (and How to Master Them)

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, let’s get into the fiddlier bits!

The French R

To me, this is probably the classic French sound. If you get this one right (especially since it doesn’t have an English equivalent), you’re already well on your way to sounding like a native.

To pronounce it, pretend you’re trying to gargle. Make a “k” sound, then pronounce the “k” with your throat closed.

Here are some words to practice the r with:

French "R" WordsEnglish Translation
arriver to arrive
vraiment really
sucre sugar
frère brother

Need more practice? Check out this in-depth post on pronouncing the French “R”:

The French U and Ou

The French u has a pronunciation that doesn’t exist in English, making it one of the more difficult sounds to get right. To pronounce it, say the “ee” in English and hold it out, then round your lips.

In addition to the French vowel u, there’s also the ou sound, which is pronounced slightly differently. To pronounce the ou sound, think “soup.” You’ll likely find this sound easier to say aloud than the plain old u.

The best way to distinguish the two is to remember that with u, your tongue will be out further than with ou.

Here are some words to practice u vs. ou with:

French "U"French "Ou"
tu (you - informal) tout (all)
vue (sight) vous (you - formal)
jus (juice) joue (play)

You should hear a difference between the pairs, and if not, revisit where you put your tongue (okay, that sounded weird). You can also check out the post below for more information and opportunities for practice:

The French Silent Letters

Silent letters, or lettres muettes like most language concepts in French, have rules and exceptions.

For example, the silent e in French abides by many of the same rules as its English counterpart. Unless it has an accent on it or is part of a two-letter word like le (the) or  ce (this), you don’t pronounce that e.

Other than e, these are usually not pronounced at the end of a word: 

  • p
  • g
  • n
  • m
  • s
  • t
  • d
  • x
  • z

Outside of your everyday exceptions (most of them being either proper nouns or words borrowed from another language), you leave off that last letter.

To give you an idea, here are some words where you leave the ending hanging:

Words with French Silent LettersEnglish Translation
trop too
le sang blood
le train train
le parfum perfume
poulet chicken
froid cold
le prix price
chez at the house of

In addition to everything listed above, note that almost every letter can be silent—except j and v in certain circumstances.

The Non-silent French Letters (at the End of Words)

As a general rule, when the following letters are at the end of a word, they’re pronounced:

  • b
  • c
  • f
  • l
  • q
  • r
  • k

A popular mnemonic to remember which last letters of a word are pronounced is CaReFuL—c, r, f, and l, whereas b, k or q are not so commonly found at the end of French words.

Again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Like English, French is full of exceptions that like to come at you from all angles. You’ll learn the common exceptions over time—like -er infinitives and  blanc (white), in which these consonants aren’t pronounced.

For now, concentrate on pronouncing the endings of words like these:

French Words with Endings That Are PronouncedEnglish Translation
un club an organization
avec with
actif active
un look a look
un bol a bowl
cinq five
hiver winter

Nasal Vowels

With regular oral vowels, the vowel is pronounced just with the mouth. With nasal ones, you have air coming out of the nose and the mouth.

As a general rule, if an “m” or “n” comes after a vowel, then that vowel becomes nasal. However, if the “m” or “n” is followed by another vowel, you don’t make a nasal sound. For example,  un (a/an — masculine) is nasal, but  une (a/an — feminine) is not.

Try humming with the letter “m” (“mmmmmmmmmm”), then the letter “n” (“nnnnnnnnnn”). You should feel vibrations in your nose if you touch it.

Here are some French words to practice nasal vowels with:

French Words with Nasal VowelsEnglish Translation
quand when
plein full
Lundi Monday
emporter to bring
important important
bon good


No, we’re not talking about relations of the professional or lurid sort. Liaisons are essentially a link between two words that would otherwise sound awkward.

Let’s say you want to say:

J’ai deux ampoules.  (I have two light bulbs.)

Normally, you’d ignore that x at the end of  deux and move on to the next word like normal. But since the following word starts with a vowel sound, you can’t leave that x hanging like usual.

In general, here are the consonants that can elicit a liaison and what they then sound like:

French Consonants That Elicit a LiaisonWhat They Sound Like

Like most things in French, there are exceptions to these rules. So let me sum up the specifics of when you should and shouldn’t make the liaison happen:

When to Liaison in FrenchWhen Not to Liaison in French
After a pronounA name
Before a nounAfter et (and)
A numberBefore  onze  (eleven)
A preposition with one syllable like  chez or enAfter nouns
Your indefinite or definite articles ( les des , un )Before  oui

You can also check out this in-depth guide on French liaisons:

H Muet and H Aspiré

If you’ve been studying French for any amount of time, you should know that the h is silent in French. But what happens when you try to put a definite article (le or la) in front of an h word, and what about liaisons? Is it a vowel or a consonant?

The answer is both.

You probably know that there are two different types of h “sounds” in French:  h muet (mute “h”) and  aspiré (aspirated “h”).

H muet is treated like a vowel. That means you do contractions with words like hôpital (hospital), giving you l’hôpital   (the hospital) or a pronounced liaison like les hôpitaux (hospitals).

Here are some examples of h muet words:

H Muet WordsEnglish Translation
habiller to dress
habiter to live
l'harmonie harmony
l'hélium helium
l'herbe grass
l'heure hour
heureux happy
l'histoire story
l'hiver winter
l'horaire hour
l'huile olive
l'horloge clock

Meanwhile, the h aspiré is treated like a good old consonant. As such, you don’t do liaisons, and you’d pronounce the le or  la in full.

Here are some examples of h aspiré words:

H Aspiré WordsEnglish Translation
la hache the axe
la haie the hedge
la haine the hatred
le hamburger the hamburger
le haricot the bean
haut high
hideux hideous
le hockey hockey
huit eight
hurler to scream

Warning: Just because the h aspiré is treated like a consonant doesn’t mean it’s pronounced.

Think about it this way: You’d say “a hug,” but also “an hour.” This is similar to the French rule (except we pronounce the “h” sometimes in English): If it has a vowel sound, use “an,” and if it has a consonant sound, use “a.” Keep this in mind if you ever get confused about the French rules.

The Double L

Is it pronounced like an “l” or a “y” (like in Spanish)? In general, it all depends on what comes before the ll.

If...Then Pronounce It Like...Examples
It's preceded by a, e, o, u and yl- elle  (she)
- balle  (ball)
There are other vowels before -illey- mouiller  (to get wet)
- taille  (size)
- feuille  (paper)
- paille (straw)
There are no other vowels before -illey- fille  (girl)
- bille  (marble)
You're looking at exceptions to the abovementioned rules on pronouncing -ille. (Luckily, there aren't too many of them!)l- ville (city)
- tranquille (calm)
- un million (a million)
- un milliard (a billion)
- un mille (a thousand)
- lille (a town in France)
- le bacille (type of bacteria)

The Letter O

If you’re an English speaker, you should be aware that French has closed o’s and open o’s.

An example of a closed o is  bon mot (witticism). You’ll find that with the closed o, your mouth will be more closed in the mirror (hence the name).

On the other hand, an open o would be like the word botte (boot). Watch your mouth in the mirror and, sure enough, you’ll find that with the open o, your mouth is more open.

So how do you know which one to use for the o in the French word you’re looking at?

If...Use This "O"Example
It has an  accent circumflex or ôclosed "o" bôme (boom)
It's the last syllable of a wordclosed "o" trop (too)
It's followed by a "z" soundclosed "o" virtuose (virtuoso)
It has au or eauclosed "o" autobiographique (autobiographical)
bureaucratique (bureaucratic)
It's followed by (non-silent) consonant sounds that aren't "z"open "o" anglophone (anglophone)

Word Stress

You’ve likely heard that French is a syllable-timed language. In plain English, that means every syllable takes up the same amount of time when they’re said out loud, so stress isn’t that much of an issue.

That said, there are a few rules on word stress in French you should be aware of:

Word Stress Rules in FrenchExamples
Most French words put the stress on the last syllable.- chanson (song)
- table (table)
- porte (door)
Some words put the stress on places other than the final syllable, like words of Latin origin.- musée (museum)
- hôtel (hotel)
If you're dealing with compound words, each word will follow the word stress rules that apply to it.- grand-père (grandfather)
- petit-déjeuner (breakfast)

How to Practice Your French Pronunciation 

Why Does Proper French Pronunciation Matter?

  • It helps you avoid misunderstandings. Slight variations in pronunciation could indicate vastly different words and meanings, like with the nasal sounds en un and on .
  • It’s respectful. Pronouncing French words correctly helps you show respect for the language and culture. Every culture and language is beautiful in its own way—people will sense that you care and will be grateful and kind in return.
  • It’ll inspire you to keep learning. It’s like the gold star sticker phenomenon: When you feel like you’re doing a good job at something, and when you’re recognized for your efforts, you want to keep doing better to keep earning more gold stars.


This isn’t every last pronunciation rule, but it’s enough to give those sticky spots a run for their money.

Let’s face it: This stuff is tough.

Beginners should in no way be discouraged if their accent isn’t so great.

It’s all about building confidence, listening to French spoken correctly and getting your mouth moving as much as possible!

And one more thing...

If you like learning French on your own time and from the comfort of your smart device, then I'd be remiss to not tell you about FluentU.

FluentU has a wide variety of great content, like interviews, documentary excerpts and web series, as you can see here:


FluentU brings native French videos with reach. With interactive captions, you can tap on any word to see an image, definition and useful examples.


For example, if you tap on the word "crois," you'll see this:


Practice and reinforce all the vocabulary you've learned in a given video with learn mode. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning, and play the mini-games found in our dynamic flashcards, like "fill in the blank."


All throughout, FluentU tracks the vocabulary that you’re learning and uses this information to give you a totally personalized experience. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned.

Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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