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French pronunciation basics part 2 Posted by on Mar 21, 2017 in Culture, Grammar, Music, Vocabulary

A few weeks ago, I shared a fun song that highlights proper pronunciation for the common ‘oo’ sound in French, based on requests for more help with pronunciation. This week in our continuing journey of sound, I thought it would be a good time to talk about final consonants. As many of you probably know, the final consonants in French are generally not pronounced. Pronouncing them when you shouldn’t is one of the more common mistakes that new French learners make. But did you also know that there are times when you DO pronounce the final consonants?

Aubrey Beardsley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The pronunciation of a generally-silent final consonant is called a liaison. Liaisons (of the pronunciation kind) generally occur in French when a word that ends in a consonant is followed by another word that starts with a vowel sound. And it turns out that in French, liaisons aren’t only dangereuses (dangerous)*, but sometimes they are required. Be careful though, sometimes they are also forbidden!

When don’t you make a liaison? Here are the most common cases: 1. before or after proper names, 2. after et (and), 3. before oui (yes) and onze (eleven), 4. after nouns singular or plural), 5. before à (at, to).

When you do make a liaison, some letters will also change their pronunciation. A final ‘f’ becomes ‘v’, final ‘s’ and ‘x’ become ‘z’.

Here are some examples and counter examples.

Masc. Fem. [English]
Les amis de Paul Les chats de Paul Paul’s friends. / Paul’s cats.
Vous avez Vous et moi You have / You and I
Deux amis Deux livres Two friends / Two books
Dix œufs
Six poules Ten eggs / six chickens
Ils sont français. Elles sont allemandes. They (m) are French. They (f) are German.
Très tôt
Très occupé  Very early / Very busy

While we’re on the subject, a version of this phenomena also shows up in adjectives and can help you tell the difference between masculine and feminine. Listen to the differences between these common adjectives in the masculine and feminine forms. This isn’t a liaison since the final consonant isn’t final anymore, but the impact on pronunciation is the same.

Masc. Fem. [English]
blond blonde blond
brun brune^ brown (colored, like hair)
grand grande big / tall
petit petite small / short
intelligent intelligente smart
français française  french

^ Notice that the change here effects the ‘n’ and the ‘u’ sounds.

Finally this week, another new discovery. I’ve been listening to the radio** from France a great deal of late, and this is one of my new favorite songs. Amir Haddad is a Franco-Israeli singer who represented France at the 2016 Eurovision song contest after initially appearing on France’s version of The Voice. Enjoy!

* You can read more about Les Liaisons dangereuse here and here.
** You can stream all sorts of radio from France via the internet. You can find a full list of internet-streaming radio here. My favorite is CherieFM for a nice mix of contemporary and classic French and international pop. NRJ is one of France’s most popular stations for younger adults and kids. You’ll find lots of English music on most stations, but French radio is required by law to play at least 35% French music (the old 40% quota introduced in 1994 was reduced last year, but with a corresponding new requirement that stations must play at least 45% new music and agree not to play the same song (English or French) more than 5 times a day). You can read more about it here (in English) or here (en français).

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About the Author:Tim Hildreth

"I was a free man in Paris I felt unfettered and alive Nobody was calling me up for favors No one's future to decide" - Joni Mitchell


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