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Be CaReFuL! Final Consonant Pronunciation in French Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 in Grammar, Vocabulary

Behind French’s beautiful sounds is a very complicated pronunciation system. Unlike Spanish, for example, the words aren’t always pronounced as they’re spelled; c’est-à-dire que c’est n’est pas une langue phonétique (that is to say that isn’t not a phonetic language). Why are –er, –é, –ay, –ai, –ais, –ait, and –aient all pronounced the same? It’s difficult for learners, but it is something that can be picked up with time. Today, we’re going to focus on the pronunciation of les consonnes finales (final consonants) in words. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it can give you the general idea of how to say these words!

Il y a 26 lettres dans l’alphabet français (there are 26 letters in the French alphabet), and English has the same consonnes. You’ve probably learned that a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y are vowels, but do you know what makes a vowel a vowel? Une voyelle (a vowel) is produced with the vocal tract left open with no obstructions. For example, say the word “cat” in English. When you pronounce the “c,” your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. Same thing with the “t.” When you say the “a,” the sound is coming out unobstructed. The fact that the sound can come out pure is what separates it from a consonant. Depending on the environment of the consonant or vowel, it may not be pronounced at all. We’ll look at vowels at another time, but today is all about final consonants.

With 6 vowels, that leaves us with 20 consonants, and of those 20, 4 are almost always pronounced at the end of a word. Why don’t you say the -d in un cafard, but you pronounce the -c in avec? You just have to remember to be CaReFuL. When I was learning French, I was taught this trick – take the word careful, remove the vowels, and the letters that are left are the ones that are pronounced at the end of words. Let’s examine that in a little more detail to see why it’s mostly true, but not a solid rule.

Consonant Example of Pronounced Ending Exception(s)
C un flic (a cop)
le parc (park)
avec (with)
le tabac (tobacco)
blanc* (white)
un estomac (stomach)
le caoutchouc (rubber)
R un four (oven)
fier (proud)
cher (dear; expensive)
le boulanger** (baker)
le loyer (rent)
F le chef (boss)
un oeuf (egg)
vif (lively)
un nerf (nerve)
un cerf (deer)
une clef (key)
L un animal (animal)
le calcul (calculation)
un poil (hair)
gentil (nice)
un fusil (gun)
le sommeil*** (sleep)

* -c is silent at the end of a word if it is grouped with a nasal consonant letter, such as an n.
**- With -er endings, it’s pronounced like a verb with an -er infinitive: it’s pronounced more like a long A in English. An exception to this: l’hiver (winter)
***- If -l follows an -i which follows another vowel letter, the -l is not pronounced.

 

Not so bad. Let’s look at some other consonants which are more rare in the final position but are sometimes pronounced.

 

Consonant Example of Pronounced Ending Exception(s) [The Norm!]
B un club (a club)
un snob (a snob)
le plomb (lead)
D le sud (south)
David (& other proper names)
quand (when)
G le grog (grog) long (long)
le sang (blood)
M l’aluminium* (aluminum)
maximum
minimum
un film (a movie)
le parfum (perfume)
N amen* brun (brown)
P un flop (a flop; a bomb)
un cap (direction)
un slip (underwear)
trop (too)
le coup (blow)
Q le coq (rooster)  
S le fils (son)
mars (March)
le maïs (corn)
le sens (sense)
gris (gray)
gros (fat)
T indirect
ouest (west)
est (east)
cet (this)
le lit (bed)
fort (strong)
X Aix
un index (index; index finger)
six**
dix**
deux (two)
vieux (old)
Z le gaz (gas) chez (at the home of)
le riz (rice)

*- In most cases, an -m or an -n that follows a vowel will be nasalized.
**-The -x here is pronounced like an -s

So, you can see that the rule isn’t perfect, but this is French, so you have no choice but to get used to the exceptions. Remember: when pronouncing final consonants, just be CaReFuL (and memorize all those other exceptions, too 😉 ).

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About the Author: Josh Dougherty

Just your typical francophile. If you have any topics you'd like me to discuss, feel free to let me know!


Comments:

  1. Herm in Phoenix, Az:

    Great post, Josh. Excellent information for us learners

  2. Malcolm:

    Good to know some rules on when to pronounce final consonants, it’s still very confusing to me even after years of learning French. Btw, the explanation of vowel/consonant made me remember this article, which goes through that topic:

    http://pronouncefrench.net/intro-to-phonetics-and-phonology/vowels-vs-consonants/