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French Spelling Posted by on May 5, 2009 in Grammar

Many times when speaking to others either in person (at a hotel, at the airport, at customs, etc.) or over the telephone, we have to spell out words, especially our names.  So, today I’ll try to give you some help in this area.  First of all, here is how you pronounce the letters in the French alphabet:

a = ah
b = bay
c = say
d = day
e = euh
f = ef
g = zjheh
h = ahsh
i = ee
j = zjee
k = kah
l = elle
m = em
n = en
o = oh
p = pay
q = ku
r = ehrr
s = ess
t = tay
u = oo
v = vay
w = doobleuh-vay
x = eeks
y = ee-grek
z = zehd

If you want to double a letter, just say double __ like ‘nn’ would be doobleuh-en.
And here is how you say the letters with some kind of accent or sign:
à = ah accent grave
â = ah accent circonflexe
ae = ah-euh collés
ç = say cédille
è = euh accent grave
é = euh accent aigu
ê = euh accent circonflexe
ë = euh tréma
î = ee accent circonflexe
ô = oh accent circonflexe
ù = oo accent grave
û = oo accent circonflexe
ü = oo tréma

…is spelled ____ = Ça s’épelle ____

To mention a space between words/names, you say: plus loin or espace.
For capital letters, you say majuscule after the letter.  

So, for example, in a conversation where I have to spell François Mitterand, I would say:
François Mitterand.  Ça s’épelle ef  majuscule- ehrr – ah – en – say cédille – oh – ee – ess – espace – em majuscule- ee – doobleuh tay – euh – ehrr – ah – en – day. 

And that’s basically it for now.  So, enjoy spelling in French!

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Comments:

  1. Sarah:

    Instead of saying “ça s’épelle”, you can also say “ça s’écrit…” (it’s written).

  2. Chanda:

    Thanks Sarah for your input! It’s always good to know more ways to say the same thing as it helps expand vocabulary as well as one’s comprehension ability.

  3. Angela:

    isn’t it more like b = be (as in be in beg)?

  4. vidhyaplv:

    really, Chanda, this will be very helpful

  5. Chanda:

    Thanks for your comment and question Angela. The thing is that in English, the word beg has two different widely-accepted pronunciations. One is /beIg/ and the other is /bεg/ and the French letter ‘b’ is pronounced like the first (/beІ/). Just to make it easier for all learners, I chose not to use the International Phonetic Alphabet as most beginning learners are not familiar with it and therefore I chose to use spelled pronunciation, which is this case could be /bay/ or /bey/. Salut!

  6. Chanda:

    I’m glad you find the article helpful, vidhyaplv, as I was hoping it would be particularly useful for beginning learners. Bonne journée!

  7. Adam Okhai:

    Chanda’s guide on how to say the alphabet in French will be very handy. I printed it on flash cards which I will have laminated, and give to two pre-teens . Never know: might well come in very handy for myself . I don’t lose my French when travelling to francophone nations. But I have noticed that jet lag seems to result in my losing knowledge on how the [Latin] alphabet is pronounced in French. Thanks to Chanda, no more room service problems after 12 to 15 hour flights for work . LS for Adam Okhai, pres., TLC

  8. Chanda:

    That’s great Adam that you found a way to personalize and make the article useful for you by printing out flash cards!

  9. vidhyaplv:

    i got university rank in french, in college.but, now, i forgot. I am teaching french for my friend from the basics. I forgot how some of the alphabets were pronounced. So, thats why it was useful.

  10. sylvie:

    The word “double” when spelling a french word is only used with the lette “w => double v”.
    If spelling a word that contains twice a same letter we say ‘2’
    ex: appelle => a-2p-e-2l-e