French Language Blog

Uncle Fingernail – Mispronouncing Oncle And Delivering Good News Posted by on Nov 28, 2018 in Vocabulary

I received some very good news earlier this week! Ma petite sœur (my little sister) had a child and added to our family!

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under CC0.

All the messages about ma petite soeur were flooding in from ma famille (my family) as she was taken to the hospital, getting ready to become une mère (a mother). Après l’accouchement (after giving birth), there was another wave of messages as pictures or la mère et le père (the mother and father) with le bébé (the baby) cascaded onto my phone.

Ma mère was especially excited to become une mémère (a granny) and wants us all to use le mot français (the French word)! It’s a tradition that was brought over from le Québec, where our family comes from on my mother’s side.

Le lendemain (the next day), I wanted to share the news with mon collègue (my coworker) and started what I thought would be an simple conversation.

Salut ça va ?
Ça va et toi ?
Je vais très bien ce matin !
Qu’est-ce qu’il y a ?
Je suis devenu un ongle hier soir !
Un quoi ?
Un ongle
Un ongle ?
Euh… Ma petite sœur a accouché…
Ah oui un oncle ! Félicitations !
Tu pensais que j’ai dit quoi ?
J’ai entendu un ongle et je me demandais qu’est-ce que tu voulais dire !

Hi how are you?
I’m fine and you?
I’m doing great this morning!
What’s up?
I became a fingernail last night!
A what?
A fingernail…
A fingernail?
Uh… My little sister gave birth…
Ah yes an uncle! Congratulations!
What did you think I said?
I heard a fingernail and I was wondering what you wanted to say!

What started as a simple conversation over morning coffee quickly turned into a French lesson.

The problem came from mon accent (my accent) and the difficultly I have pronouncing certain French words, in this case oncle. The nasal vowel of the on made me mispronounce the sound that follows, turning the c sound in oncle into a g sound.

Mixing up the sounds resulted in some very strange mistakes. While I wanted to say I became an uncle, what mon collègue heard was either:

Je suis devenu un ongle !
I became a fingernail!


Je suis devenu un onglet !
I became a tab!

Ongle and onglet are pronounced sligtl differently, but I can imagine un francophone (a French speaker) hearing either one coming out of my mouth and neither of them have anything to do with being un oncle. What were similar sounding words to me made it impossible for mon collègue to understand what I wanted to say.

In the end I was able to pass on the good news and learned a valuable lesson in correctly pronouncing the word oncle.

I can only hope my mistake leads to ma nouvelle nièce (my new niece) having perfect pronunciation in every language she speaks! At the very least, I hope she doesn’t start calling me Uncle Fingernail.

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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.


  1. Louise Gikow:

    Ongle and onglet are pronounced the same way? Onglet isn’t on-glay? Help!

    • Tim Hildreth:

      @Louise Gikow I believe you’re correct, Louise. I bet he meant “ongle and oncle” are pronounced (more or less) the same. Onglet would be pronounced with the “ay” sound at the end. I would say it sounds even more like ‘anglais’ other than the initial nasal ‘ah’ vs ‘oh’ (there is a great post here – – by the way, that reviews those tricky French nasal sounds!)