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Combined letters in French - the complete guide

Combined letters

Recognize the combined letters in French at a glance, with this series of articles with examples and audio recordings.

Table of content

Combinations of vowels

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There exists 5 types of vowel combinations in French:

Here is a sample sentence containing all these sounds:

j'ai peur du nouveau roi (I'm afraid of the new king)

Learn more on vowel combinations in French.

Consonant clusters

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Some consonants can form a combination, too. There are 3 types in French:

Listen to the following sentence, it contains all these sounds:

Philippe chante dans les vignes (Philippe is singing in the vineyard)

Learn more about the French consonant combinations:

Nasal vowels in French

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The following nasal sounds have no equivalent in English.

We call them ‘nasal’ because they are partly pronounced with the nose. They form three different sounds which can be spelled in different ways:

And here is a sample phrase:

le bon vin blanc (the good white wine)

Learn more about the pronunciation of the French nasal vowels.

The role of u after c, g and q

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The vowel u is sometimes used to harden the sound of a consonant. This is the case in the combinations cu, gu, qu. For example:

qui veut cueillir du gui? (who wants to pick mistletoe?)

Combinations il & ille

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At the end of some words, the letters il or ille form a unique sound. The sound is similar to y in the word (a yard).

And when we want to form the same sound inside a word, we will use the group of letters ill.

But beware! The combinations ill and il are not systematically pronounced as a whole. In some words, the letters are pronounced separetely (also see chapter: breaking combined letters in French).

Here are some examples:

il cueille des myrtilles (he's gathering blueberries)

As you can hear, there is no combination in the word il (he / it). The two letters are pronounced separately.

However, in the words cueille and myrtilles, the letters ille combine to form a unique sound.

Another example:

un outil (a tool)

In outil (tool), the letters il also form a combination. Learn more: How to pronounce ille and il in French?

Breaking combined letters in French

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Most letter combinations are unconditional.

However, the French nasal vowels (on, an, un…), and the combinations il and ille are sometimes broken, according to their place in the word.

"Broken" IL and ILLE

On one hand, the combination il will only “work” at the end of a word (and only for some words).

Inside a word, we need to use ill to get the same sound.

Hear the difference:

une fille (a girl)

une file (a line)

"Broken" nasal vowels

On the other hand, nasal vowels will only “work” in two cases:

These combinations will be “broken”: Here are some examples of broken nasal vowels:

l'homme (the man)

In the word homme, the combination om is followed by the consonant m. The nasal sound will then be broken.

la laine (the wool)

Here, the combination ain is followed by a vowel (e). The consonnant n will then be pronounced separately.

However, the combined letters ai remain, because they are unconditionnal.


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Work on your French pronunciation with a collection of posts with examples and audio recordings.


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