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French elision - When to use an apostrophe in French?

French elision

In French, we tend to avoid any “hiatus” (the pronunciation of two consecutive vowels).

Therefore, we use elisions (French apostrophe) or liaisons.

It is an important aspect of the French pronunciation, and it gives to the language all its beauty!

Table of content

What is an elision in French? (the apostrophe in French)

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A French elision is the dropping of one (or several) vowel(s), in order to link two words together.

They may be used when a word ending in a vowel comes before a word beginning with a vowel or a “mute” h.

A French apostrophe is then used to indicate that a vowel has been dropped. Here’s an example:

j'ai une voiture (I have a car)

This is a written French elision: the vowel e is replaced with an apostrophe, because je (I) is followed by a vowel (a).

In the following chapters, you'll learn the different kinds of French elisions, and when you should use an apostrophe in French.

In particular, you'll discover the difference between:

Mandatory elisions in French

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A final E is never pronounced before a word beginning with a vowel

In French, whenever a word ending in e comes before a word beginning with a vowel, you should NEVER pronounce the final e.

There can be two different reasons for that:

Listen to the following examples:

l'accès (the access)

il parle avec elle (he's talking to her)

In the word parle, the final e is usually silent. Therefore, we don't add a French apostrophe. In this case, this is not an elision: the word parle is pronounced as usual.

On the other hand, in the word le, the vowel e is usually pronounced, but an elision occurs when this word comes before a vowel. We then add an apostrophe in French.

Elisions with the vowel E (the most frequent)

There are mandatory elisions with the monosyllabic words ending in e.

The following words lose their final e, and an apostrophe is added when they come before a vowel or a mute h.

An elision also occurs with the following conjunctions (even if they are not monosyllabic): Listen to the following examples:

c'est qui? (who is it?)

il n'est pas ici (he's not here)

du jus d'orange (orange juice)

il n'y a qu'une chaise (there is only one chair)

Mandatory elisions with the other vowels

In French, mandatory elisions are not common with the other vowels.

But, here are two examples with the words si (if) and la (the, feminine):

s'ils sont ici (if they are here)

l'arme (the weapon)

Some lexicalized expressions with elisions in French

Some words have inherited from the rules above. They now form a unique word, but they used to be a combination of words.

Here are two very common examples:

aujourd'hui (today)

d'habitude (usually)

Optional elisions in French

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In casual French, extra elisions are very common.

These French elisions are not mandatory though. They are not written either.

Here is an example (casual pronunciation):

tu es là? (are you here?)

In this example, we rather hear t'es là?, even if the apostrophe is not written.


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