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French liaisons - How to pronounce them right?

French liaisons

Understanding how (and when) to use French liaisons is an important aspect of French pronunciation.

Liaisons are often seen as a difficulty, as they make it hard to determine, orally, where one word ends and where the next one begins...

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What is a liaison in French?

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A liaison may occur, in French, between a word ending in a silent consonant and a word beginning with a vowel.

Here's a first example:

des amis (friends)

Usually, the final s in the article des is silent.

In the example above, however, it will be pronounced as a z, because the following word begins with a vowel.

This is an example of a mandatory French liaison. In this post, we'll see when liaisons occur, and how they should sound.

When do French liaisons occur?

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A French liaison can be mandatory, forbidden or optional.

We’ll go through each type of liaisons in the following chapters.

fluency tip

For beginners, I suggest that you focus on the mandatory French liaisons.

It will enable you to speak without making mistakes.

Then, when you reach a more advanced level, you may come back to this article and learn more about optional and forbidden French liaisons.

Mandatory French liaisons

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You MUST make a liaison in the following cases.

Not doing so would be seen as a pronunciation mistake!

1. Between a determiner and a noun (or an adjective)

Between a determiner (an article, a number, a personal pronoun…) and a noun or an adjective, there is a mandatory French liaison.

Here are some examples with nouns:

un enfant (a child)

deux oranges (two oranges)

les artistes (the artists)

And here are some more examples, with adjectives. This case is less frequent in French, because usually the adjective is placed after the noun.

mon autre pays (my other country)

mes anciens professeurs (my former teachers)

2. Between a pronoun and a verb or between two pronouns

There are also mandatory liaisons between an article and a verb…

ils ont des pommes (they have apples)

nous arrivons bientôt (we'll arrive soon)

… and between two pronouns:

ils en veulent (they want some)

French liaisons also occur when the subject and the verb are inverted (in questions, mostly).

To mark the liaison, we add: Here are some examples:

va-t-il à Paris? (is he going to Paris?)

vendent-ils des pommes? (do they sell apples?)

Fluency tip

The simplest way to ask a closed question in French (“yes or no” question) is to use the same sentence as in the affirmative form, and add a question mark: il va à Paris?

However, to sound more formal, you may invert the subject and the verb: va-t-il à Paris?

3. Between an adjective and a noun

When an adjective ending in a silent consonant is followed by a noun beginning with a vowel, you must also pronounce the liaison. For example:

des petits arbres (small trees)

4. After a monosyllabic preposition

After a monosyllabic preposition, there are also mandatory liaisons, in French:

je vais chez eux (I'm going to their place)

mets le pain dans un sac (put the bread in a bag)

en août, il ne travaille pas (in August, he doesn't work)

However, this rule doesn’t apply to proper names. Here is an example:

je suis chez Albert (I'm at Albert's place)

5. In some compound words or expressions

Here are some compound words and lexicalized expressions which contain a liaison.

Remember them!

peut-être (maybe)

c'est-à-dire (that is, namely)

tout-à-fait (quite, utterly)

Forbidden French liaisons

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You should NEVER make a liaison in the following cases.

1. At the end of a noun (common or proper names)

This is an important rule: never pronounce a liaison at the end of a noun.

un appartement en ville (an appartment in the city)

l'enfant est dans la chambre (the child is in the bedroom)

Nicolas est là (Nicolas is here)

Note: We’ll see in a further paragraph, that it is possible to make a liaison with a noun in the plural form, but such liaisons are always optional.

2. After the conjunction ET (and)

There is NO liaison after the conjunction et (and).

Here are some examples:

il mange et il part (he eats and he leaves)

le ballon est blanc et orange (the ball is white and orange)

Optional French liaisons

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To remain on the safe side, only pronounce the mandatory liaisons described in the first paragraph.

Indeed, it is the easiest way not to use forbidden liaisons (which really sound weird to French people).

And it also avoids sounding pedantic… Remember that the more optional liaisons you use, the more refined your speech will sound!

However, when you achieve fluency in French, you may use some of the extra French liaisons explained below.

And furthermore, the following French liaisons will help you better understand the native speakers.

1. After an adverb or a polysyllabic preposition

There is a MANDATORY liaison after the monosyllabic prepositions (dans, chez...)

After a ploysyllabic preposition, or after an adverb, however, the liaison is only OPTIONAL.

Here are examples with the preprosition devant, and the adverbs trop, très and pas:

il est devant un camion (he's in front of a truck)

c'est trop important (it's too important)

c'est très utile (it's very useful)

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

2. After most conjunctions

When a conjunction ends in a silent consonant, a liaison can be pronounced.

However, as seen above, the conjunction et (and) can never be linked to the following word. This is a forbidden liaison!

Here are some optional liaisons with conjunctions:

il est grand mais il est mince (he's tall but he's thin)

dis-moi quand il part (tell me when he leaves)

3. After plural nouns

As seen above, a noun in the singular form must never be linked to the following word.

However, a liaison is possible with plural nouns.

des fruits exotiques (exotic fruits)

4. Between an auxiliary verb and a participle

When using the passé composé (perfect tense) in French, you may link the final consonant of the auxiliary (verb avoir or être) to the participle.

je suis allé au marché (I've been to the market)

ils m'ont autorisé à partir (they allowed me to leave)

5. At the end of a verb

You may also pronounce a liaison at the end of a verb.

This optional French liaison may occur, when the verb is followed by a noun, an adjective, a determiner or an adverb.

il est ici (he's here)

nous sommes épuisés (we are exhausted)

je suis avec elle (I'm with her)

le mardi, nous déjeunons ensemble (on Tuesdays, we have lunch together)

How should the French liaisons sound?

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In the examples above, you may have noticed that the French liaisons don't necessarily sound like the original consonant.

Here is how the different consonants should sound, in a French liaison:

Some specific cases

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1. French nasal vowels

Nasal vowels are specific French sounds formed with one or two vowels and the consonants n or m.

When a liaison occurs, the final n or m will be linked to the following word, but, in most cases, the nasal sound remains.

Here are some examples:

ton ami (your friend)

un élève (a pupil)

bien avant (long before)

However, in some words like bon (good, masculine) or plein (full, masculine), the nasal sound will disappear altogether, when a liaison occurs.

These words may be seen as exceptions:

un bon ami (a good friend)

en plein air (outdoors)

2. Letter H

In French, when the letter h is placed at the beginning of a word, it can be a “mute” h or an “aspirated” h.

Actually, they are both silent letters, but the difference is in the way the letter h links to the preceding word.

Orally, a “mute” h is non-existant. Therefore, a French liaison will occur with the following vowel, as if the letter h didn’t exist.

It is the most common case:

c'était hier (it was yesterday)

un long hiver (a long winter)

On the other hand, an “aspirated” h will make the liaison impossible (there are very few “aspirated” h in French).

Hear the difference:

un haricot (a bean)

To learn more on the pronunciation of the letter h, you may read the post: French h pronunciation.


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