French liaisons - How to pronounce them right?
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...
Table of content
What is a liaison in French?
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:
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?
A French liaison can be mandatory, forbidden or optional.
We’ll go through each type of liaisons in the following chapters.
Mandatory French liaisons
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
Here are some examples with nouns:
2. Between a pronoun and a verb or between two pronouns
There are also mandatory liaisons between an article and a verb…
To mark the liaison, we add:
- an hyphen (-) when the verb ends in d or t
- or the letter t (between hyphens) otherwise.
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:
4. After a monosyllabic preposition
After a monosyllabic preposition, there are also mandatory liaisons, in French:
5. In some compound words or expressions
Here are some compound words and lexicalized expressions which contain a liaison.
Forbidden French liaisons
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.
2. After the conjunction ET (and)
There is NO liaison after the conjunction et (and).
Here are some examples:
Optional French liaisons
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,
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
How should the French liaisons sound?
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:
- s, z, x → z
- n → n
- d, t → t
- g → g (a k sound is recommended here, but it sounds very dated)
Some specific cases
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:
These words may be seen as exceptions:
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:
Hear the difference:
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