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French vowels pronunciation

French vowels

The French vowels look the same as in English, but they are not always pronounced the same.

Here is a guide to help you pronounce the French vowels the right way.

Table of content

The “easy” French vowels: a, i, o, y

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The French alphabet contains 6 vowels: a, e, i, o, u and y.

a, i, o and y are the “easy” ones. Let’s see how to pronounce them.

Pronounce A as in (the farm)

The vowel a is pronounced as in the English word (the farm), but it is slightly shorter:

la (the, feminine)

Pronounce I and Y as in (a feet)

The French sounds i and y are similar to the sound (ee). Again, they are slightly shorter than in English.

un livre (a book)

un type (a guy)

The French O is the same sound as in (Not)

No difficulty here either…

une tomate (a tomato)

How to pronounce u in French?

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U and OU are different sounds in French!

The sound u has no equivalent in English.

But no worries… I’ll explain it all!

First, let’s hear the difference between the sounds u and ou in French.

The combination ou is pronounced as in the English word (a tool), whereas u is an “exclusive” French sound:

une rue (a street)

une roue (a wheel)

U - Pronunciation Tip

First, feel how the shape of your mouth changes, when you pronounce the English sounds ee as in (a bee) → spread lips, and oo as in (a foot) → rounded lips.

The vowel u is pronounced as a mix of the two sounds above: try to make the sound ee with rounded lips.

Pronounce the English sound ee. Keep “ee-ing” and shift the position of your lips from “spread” to “rounded”. At some point, you will get the French u!) ?>

What about the vowel e?

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To wrap up this guide on the French vowels pronunciation, let’s talk about the French e.

There is no technical difficulty to pronounce the French e, but different rules apply according to its place in the word.

I wrote a separate article on the subject, with more examples: French e – How to pronounce it.

And here is a summary of the different rules:

1. The vowel E is silent

une cave (a cellar)

une roue (a wheel)

In the examples above, the final e is silent in the polysyllabic words une and cave, and in the monosyllabic word roue.

2. Pronounce the vowel E as in the English word (her)

le (the, masculine)

petit (small)

la peur (the fear)

3. Pronounce the vowel E as in (a bed)

une pelle (a shovel)

la mer (the sea)


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