French nasal vowels - Why don't the French pronounce the N's?
Most of the time in French, the consonant N is not pronounced when it comes after a vowel.
Indeed, N combines to the preceding vowel to form a nasal sound.
Here are all the rules!
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What are the nasal vowels in French?
French nasal vowels are groups of letters which form a unique sound.
For example, in the word non (no), the final n is linked to the vowel o to form a nasal sound (partly pronounced with the nose).
The three kinds of nasal vowels in French
According to the region of France, people will tell that there are up to 4 different nasal sounds in French.
Actually, many native speakers don’t make the distinction between two of them. Therefore, I will group the two last ones in the same chapter.
Indeed, in Brittany or in Paris, where I spend most of the time, there are only 3 different French nasal vowels (even if they can be spelled in many different ways).
These nasal sounds have no equivalent in English.
The combination of letters on forms a unique sound, as you can hear in the following examples:
2. EN, AN, AON
When it comes after the vowels e or a, the consonant
n forms another nasal sound.
Listen to the following examples (the combinations en and an sound exaclty the same.)
3. IN, AIN, EIN, UN
In France, controversy is never far away.
Most people pronounce the four nasal vowels, in, ain, ein and un, exactly the same.
In the South of France and in some countries like Belgium, however, the sound un sounds slightly different.
But most native speakers (including me) don’t make the difference.
Therefore, I would recommend that you pronounce the nasal sounds in the 4 words below, the same way:
An important spelling rule: when m replaces n in French
When a nasal vowel is placed before p or b, we replace n with m.
It is a spelling rule which has no impact on the pronunciation.
Broken nasal vowels
The French nasal vowels, are sometimes “broken”, according to their place in the word.
They only “work” when they are placed:
- at the end of a word.
- before a consonant (other than n or m).
Here are some examples of “broken” combinations:
Therefore, there will be no nasal sound.
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