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French nasal vowels - Why don't the French pronounce the N's?

Nasal vowels

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?

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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).

non (no)

The three kinds of nasal vowels in French

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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.

1. ON

The combination of letters on forms a unique sound, as you can hear in the following examples:

non (no)

le son (the sound)

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.)

une dent (a tooth)

il chante (he sings)

Another group of letters, aon, is pronounced the same as above. However, this nasal vowel is not very common.

le paon (the peacock)


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:

la fin (the end)

le pain (the bread)

le sein (the breast)

un (a, masculine)

An important spelling rule: when m replaces n in French

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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.

la bombe (the bombe)

la lampe (the lamp)

Broken nasal vowels

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The French nasal vowels, are sometimes “broken”, according to their place in the word.

They only “work” when they are placed:

On the other hand, when they are placed before a vowel or before n or m, the nasal vowels will be “broken”.

Here are some examples of “broken” combinations:

l'homme (the man)

In the word homme (man), the combination om is followed by the consonant m. The nasal sound will then be broken: we pronounce the letters o and m separately.

une (a, feminine)

Here, the combination un is followed by a vowel (e).

Therefore, there will be no nasal sound.


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