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Silent letters in French - When to pronounce a final letter?

Silent letters in French

Silent letters in French are often seen as a difficulty.

Discover all the rules and many examples to determine whether a letter is silent or not.

Table of content


Are final vowels silent in French?

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First, let’s make a distinction between the vowels and the consonants. On one hand, final vowels are always pronounced, except for the letter e.

1. At the end of a word, A, I, O and Y are never silent letters in French

The first rule is easy: the vowels a, i, o and y are always pronounced at the end of a word.

For example:


la (the, feminine)



il est ici (he's here / it's here)


2. E is usually silent at the end of a word

When it comes at the end of a word, the vowel e is usually a silent letter in French. For example:


une vache (a cow)



une roue (a wheel)


3. However, E is a silent letter in this case...

The vowel e is pronounced, only when it comes at the end of a monosyllabic word, after a consonant:


le (the, masculine)


To learn all the rules behind the pronunciation of the letter e, you may read this post: French e – Learn how to pronounce it.


Which final consonants should you pronounce?

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We’ve just seen that final vowels were relatively easy. But when it comes to final consonants, things get a little more complicated!

Here are all the rules to recognize the silent consonants in French...

Loanwords and onomatopoeias are not silent letters in French

Loanwords are words which come from another language. In French, they mainly come from English.

In such words, there is usually no silent letter:


un parking (a car park)



un stop (a stop sign)



un job (a job)


'Exotic' final letters

Some letters, such as j, k, v or w never come at the end of a French word.

Therefore, when you spot a “French” word ending in one of these letters, it is necessarily a loanword.

As a consequence, the final consonant will not be a silent letter.

The same applies to the letter b, except in the two words plomb (lead, metal) and aplomb (composure), where the final b is silent.
In onomatopoeias, there are no silent letters either:

boum (bang)



paf (wham)


Combined letters are pronounced at the end of a word

In the section about combined letters in French, you'll discover how to pronounce them.

And when such combinations are placed at the end of a word, the final consonant will combine to the letter(s) before, as usual.

Here are some examples:

le parfum (the perfume)



la maison (the house)



l'œil (the eye)


Note that m and n always combine to some vowel, when they come at the end of a word.

Latin words ending in en and um are the only exception. In such words, the pronunciation is the same as in English:

l'aquarium (the aquarium)



l'abdomen (the abdomen)


F, L, Q and R are pronounced at the end of a word.

Consonants f, l, q and r are pronounced at the end of a French word.

For example:


positif (positive)



l'animal (the animal)



la peur (the fear)



cinq (five)


Exceptions:
  • r is silent at the end of a polysyllabic word ending in er.

  • le pompier (the firefighter)


    This is an important rule, as most verbs end in er in the infinitive. For example:

    manger (to eat)


  • f is silent at the end of words ending in rf.
  • In such words, only the letter r is pronounced, and f is a silent letter in French:

    le cerf (the deer)



    Final consonants are usually silent letters in french

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    Plural Forms

    The plural forms of nouns and adjectives are marked with silent letters in French: either s or x.

    For example:


    des gâteaux (cakes)



    les maisons (the houses)



    gentils (nice, plural)


    French articles also have a plural form.

    The final s will not be pronounced, but it will change the sound of the vowel e before.

    This is due to the rules governing the pronunciation of the vowel e (French E – Learn how to pronounce it).

    For example:

    les (the, plural)


    Verb conjugations

    Let’s have a look at a few forms of the verb parler (to speak / to talk) in the present tense. The three following forms are pronounced the same:


    je parle (I speak)



    tu parles (you speak)



    ils parlent (they speak)


    Note also the silent letters in these forms:

    nous parlons (we speak)



    vous parlez (you speak)


    D, G, P, S, T and Z are usually silent

    At the end of a word, the letters d, g, p, s, t and z are usually silent letters in French.

    Here are some examples:


    j'ai froid (I'm cold)



    trop (too much, too many)



    trois (three)



    petit (small)



    long (long)


    Exceptions:

    Apart from loanwords (see above), there are very few exceptions to this rule. Here are some of them:

    le sud (the South)



    David (masculine firstname)



    le gaz (the gas)



    huit (eight)



    un but (a goal)



    Focus on the consonants c and x

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    Regarding the consonants c and x, here are the rules you should apply to be right 9 times out of ten:

    Consonant C

    At the end of a word, the French c is usually pronounced as a k, except in words ending in anc and onc, where it is silent.

    For example:


    un sac (a bag)



    du basilic (basil)



    blanc (white)



    un tronc (a trunk)


    Consonant X

    x is a silent letter in French:

    Otherwise, the final x is pronounced. For example:

    le prix (the price)



    deux (two)



    un lynx (a lynx)



    l'index (the forefinger)


    Two major exceptions

    The numbers six (six) and dix (ten) are exceptions: the final x is pronounced as an s:


    six (six)



    dix (ten)



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