Letter combinations

Let’s talk about creating sounds with several letters. Like in many language, French has letter combinations to create  new sounds. It’s important to know them to be able to read or even speak and pronounced correctly. For those who know about phonetic, I’ll put into square brackets the transcription.

  • ‘ou’ = [u] ⇒ like in ‘poule’ (= hen)  but not as long as in ‘pool’ for example, hear the sound
  • ‘eu’ = [Ø] ⇒ like in ‘neveu‘ (= nephew)  hear the sound

Be careful the verb ‘avoir’ (=have) in the past is written ‘eu’ but is pronounced [y]

(The sound [y] is difficult to do for English speaking people, so first listen to it here and then try to do it.                                 Trick: make a [I] like in ‘sit’ and then while making the sound bring your lips head on like to make a duck face and as if by magic you’ll make the [y] sound !)

  •  ‘et’ = [ɛ] ⇒ like in ‘juillet‘ (= July)    hear the sound

Be careful, the coordinating conjunction ‘et’ (=and) is pronounced [ehear the sound

  •  ‘ez’ = [e] ⇒ like in ‘nez‘ (= nose), it’s the same sound as the word ‘et’ above.
  • ‘oin’ = [wɛ̃] ⇒ like in ‘loin‘ (= far)  hear the sound
  • ‘ien’ = [jɛ̃] ⇒ like in ‘chien‘ (= dog) hear the sound
  • ‘ain’ / ‘in’ / ‘un’ = [ɛ̃] ⇒ like in ‘pain‘ (=bred) / ‘chemin‘ (=path) / ‘un‘  (=one) hear the sound
  • ‘ei’ / ‘ai’ = [ɛ] ⇒ like in ‘neige’ (=snow) / ‘mangeai‘ (=ate)  hear the sound
  • ‘au’ / ‘eau’ = [o] ⇒ like in ‘chaud’ (=hot) / ‘eau‘ (= water) hear the sound
  • ‘ph’ = [f] ⇒ like in ‘photo’ (= photograph)
  • ‘ail’ = [aj] ⇒ like in ‘travail‘ (=work) sound in English = ‘I
  • ‘an’ / ‘en’ = [ɑ̃] ⇒ like in ‘confiance’ (=trust) / ‘lentement’ (=slowly) hear the sound

([ɑ̃] is written ’em’ or ‘am’ when it’s before the letter ‘p’, ‘b’ like in ‘jambon’ (=ham) or ‘emporter’ (=carry) )

  • ‘ch’ = [ʃ] ⇒ like in ‘chambre’ (=bedroom)  sound in English: ‘shopping’
  • ‘gn’ = [ɲ] ⇒ like in ‘grognon’ (=grumpy) hear the sound
  •  ‘on’ / ‘om’ = [ɔ̃] ⇒ like in ‘pont’ (= bridge) / ‘bombe’ (= bomb) hear the sound

[ɔ̃] is written ‘om’ when it’s in front of the letter ‘p’ or ‘b’.

The letter combinations ‘on’ or ‘om’ is pronounced [ɔ̃] only when it’s followed by a consonant, if it’s followed by another ‘n’ or ‘m’, it’s pronounced [ɔn] or [ɔm] like in ‘sonnerie’ (=ring) or ‘comme’ (=as)  hear the sound and if it’s followed  by a vowel, it’s pronounced [om] like in ‘comédie’ (=comedy) or ‘comique’ (=comic) hear the sound.

More help:

  • ‘qu’ = [k] ⇒ like in ‘quoi’ (=what)
  • ‘gu’ = [g] ⇒ like in ‘guitare’ (=guitar)

The thing that can be difficult with ‘g’ is that:

  • g + e/i = [ʒ] ⇒ like in ‘gentil’ (=kind) the sound in English = ‘television’.

If you want to make the sound [g] with a vowel after the ‘g’ you must put a ‘u’ between both of the letters, like in ‘guitare’.

With the other vowels, it makes the sound [g] like in ‘teau’ (=cake)

  •  c + e/i = [s] like in ‘cent’ (=hundred)

But if you want to make the sound [s] with the letter ‘c’ before all the other vowels, you’ll put what we call ‘cédille’ which is ‘ç‘ like in ‘ça’ (=this)

It may seem complicated, but I swear it’s not as complicated as it seems. If you want to progress, just keep reading out loud and you’ll be an expert quickly !






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