Summary: the goal of this article is to help students master French pronunciation and, more specifically, when to pronounce the final letters in a word.
Les poules couvent souvent au couvent. In English: The hens often brood at the convent.
If you don’t know how to master the final silent letters of this sentence, this guide is for you.
French is not a phonetic language like Spanish or Arabic, for example. So, with the latter languages, it means that each letter has a single corresponding sound and you don’t need that much work to understand how to read them. In French and English, it is different; you need to learn some rules and even then, you have a bunch of exceptions. In French, we love exceptions. If you learn a rule without any of them, be careful, you are not learning French.
In French, you have to say pretty much all the letters at the beginning or in the middle of a word. So be careful, because we have a lot of combinations that are groups of letters that form one single sound. That's the reason why you definitely need to learn them. For example: au sounds like o. At the end of a word, you don’t always pronounce all the letters and it has always been troublesome for my students. That’s why I decided to write a guide that explains the rules in a simple way. Let’s go back to this sentence:
- Les poules couvent souvent au couvent.
Underlined, you can see the final silent letters. Très bizarre, non? It’s OK, even for French native speakers, the writing system is confusing. Now, we are going to learn when to pronounce final vowels. It is very easy.
Les voyelles finales - The final vowels
All the final vowels have to be pronounced in French, except e without an accent.
- You have to say every letter: ami, vélo, papa, bébé.
- Where the e is a silent letter: poule, danse, il étudie.
In one syllable words, you have to say the e, otherwise, you couldn’t even say the word: je, le, me, etc.
Les consonnes finales - The final consonants
Now, it’s going to get a little more complicated. The basic rule of French pronunciation is that final consonants are silent letters, except C, F, L, and R.
- You have to say every letter: car, bec, social.
- Where you don’t pronounce the final consonant: gros, chat, loup.
Unfortunately, as I have said, the French language loves exceptions. You are going to deal with many of them. Together, we can review some.
Here are some patterns you should read
- Short and common words.
Please don’t trust them. They are bad folks. The pronunciation of short and common words are more likely to be strange and irregular.
On the contrary, savant vocabulary follows the main rules.
- Say the final consonant: ours (bear), but (goal).
- Where you don’t say it: tabac, nerf (nerve).
- Monsieur sounds: me sie.
The spelling and pronunciation are completely weird because it is a word that has been used and written everyday for centuries. Nobody likes change. Modifying this word would have required bravery from the institution of the French language, l’Académie Française.
A thing French doesn't have:
- c after a nasal sound.
In almost all words with a nasal sound (like an, on, etc), the final c is mute: blanc (white), franc (honest), jonc (bulrush), banc (bench)…
- Qui vole un oeuf vole un boeuf. In English: He that will steal a pin, will steal a pound.
Those two words are very special in French. The pronunciation of the f is different, depending on whether the word is singular or plural.
- un oeuf, un boeuf: f has a sound.
- des oeufs, des boeufs: f is mute, as is the s.
The five letter word oeufs has the same pronunciation as the letter e.
- er sounds like é.
If you know some French, you have probably seen this ending, which is the most common ending for French verbs. In this situation, er sounds like é, and the r is mute -- even in nouns or adjectives.
- Aventurier, boucher (butcher)…
Attention, you have exceptions to the exception. Did I say we love them? The exceptions are:
- Latin words. For example: Hier (yesterday) and enfer (hell).
Final letters in words with latin roots are pronounced. Latin words are an amazing way to learn thousands of words in French in no time. Check them.
- déficit, granit, exact, contact, correct, abdomen, pollen, concept, biceps.
Attention, you have exceptions to the exception: respect, instinct.
- In French, we respect the pronunciation of words from other languages (at least we try).
French people have a strong accent. Anybody who’s already lived in France knows how hard it is to say or understand words like “thriller”, “border line”, or “Kung-fu Panda”. Ok, that last one is very easy.
Anyways, even if the pronunciation of a foreign word is going to be frenchified, we always say all the consonants. That's why this is also true for foreign names.
All the previous rules don’t apply to words such as: fjord, jackpot, internet, schnaps, etc. Or to names: Matthias, Jacob, Jason, etc.
- ent ending is mute in a verb.
Remember the sentence: Les poules couvent souvent au couvent.
The first ent is completely mute. With ils, elles (they), the verb ending ent is always mute.
- Ils mangent / Ils dansent / Ils pensaient.
Now, you should be able to master the final silent letters in French. However, please be aware that there are many words with strange and irregular pronunciation. Therefore, if you ever have a doubt, you can always check:
- A French dictionary and look at the pronunciation of the word.
- On Forvo. You can listen to the pronunciation of thousands of words for free.
- On Rhinospike. You can ask people to read a text or a list of words.
- Talk with a native speaker.
À bientôt! - See you soon!