As a community teacher, I often meet students that can speak French pretty well, but they always lack a few points that keep them from sounding more native. These points are:


  1. Rhythm within a sentence and when to pause
  2. Liaisons
  3. The e caduc



1. Rhythm in French sentences


French works with tone groups (//) and rhythm groups (/). A tone group is an independent and meaningful unit which is formed by rhythmic groups.


A rhythm group is made up of one to nine syllables. More than nine syllables and it becomes hard to read, and requires pauses to breathe. Rhythm groups are not always full sentences; they can also be only a part of a larger sentence followed by another rhythmic group.


A tone group can be formed with as many rhythm groups as we want. The smallest possible is made up of one rhythm group:


  • Je suis fatigué // (I am tired)


But, we can also create tone groups out of two rhythm groups:


  • La langue française / est difficile // (The French language is difficult)


And so on.


If you have a basic knowledge of music, it helps to imagine that every syllable in French is a black note. So in a rhythm group, each syllable will be the same length, except the last syllable of each group -- this is a white note. To practice, we can change the syllable into a simple sound, let's call it “ma”.


Here’s an example:


  • Tu n’es pas encore parti? [ty/ne/pa/zã/kɔr/par/ti]


We count seven syllables. Each one will have the same length except the last one, which will be a bit longer.


We can also replace them with “ma” and the sentence will be:























There are more practical ways for practicing this too, like clapping your hands for each syllable.


A few more examples:



_ _ __

_ _ _ __

_ _ _ _ __

À bientôt (See you soon)



Je veux sortir (I want to go out)




J’ai très faim (I’m very hungry)



Vous êtes très gentil (You are very kind)



J’en aimerais un (I would love one)



À dix-sept heure (At seventeen hours)





Now that we have got this covered, we can move to the next step: la liaison!



2. The liaison


The liaison is a phenomena that links two words together within a rhythmic group.


There are three kinds of liaisons:


  • mandatory
  • forbidden
  • optional


The final consonant of a word that is written but not pronounced should be pronounced alongside the following word if that word starts with a vowel or a muted h. This is used to create a flow within the rhythmic group; the voice doesn’t stop between the words, just as we discussed in the previous section.


Now, here is the most entertaining part of this article; I’ll give you all the details you need about these liaisons.


Mandatory liaisons


  • Article + noun
    • e.g: Un ami
  • Adjective + noun
    • e.g: Un grand ami
  • Adverb + noun (rare)
    • e.g: Tout enfant qu’il était…
  • Article + adjective
    • e.g: Un autre verre
  • Adverb + adjective
    • e.g: Bien installé
  • Adverb + adverb
    • e.g: Bien assez
  • Pronoun + verb
    • e.g: Ils aiment / il en a
  • Pronoun + Pronoun
    • e.g: L’ami dont il a parlé
  • Verb + pronoun
    • e.g: Vient-il? Prends-en!
  • Preposition with only one syllable + pronoun, article or noun
    • e.g: Chez elle / dans un moment / en Afrique


Forbidden liaisons


  • Between two rhythmic groups, especially between a nominal subject and a verb
    • e.g: Jean arrive / les étudiants étudient
  • After et
    • e.g: Toi et elle
  • After a noun in singular form
    • e.g: Un étudiant asiatique
  • Before an aspirated h
    • e.g: Les Halles / un hero
  • After on, ils or lles when inverted
    • e.g: Ont-ils aimé?
  • After quand or comment as interrogatives adverbs
    • e.g: Quand est-elle arrivée? Comment ouvrir?
    • this is the case except within fixed groups like ‘quand est-ce que…’ or ‘comment allez-vous?
  • Before certain isolated units like numbers un, onze or oui
    • e.g: un un / les onze / les oui
  • After alors
    • e.g: Alors il est arrivé


Optional liaisons


Optional liaisons are basically all the liaisons that we have not discussed so far. These liaisons are mostly demonstrate register: the more liaisons we make, the more formal it is.


Here are a few examples:


  • Je suis étudiant can be pronounced either [ʒəsɥizetudiã] or [ʒəsɥietudiã]
  • vraiment adorable can be pronounced either [vrɛmãtadorabl] or [vrɛmãadorabl]
  • Je vois un arbre can be pronounced either [ʒəvwazœ̃narbr] or [ʒəvwaœ̃narbr]


Still there? Great!


Now I want to show you five different liaisons relating to the sounds [z], [n], [t], [p] and in [r]:


Liaison in [z]

Liaison in [n]

Liaison in [t]

Liaison in [p]

Liaison in [r]

Elles arrivent

Chang aime les œufs

Un bon élève

On a mangé une pizza

Un petit enfant

La route est étroite

Vous êtes trop impatient

Nous vivons dans le dernier appartement


The same word can, of course, have different liaisons, as below:


  • Leur enfant [lœrãfã]
  • Deux enfants [døzãfã]
  • Un enfant [œ̃nãfã]
  • Cent enfants [sãtãfã]


Here is an example of a liaison in a full sentence:


  • Pour fêter son‿arrivée dans son nouvel‿appartement, David‿invite ses parents à le visiter.
  • [pur-fɛ-te][sɔ̃-na-ri-ve] [dã-sɔ̃] [nu-vɛ-la-par-tə-mɑ̃] [Da-vi-dɛ̃-vit][se-pa-rã-a-le-vi-zi-te]


This sentence has two separate tone groups: “pour fêter son arrivée dans son nouvel appartement” and “David invite ses parents à le visiter”.


The first tone group is divided further into three rhythm groups:


  • Pour fêter
  • son arrivée
  • dans son nouvel appartement


The second tone group is also divided into three distinct rhythm groups


  • David invite
  • ses parents
  • à le visiter


You probably noticed that there are no liaisons made between the groups, only inside them! This means that we can read the first tone group, take a breath, then continue to read the second group. When it comes to rhythm, each syllable is a black note with the same length, except the last syllable of each rhythm group, which is a white note. So, there will be six white notes, one for each group.


The reading of this sentence should be as follows:


First tone group

“Pour fêter”

“son arrivée”

“dans son nouvel appartement”


_ _ __

_ _ _ __

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ __



Second tone group

“David invite”

“ses parents”

“à le visiter”


_ _ _ __

_ _ __

_ _ _ _ __



If you can read the sentence the way I explained, you probably sound great already!


For advanced students, I recommend you to read the very short piece called Le Gora, which shows in a very funny way the troubles caused by these liaisons.



3. The e caduc


There is a final topic that I would like to talk about. The “e caduc” is something that is rarely taught. It is not as important as the liaison, but it shows a big difference between a native and non-native speaker. Its French name is “ ‘e’ caduc”.


The e caduc is an e that does not need to be pronounced. There are, however, a few rules! This e cannot be written with any accent and must be an opened syllable (meaning the last sound of the syllable must be [ə] and cannot be followed by two consonants).


Let’s show examples or what is good and what is not good.


These below shows the e caduc:


  • Le [lə]
  • Repère [rə-pɛr]
  • Refaire [rə-fɛr]


These below show what is not an e caduc:

  • Dessin [de-sɛ̃]
  • Perdu [pɛr-dy]
  • Rester [rɛs-te]


The following examples is an e caduc because it is within a prefix:


  • Dessous [də-su]
  • Ressembler [rə-sã-ble]
  • Refaire [rə-fɛr]


The next step is knowing when you can drop the e caduc and when you can’t.


The rule is simple as well. The e that follows two pronounced consonants is maintained, while an e that follows a single pronounced consonant can be dropped.


We also maintain the e if dropping it would lead to two similar adjacent consonants. We would, for example, still say je joue [ʒəʒu] instead of je joue [ʒʒu], which is very difficult to say.


In the case where more than one e is in succession, the rule is to drop one of every two:


  • Je me suis lavé can be [ʒəmsui], but can also be [ʒməsɥi]
  • Ne me le redis pas can be [nəmlərdipa], but can also be [nəməlrədipa]


If you practice to apply all of these advice, then your French will not only sound better but also impress many native speakers who will find it easier to understand your French. Good luck and have fun!


Hero image by John Towner (CC0 1.0)