Beginning French Pronunciation

The basics of French pronunciation

man and woman having coffee
Westend61/Getty Images

French, like English, can be very difficult in terms of pronunciation, due to intricacies like silent letters, multiple sounds for a single letter, and endless exceptions to whatever rules you find. This site contains numerous lessons which explain the rules and exceptions of French pronunciation in great detail, which is fine for advanced students but can be very confusing for beginners.

Therefore, this lesson is an attempt to simplify French pronunciation, to make it easier for you to get started, even if you don't know how every letter combination is pronounced in every situation.

While at some point, you will need to study more in-depth lessons on pronunciation, for the time being, this simplified pronunciation chart can help you get a good idea about how to pronounce new words.

Whenever possible, I have provided English words which use the same spelling. Failing that, I used French terms used in English, but if you don't know how to say these à la française, you will need to look them up in order to get the correct pronunciation. Failing either of these, I used an alternate spelling - these words are in [brackets] and the letters which make the relevant sound are in bold. When there is no real English equivalent, the nearest sound, if any, is explained in (parentheses) - for these letters and letter combinations, you should look really at the in-depth lessons. The LKL column indicates how I write that sound when spelling out pronunciation in other lessons. The letters and letter combinations are linked to detailed lessons, while the examples are hyperlinked to sound files in .wav format.

Letter(s)LKLEnglish SoundExamples
Aafatherquatre, un ami
AIaypainle lait, frais
AUotaupechaud, mauvais
Bbbuybonbons, bas
Ckcancafé, sec
 scellcerise, nièce
Çsfaçadeça va, caleçon
CHshchampagnechaud, anchois
Dddadla date, mardi
E, EUeude trople, un feu
Éayfiancéété, génial
È, Ê, EIehbête noireexprès, une tête
EAUoeau de toilettebeau, eau
Fffatfaim, neuf
Gggaggant, une bague
 zhmirageil gèle, aubergine
H hour hiver, un hôpital
 (always silent)
I, Ï, Îeenaïvedix, un lit
Jzhdéjà vule jambon, déjeuner
Kkkit un kiosque, le ski
 (rare in French)
Lllikefleurs, mille
MmmomMadame, comment
 (n)(nasal vowel)le parfum, embouteillage
Nnnoneuf, noir
 (n)(nasal vowel)un, le pain
Oosolole dos, rose
OIwafoie grasboire, trois
OUusoupdouze, nous
Pppieun père, la soupe
PHfphoneune pharmacie, téléphoner
Qkpiquequinze, la banque
Rr rouge, une ceinture
  (similar to Spanish J, Arabic KH)
Sssole sucre, un poisson
SCskscoldune escale
 sscienceles sciences
Tttoela tarte, la tête
THt[tea]le thé, le théâtre
Uu[food]*tu, une jupe
UEwehsuede*saluer, la Suisse
UIweecuisine*une nuit, fruit
  *Approximation - see lesson on U
Vvvatvert, un avion
Wv un wagon
  (rare in French)
Xks expressexprimer, taxe
 gzexitle xérès, un exemplaire
Yyyesle yaourt, les yeux
Zzzonela zone, la zizanie