Euphony - French Pronunciation

Maintaining euphony (agreeable or harmonious sound) in French

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In French, there are rules about maintaining euphony; that is, agreeable or harmonious sound. French is a very musical language because it tends to flow from one word to the next with no hiatus (pause). In situations where euphony doesn't happen naturally, French requires that sounds be added or words changed.

As a general rule, French does not like to have a word that ends in a vowel sound followed by a word that begins with a vowel sound.

The pause created between two vowel sounds, called a hiatus, is undesirable in French, so the following techniques are used to avoid it [brackets indicate pronunciation]:

Contractions

Contractions avoid the hiatus by dropping the vowel at the end of the first word.

For example: le ami [leu a mee] becomes l'ami [la mee]

Liaisons

Liaisons transfer the normally silent sound at the end of the first word onto the beginning of the second word.

For example: vous avez is pronounced [vu za vay] instead of [vu a vay]

T inversion
When inversion results in a verb ending in a vowel + il(s), elle(s), or on, a T must be added between the two words to avoid hiatus.

For example: a-il [a eel] becomes a-t-il [a teel]

Special adjective forms

Nine adjectives have special forms used in front of words that begin with a vowel.

For example: ce homme [seu uhm] becomes cet homme [seh tuhm]

L'on

Putting l' in front of on avoids the hiatus.

L'on may also be used to avoid saying qu'on (sounds like con).

For example: si on [see o(n)] becomes si l'on [see lo(n)]

Tu form of the imperative

The tu form of the imperative of -er verbs drops the s, except when followed by the adverbial pronouns y or en.

For example: tu penses à lui > pense à lui [pa(n) sa lwee] > penses-y [pa(n) s(eu) zee]

In addition to the hiatus-avoiding techniques above, there is an additional way in which French increases euphony: enchaînement.

Enchaînement is the transfer of the sound at the end of one word onto the word that follows, such as in the phrase belle âme. The L sound at the end of belle would be pronounced even if the next word began with a consonant, which is what distinguishes enchaînement from liaison. Thus, enchaînement does not avoid hiatus the way liaison does, because there is no hiatus after a word that ends in a consonant sound. However, what enchaînement does is make the two words flow together, so that when you say belle âme, it sounds like [beh lahm] instead of [bel ahm]. Enchaînement thus increases the musicality of the phrase.