French Pronunciation: Ai and Ais

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The letters Ai in French can be pronounced in one of three ways. The following are general guidelines to the pronunciation of AI (though there are, as always, exceptions):

Pronunciation Rules

  1. Ai is usually pronounced like È (like the E in "bed"), including when it is followed by S.
  2. When a verb ends in -ai, it is pronounced like É (more or less like the A in "gave"). It is important to distinguish between these two sounds, because they can change the meaning. Je parlai (passé simple) is not pronounced like je parlais (imperfect).​

    Note: The same phenomenon occurs with je parlerai (future) and je parlerais (conditional), at least according to some French speakers. There have been numerous debates about this, but basically, it comes down to regional variations: some native speakers pronounce them differently. Anyone who claims that there is no difference simply doesn't pronounce or even hear it.

    Examples

    Click on the links below to hear the words pronounced in French: