AI / AIS - French Pronunciation of AI and AIS

How are AI and AIS pronounced in French?

Two friends chatting in a coffee shop
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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):

  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).

    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 on the forum,* 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.

    *AI vs AIS discussion 1
    AI vs AIS discussion 2
    AI vs AIS discussion 3

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

       frais   (fresh, cool)
       lait   (milk)
       je parlerai   (I will talk)
       je parlerais   (I would talk)
       je t'aime   (I love you)


    Related lesson: AIL / AILLE