How to Pronounce the Letter 'I' in French

The 'I' Is a Complicated Letter

When you're learning French, the letter 'I' may be one of the most challenging of the alphabet. It has a common sound, a couple of accents, and is often combined with other letters and all of these have slightly different sounds.

Because the 'I' is used so often in French and in so many ways, it's important that you study it thoroughly. This lesson will help fine tune your pronunciation skills and maybe even add a few new words to your French vocabulary.

How to Pronounce the French 'I'

The French letter 'I' is pronounced more or less like the 'EE' in "fee," but without the Y sound at the end: listen.

An 'I' with an accent circonflexe - î - or tréma - ï - is pronounced the same way. This is also true for the letter 'Y' when it's used as a vowel in French.

However, the French 'I' is pronounced like the English 'Y' in the following instances:

  • When 'I' is followed by a vowel as in châtier, addition, adieu, and tiers.
  • When 'IL' is at the end of a word and preceded by a vowel as in orteil, orgueil, and œil.
  • In most words with ILLE such as mouiller, fille, bouteille, and veuillez.

French Words With 'I'

Practice your pronunciation of the French 'I' with these simple words. Give it a try on your own, then click the word to hear the correct pronunciation. Repeat these until you have them down because they are very common words that you'll need often.

Letter Combinations With 'I'

The letter 'I' is as useful in French as it is in English. However, it also comes with a variety of pronunciations depending on the letters it's used in conjunction with.

As you continue your study of 'I,' be sure that you understand how these letter combinations sound.

  • AI and AIS - There are three ways to pronounce 'AI.' The most common is pronounced like the 'È' or "bed."
  • AIL - Pronounced [ahy].
  • EI - Sounds like the 'É' or 'È' as in the word été (summer).
  • EIL - Pronounced [ehy], similar to the 'E' in "bed" followed by a 'Y' sound. As used in un appareil (device) and un orteil (toe).
  • EUI, UEIL, and ŒIL - Sounds like the 'OO' in "good" followed by a 'Y' sound.
  • IN - Called a "nasal I," this is pronounce [e(n)]. The 'E' sounds like an 'E' with a circumflex - ê - and the (n) is the nasal sound. For example, cinq (five) and pain (bread).
    • The "nasal I" can be spelled any number of ways: in, im, ain, aim, eim, ein, em, or en.
  • IO - Pronounced [yo] with a closed 'O' sound. Used in the addition example above.
  • NI - When followed by another vowel, it is pronounced [ny]. If it's followed by a consonant, the 'I' follows the rules above and the 'N' follows its own rules. For example, une nièce (niece) versus un niveau (level, standard).
  • OI - Pronounced [wa].
  • OUIL - Pronounced [uj].
  • TI - When followed by a vowel, 'TI' sounds like [sy] as in un dictionnaire (dictionary). If a consonant follows this combination, the 'T' follows its rules and the 'I' follows the rules above. A perfect example is actif (active).
  • UI - Sounds like the English "we." For example, huit (eight) and la cuisine (kitchen, cooking).
  • UIL and UILLE - When 'UIL' follows a consonant, the sound is [weel] (with the exception of un building). For instance, juillet (July). With 'UILLE,' the double 'L' transforms it to [weey] as in une cuillère (spoon).
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Lawless, Laura K. "How to Pronounce the Letter 'I' in French." ThoughtCo, Mar. 22, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-pronunciation-of-i-1369564. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, March 22). How to Pronounce the Letter 'I' in French. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-pronunciation-of-i-1369564 Lawless, Laura K. "How to Pronounce the Letter 'I' in French." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-pronunciation-of-i-1369564 (accessed November 19, 2017).