How Is 'S' Pronounced in French?

There's one catch to the "S" sound

Escargots in butter in a white dish
The "s" in escargots is pronounced like the English "s". Carlo A / Getty Images

Just as in English, the letter 'S' is used often in French. While it typically sounds exactly as you'd expect, there is a second pronunciation you'll need to know. This lesson will guide you through the sounds and even give you a few words to practice with.

How to Pronounce the Letter 'S' in French

The letter 'S' can be pronounced two different ways in French:

  1. It's usually pronounced like the English 'S.' This happens when it appears:
    1. At the beginning of a word
    2. At the end of a word or syllable
    3. As a double 'S'
    4. Followed by a 'C' (see below)
    5. In front of a consonant
  2. The rest of the time, it is pronounced like a 'Z.' Use this pronunciation when it is found:
    1. Between two vowels
    2. In a liaison such as les amis [lay za mee] and ils ont.

Pronouncing the Combination of 'SC'

As mentioned, when the letter 'S' is combined with a 'C' the pronunciation changes a bit. 

  • When 'SC' is used in front of soft vowel, it sounds like an 'S.' For example, as in the word sciences (science). 
  • If the 'SC' appears in front of a hard vowel or consonant, the 'S' and 'C' are pronounced separately and according to their respective rules. You're probably familiar with the word escargots (snails), which follows this rule.

Practice Your Pronunciation of 'S'

Since you understand the pronunciation rules for the letter 'S,' it's time to put it into practice. Using the rules above, see if you can figure out the correct pronunciation of each of these words. When you think you have it, click on the word to hear how it's supposed to sound.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "How Is 'S' Pronounced in French?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). How Is 'S' Pronounced in French? Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "How Is 'S' Pronounced in French?" ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).