French Pronunciation of the Double L

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In French, the double L is sometimes pronounced like an L and other times like a Y. How do you know when to pronounce it each way? This lesson explains the general rules and the inevitable exceptions.

Rules for Pronouncing LL

As a general rule, the double L after A, E, O, U, and Y is pronounced like an L: une balle, elle, mollement, une idylle, etc. If there are exceptions to this, I've never found them.

In words with I followed by LL, the rules are a bit more complicated. The double L is always pronounced like a Y in letter combinations with vowel + ILL:

  • aill (e.g., taille)
  • eill (oreille)
  • euill (feuille)
  • œill (œillet)
  • ouill (grenouille)
  • ueill (cueillir)
  • uill (juillet)

And LL is pronounced like a Y in words such as fille, la Bastille, Millau, and chantilly.

However, there are also many words in which the double L is pronounced like an L (follow links to hear the words pronounced). This is the complete list:

  • un bacille - germ, bacillus
  • billevesées - nonsense
  • un billion - trillion
  • capillaire - capillary
  • un codicille - codicil
  • distiller - to distill
  • une fibrille - small fiber (fibrillaire, fibrillation)*
  • un krill - krill
  • Lille - town in northern France
  • lilliputien - Liliputian
  • mille - thousand (un millénium, millier, etc.)
  • un mille - mile (le millage)
  • milli- (prefix)
  • un milliard - billion (un milliardaire, le milliardième, etc.)
  • un million - million (un millionaire, le millionième, etc.)
  • osciller - to oscillate, swing
  • un/e pupille* - ward of the state
  • une pupille* - pupil
  • une scille - scilla
  • une spongille - spongilla
  • tranquille - calm, tranquil
  • un verticille - verticil
  • un vexille - vexillum
  • une ville - town (une villa, un village, etc.)
  • une zorille - zorilla

The (parentheses) indicate derivations which are also pronounced like an L.

*These words may be pronounced either way.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "French Pronunciation of the Double L." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). French Pronunciation of the Double L. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "French Pronunciation of the Double L." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).