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.