How Is 'Y' Pronounced in French?

It's a Rare Letter, But a Very Important One

The letter 'Y' may not make many appearances in French words, but it's important to know. Besides understanding the French pronunciations and when 'Y' might be a consonant or a vowel, you will also need to use it as a stand-alone pronoun to say "there."

If that's confusing, don't worry. The 'Y' in French is quite simple and a quick lesson will clear everything up for you.

Pronouncing the French 'Y'

The letter 'Y' is fairly uncommon in French and is used in just a few words.

Just as it is in English, the French 'Y' can be either a consonant or a vowel.

  1. As a vowel, it's pronounced like the 'Y' in happy: listen.
  2. When 'Y' is at the beginning of a word or syllable, it is a consonant and is pronounced just like the English 'Y': listen.

You will primarily find the consonant 'Y' in foreign words, country names, and the like.

'Y' French Vocabulary 

Now that you know the two rules for pronouncing the 'Y' in French, test yourself with a few simple vocabulary words. Can you decide which 'Y' sound to use in each? When you think you have it, click on the word to hear the correct pronunciation.

Did you notice the pronunciations of y and yeux? The pronoun y uses the vowel pronunciation and the word yeux sounds almost identical to the consonant sound. These are two important distinctions because you don't want to misinterpret y for yeux as "there" and "eyes" can change the meaning of an entire sentence.

'Y' As An Adverbial Pronoun

While the letter 'Y' is a bit of a rarity in French vocabulary, it does play a significant role in the language. This occurs when it is used as an adverbial pronoun to mean "there."

In English, we can often skip the word "there" because it's implied. However, in French, it is not an option.

Notice the difference in this translation: in French, the question would not make sense without y.

  • We're going to the store. Do you want to go (there)?
  • Nous allons au magasin. Tu veux y aller ?

Keep this in mind and don't discount the 'Y' in your French studies. It's actually more important than you may think.

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Lawless, Laura K. "How Is 'Y' Pronounced in French?" ThoughtCo, Mar. 22, 2017, thoughtco.com/french-pronunciation-of-y-1369608. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, March 22). How Is 'Y' Pronounced in French? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/french-pronunciation-of-y-1369608 Lawless, Laura K. "How Is 'Y' Pronounced in French?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/french-pronunciation-of-y-1369608 (accessed November 18, 2017).