OU vs U - French Pronunciation

What's the difference between OU and U in French?

The letter u is one of the most difficult sounds in the French language, at least for English speakers, both to pronounce and to distinguish from ou. Here are some tips and numerous sound files to help you hear and say the difference.

In French, ou is pronounced more or less like the ou in "soup." The French u, on the other hand, has no English equivalent - the closest sound is also the ou in soup, but the u sound is created further forward in the mouth (see how to pronounce the French u)

The following words are pronounced the same except for the vowel, so you can see that the different pronunciations can make a very big difference in meaning - click the links to hear each word pronounced.

When two words are listed on the same line, they are homophones (pronounced identically).

bu - pp* of boire (to drink)  |   le but - goal
la boue - mud  |  le bout - tip

la bûche - log
la bouche - mouth

le bureau - desk, office
le bourreau - torturer**

le cul - ass  |  q - the letter q
le cou - neck  |  le coup - blow

dessus - on top
dessous - underneath

du - contraction of de + le  |   - pp of devoir (to have to)
doux - sweet

eu - pp of avoir (to have)  |  u - the letter u
ou - or  |   - where

je jure - I swear
le jour - day

le jus - juice
la joue - cheek

lu - pp of lire (to read)
le loup - wolf

- pp of mouvoir (to move)  |  la mue - moulting
mou - soft  |  la moue - pout

nu - naked
nous - we, us

pu - pp of pouvoir  |  ça pue - that smells (from puer)
un pou - louse

la puce - flea
le pouce - thumb  |  la pousse - sprout

le pull - sweater
la poule - hen

pur - pure
pour - for

la rue - street
la roue - wheel

le russe - Russian
rousse - red-headed

su - pp of savoir (to know)
un sou - cent  |  sous - under

tu - you  |  tu - pp of taire (to be quiet)  |  il tue - he kills (from tuer)
tout - all  |  la toux - cough

le tutu - tutu (ballet skirt)
le toutou - doggie

vu - pp of voir (to see)  |  la vue - view
vous - you

*pp = past participle

**Not much of a difference in meaning between these two, is there?

Ha ha! :-)

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Lawless, Laura K. "OU vs U - French Pronunciation." ThoughtCo, Sep. 23, 2016, thoughtco.com/ou-vs-u-french-pronunciation-1369583. Lawless, Laura K. (2016, September 23). OU vs U - French Pronunciation. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ou-vs-u-french-pronunciation-1369583 Lawless, Laura K. "OU vs U - French Pronunciation." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ou-vs-u-french-pronunciation-1369583 (accessed January 21, 2018).