French Vowels (Voyelles Françaises)

teacher helping student
AMELIE-BENOIST /BSIP Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

A vowel is a sound that is pronounced through the mouth (and, in the case of nasal vowels, the nose) with no obstruction of the lips, tongue, or throat.

There are a few general guidelines to keep in mind when pronouncing French vowels:

  • Most French vowels are pronounced further forward in the mouth than their English counterparts.
  • The tongue must remain tensed throughout the pronunciation of the vowel.
  • French vowels do not diphthong. In English, vowels tend to be followed by a y sound (after a, e, or i) or a w sound (after o or u). In French, this is not the case - the vowel sound remains constant: it does not change into a y or w sound. Thus the French vowel is a "purer" sound than the English vowel.

Hard and Soft Vowels

A, O, and U are sometimes called hard vowels and E and I are soft vowels, because certain consonants (C, G, S) have a "hard" and a "soft" pronunciation, depending on which vowel follows.

Nasal Vowels

Vowels followed by M or N are usually nasal. Nasal pronunciation can be very different from the normal pronunciation of each vowel.


Accents may change the pronunciation of vowels. They are required in French.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Team, ThoughtCo. "French Vowels (Voyelles Françaises)." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). French Vowels (Voyelles Françaises). Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "French Vowels (Voyelles Françaises)." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).