French Vowels (Voyelles Françaises)

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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

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