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Lesson 2: The Alphabet

French Grammar • Alphabet
The French Alphabet L’alphabet français
CharactersAaBbCcDdEeFfGgHhIi
Pronunciationahbaysaydayeuheffjhayashee
CharactersJjKkLlMmNnOoPpQqRr
Pronunciationgheekahelemmennohpaykuair
CharactersSsTtUuVvWwXxYyZz
Pronunciationesstayoovaydubla-vayeeksee-grehkzed

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In addition, French uses several accents which are worth understanding. These are: à, è, ù, (grave accents) and é (acute accent). A circumflex applies to all vowels: â, ê, î, ô, û. A tréma (French for dieresis) is also applied: ë, ï, ü, ÿ. Two combined letters are used: æ and œ, and a cedilla is used on the c to make it sound like an English s: ç. More information on accents will be found in the next section.

Letters and examples

French Grammar • Alphabet
The French Alphabet L’alphabet français
letterpronunciationname in French
(in IPA transcription)
Aalike a in father/a/
Bblike b in may”be/be/
Ccbefore e and i: like c in center
before a, o, or u: like c in cat
/se/
Ddlike d in dog/de/
Eeapprox. like u in burp**/?/
Fflike f in fog/?f/
Ggbefore e and i: like s in measure
before a, o, or u: like g in get
/?e/
Hhaspirated h: see note below*
non-aspirated h: not pronounced***
/a?/
Iilike ea in team/i/
Jjlike s in measure/?i/
Kklike k in kite/ka/
Lllike l in lemon/?l/
Mmlike m in minute/?m/
Nnlike n in note/?n/
Ooclosed: approx. like u in nut
open: like o in nose
/o/
Pplike p in pen*/pe/
Qqlike k in kite/ky/ see ‘u’
for details
Rrforce air through the back of your throat
near the position of gargling,
but sounding soft
/??/
Sslike s in sister at beginning
of word or with two s’s
or like z in amazing if only one s
/?s/
Ttlike t in top/te/
UuSay the English letter e,
but make your lips say “oo”.
/y/
Vvlike v in violin/ve/
WwDepending on the derivation of the word,
like v as in violin, or w in water
/dubl?ve/
Xxeither /ks/ in socks,
or /gz/ in exit
/iks/
Yylike ea in leak/igr?k/
Zzlike z in zebra/z?d/

Final consonants

In French, certain consonants are silent when they are the final letter of a word. The letters p (as in ‘coup’), s (as in ‘héros’), t (as in ‘chat’), d (as in ‘marchand), and x (as in ‘paresseux’), are generally not pronounced at the end of a word. They are pronounced if there is an e letter after (‘coupe’, ‘chatte’, ‘marchande’, etc.)

Dental consonants

The letters d, l, n,s, t, and z are pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the lower teeth and the middle of the tongue against the roof of the mouth. In English, one would pronounce these letters with the tip of the tongue at the roof of one’s mouth. It is very difficult to pronounce a word like ‘voudrais’ properly with the d formed in the English manner.

b and p

Unlike English, when you pronounce the letters ‘b’ and ‘p’ in French, little to no air should come out of your mouth. In terms of phonetics, the difference in the French ‘b’ and ‘p’ and their English counterparts is one of aspiration. (This is not the same as the similarly-named concept of ‘h’ aspiré discussed below). Fortunately, in English both aspirated and unaspirated variants (allophones) exist, but only in specific environments. If you’re a native speaker, say the word ‘pit’ and then the word ‘spit’ out loud. Did you notice the extra puff of air in the first word that doesn’t come with the second? The ‘p’ in ‘pit’ is aspirated [p?]; the ‘p’ in ‘spit’ is not (like the ‘p’ in any position in French).

Exercise

  1. Get a loose piece of printer paper or notebook paper.
  2. Hold the piece of paper about one inch (or a couple of centimeters) in front of your face.
  3. Say the words baby, and puppy like you normally would in English. Notice how the paper moved when you said the ‘b’ and the ‘p’ respectively.
  4. Now, without making the piece of paper move, say the words belle (the feminine form of beautiful in French, pronounced like the English ‘bell.’), and papa (the French equivalent of “Dad”).
  • If the paper moved, your pronunciation is slightly off. Concentrate, and try it again.
  • If the paper didn’t move, congratulations! You pronounced the words correctly!

Aspirated vs. non-aspirated h

In French, the letter h can be aspirated (h aspiré), or not aspirated (h non aspiré), depending on which language the word was borrowed from. What do these terms mean?

  • Ex.: the word héros, (hero) has an aspirated h, because when the definite article le is placed before it, the result is le héros, and both words must be pronounced separately. However, the feminine form of héros, héroïne is a non-aspirated h. Therefore, when you put the definite article in front of it, it becomes l’héroïne, and is pronounced as one word.

Remember that in French, an h is NEVER pronounced, whether it is aspirated or not aspirated!

The only way to tell if the h at the beginning of a word is aspirated is to look it up in the dictionary. Some dictionaries will place an asterisk (*) in front of the entry word in the French-English H section if the h is aspirated. Other dictionaries will include it in the pronunciation guide after the key word by placing a (‘) before the pronunciation. In short, the words must be memorized.

Here is a table of some basic h words that are aspirated and not aspirated:

aspiratednon-aspirated
héros, hero (le héros)héroïne, heroine (l’héroïne)
haïr, to hate (je hais or j’haïs…)habiter, to live (j’habite…)
huit, eight (le huit novembre)harmonie, harmony (l’harmonie)

Exercise

  1. Grab a French-English dictionary and find at least ten aspirated h words, and ten non-aspirated h words
  2. On a piece of paper, write down the words you find in two columns
  3. Look at it every day and memorize the columns

Punctuation

From Wiktionary:

French Vocabulary • Alphabet
Punctuation La ponctuation
&esperluette, et commercial,virgule{ }accolades~tilde
apostrophe=égal %pourcent@arobase, a commercial, arobe
*astérisque$dollar.point
« »guillemets!point d’exclamation+plus
\barre oblique inverse>supérieur à#dièse
[ ]crochets<inférieur à?point d’interrogation
:deux points-moins, tiret, trait d’union_soulignement
;point virgule( )parenthèses/barre oblique

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The punctuation symbols in French operates very similarly to English with the same meaning. The only punctuation symbol not present in French would be the quotation marks; these are replaced by the guillemets shown in the table above.


1 Comment

  • #1 by Digna on March 6 - 4:42 pm

    Quote

    did french in high school . But I just what to see how much I’ve remembered.

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