French pronunciation - guide to pronouncing French words and phrases

A complete French pronunciation guide - from some of the most basic (alphabet, numbers) to some of the trickiest (food, names) words in French.

French Pronunciation Guide - Memrise

So you want to learn French! Congratulations, you’re learning to speak one of the world’s loveliest-sounding languages. The flowing sentences, lilting tones and soft words all add up to a language made for whispering sweet nothings. In fact, it has been voted the most romantic language of all by people from ten different countries - including Italians, which means there really must be something to it!

While beautiful, the pronunciation can have you tripping up. For one thing, French speakers tend to avoid pronouncing consonants at the end of their words. We’ll go into more detail later on, but some great examples are words like ‘trop’, ‘poulet’, ‘vous’ and ‘froid’. For all of those, you just can simply pretend the last letter doesn’t exist. 

Another reason is the way French is spoken physically. French calls for you to keep your mouth more closed than open, and because of this, it feels very subtle. 

Anyway, let’s crack on with our French pronunciation guide. We’ll walk you through the rules, how to pronounce key words and phrases, and how French pronunciation can differ not only in different countries, but between regions within France! It also doesn’t help that French has six vowel sounds and four consonants that don’t exist in English at all. Mon dieu !


Starting with the basics - learning how to speak French

Let’s begin by going back to basics - with letters and numbers!

French alphabet (letter) pronunciation

There are plenty of letters that sound exactly the same in French as they do in English - F, L, M, N, O, Q, S and Z to be exact. 

Some others are close, but no cigar - A is more like ‘ah’, B is nearer to ‘beh’ and G and J are softer versions of their English cousins, more like ‘zhee’ and ‘zheh’ instead of ‘jee’ and ‘jay’.

And then, there are some absolute humdingers. E sounds like ‘uh’, H is ‘ash’, R comes out as ‘air’ and W is ‘doo-blah veh’ (basically meaning “double V”, whereas in English we use “double U”). Don’t even get us started on Y, which the French chose to call ‘ee-grec’ - essentially “i” in Greek.. Why, indeed! 

All of this sounds very confusing, so we’ve put together this French alphabet pronunciation chart for you:

French Alphabet Pronunciation Chart - Memrise


French vowels pronunciation - with accents

Like most languages (English being an exception), you may have noticed some French letters also come with funky squiggles. These are called accents or diacritics, and they change how the letter sounds out loud - and sometimes what the word means.

The cedilla (ç)

This one only goes underneath 'c', and makes it sound like an 's'. You'll only ever see it before 'a', 'o', or 'u'. An easy example is ‘Français’ (French!)

The acute accent (é)

Only ever found above an 'e', it changes the pronunciation of the vowel from ‘uh’ to ‘eh’.

The grave accent (à/è/ì/ò/ù)

This one’s used above an 'a' or 'u' to distinguish words that sound the same but have different meanings. Above an 'e' it tells you that the vowel is pronounced 'ay'.

The trema (ë/ï/ü)

The trema is written over the second of two vowels, and signals that you need to pronounce them separately. Without it, the vowels would flow into each other. For example, ‘Noël’ (Christmas) would sound like ‘nole’, instead of ‘no-ay-l’.

The circumflex (â/ê/î/ô/û)

The most interesting of the bunch (in our opinion!). As we’ve mentioned, many English and French words share the same root. Over time, the French stopped pronouncing the 's' in certain words, but still wrote it in the same way – in short, it turned into a silent letter.

Eventually, the spelling changed to match, and the ‘s’ was taken out. But they added a circumflex in its place. Like a memorial for the fallen ‘s”.

For example - the French word for "forest" is “forêt”.

So although the circumflex doesn’t change how you say the word in French today, it does tell you there used to be a sneaky ‘s’ in there!


French consonants pronunciation

Let’s move on to some of the other interesting letters in the alphabet.

H is always silent in French - even if a word starts with it.

R creates a sound we don’t have in English. You may have heard of people ‘rolling’ their r’s, but in French it’s more of a rasping, gargling noise.

Q acts as a hard ‘c’, even when it’s ‘qu’. 


French pronunciation rules

And because it wouldn’t be French without some exciting rules and exceptions, there are plenty of rules to remember about how consonants work together too. 

French number pronunciation

Some of the most troublesome numbers in French are ‘trois’ (sounds like twa), ‘quatre’ (katra), ‘cinq’ (sank), ‘sept’ (set) ‘huit’ (wheat) and ‘dix’ (deece). And that’s just some of the numbers between one and ten!


Once again, we’ve made a handy-dandy chart for you:



French words pronunciation - the important ones

Here’s a French pronunciation cheat sheet of useful everyday words you could easily mispronounce. We’ve also pulled out a few videos from our app so you can compare your french pronunciation with audio of native French speakers.


Oui ‘wee’

The French way to say ‘yes’, the pronunciation of ‘oui’ in no way matches the way it looks.


Non ‘noh’

Now to the opposite - saying ‘no’. Pronouncing ‘non’ is pretty easy, just say it as in English, but ignore the second ‘n’.


Au revoir ‘o-rehv-waa’

You use ‘au revoir’ to say goodbye to someone you won’t see for a while. Here’s how a native speaker says it.


Maman ‘mam-oh’

‘Maman’ is ‘mother’, and pronounced similarly to ‘non’ - because we don’t pronounce the ‘n’.


Faim ‘fam’

Related to the English ‘famished’, you pronounce ‘ j’ai faim’ (I’m hungry) by ignoring the ‘i’.


Monsieur ‘me-syuh’

This is the French form of ‘sir’, but a bit more of a tongue twister.

Je t’aime ‘zh-uh taym’

Declaring your love in the language of love. Does it get any more romantic? If you want to hear more, we’ve got all the info on how to say ‘I love you’ in French. 


French food and drink pronunciation

The French love their food, so make sure you get these right! Here are some examples of how certain foods are pronounced in French:


Croissant ‘quah-san’

These fresh breakfast pastries are a big part of the culture. And it’s pronounced ‘quah-son’, not Quackson (that’s one for you Tom Holland fans) 



Crêpe ‘crep’

This one’s nice and similar to English. Did you spot the circumflex? This means once upon a time it was ‘crespe’ - it’s allegedly linked to ‘crispy’!


Macaron ‘ma-ka-roh’

This delicious one’s in with the ‘don’t say the last letter’ crowd. Not to be confused with coconut macaroons - you’ll be laughed out of the patisserie.


Ognon ‘uh-nyoh’

Like the vegetable itself, the french word for onion has many layers. Spelled 'Oignon' till 2016, it was decided that it would lose the 'i' to avoid pronunciation confusion.


Cabernet sauvignon ‘cab-ayr-nay so-vin-yoh’

If there’s one thing the French love more than food, it’s wine - so you need to know how to order one of their most famous varieties. Like macaron, ignore the last letters here.

French names pronunciation

There are certain names that are pronounced very different to their English counterparts. Here are a few of the more common ones: 

Jean ‘sz-oh’

You need a kind of ‘sz’ sound for the French equivalent of ‘John’, like the ‘s’ in ‘television’.


Genevieve ‘szen-uh-vi-ayv’

In the same way as ‘Jean’, you pronounce the French form of ‘Jennifer’ with a buzzy ‘sz’.


Loïc ‘low-ik’

This name is thought to have links to either ‘Louis’ or ‘Luke’. Thanks to the trema, we pronounce the vowels separately.


Difference of accents in different regions in France

One of the best ways to learn a language is to live there. But a complication with French pronunciation is that natives say words differently depending where they’re from. This is why we use videos of native speakers from different regions of France to teach you the language on our app - that way, you’ll get a taste for it before you even get there! 


French pronunciation in Paris

The Parisian accent is seen as the typical French accent. Just like city life, speakers are quick-paced and merge words together. For example, you’ll hear ‘chais pas' instead of 'je ne sais pas.' So listen closely!


French pronunciation in Marseille

This one has an official name: Marseillais. In south-east France, the accent could easily be a song - it’s light and lilting. Vowels are spoken with a nasal style, too, so words ending in -ain sounds like -ay. 


French pronunciation around the world

Quebecois pronunciation

Spoken in the French regions and cities of Canada, like Quebec and Montreal, this sounds very different to standard French because it has more vowel sounds. The word 'moi' is more like 'mow-ay' for example. 


This is the flavour of French that the queen, Celine Dion, speaks. Here she is being interviewed by France News 2 - see if you can hear the difference.


African French pronunciation

Because so many African countries have French as their official language, there are tons of accents to contend with. One distinctive thing you might hear is the 'r' being rolled, more like a Spanish accent. And while the 'h' in French is usually silent, African speakers sound it out.


Here’s UFC Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, who hails from Cameroon, doing an interview in French.



French Guiana pronunciation

This is a really interesting one. Similarly to many Caribbean islands, speakers here use a Creole form of French - which comes with some extra groovy rules. 'Q' and 'X' are replaced by 'K' and 'Z’, and some phrases are pushed together to become one word. For example, ‘s’il vous plait’ is ‘souplé’.

Detroit - French pronunciation?

What a curveball, right? Not a French language, but an interesting story nonetheless. The city of Detroit, in Michigan USA, was founded by a Frenchman in 1701. He named it after the French word for ‘strait’, but over time the pronunciation has changed from sounding like ‘de-twa’ to ‘de-troyt’


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