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11.12: Structure - Combinaisons de voyelles

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    In this section, you will learn how to pronounce combined vowels

    Media Alternative

    Listen to the audio clips that follow on this page to hear the French pronunciation of vocabulary and examples presented.

    On étudie !

    There are several groups vowel combinations in French : ai, ei, au, eau, eu, œu, ou, and oi. But don’t worry, some of these combinations belong to the same group because they sound the same, and you already know how to pronounce some of them.

    (a) The vowel combinations ai and ei make the [ε] sound, much like when the letter e is before two consonants, or written with an accent grave è, or with an accent circonflexe ê. The vowel is closed and it sounds similar to the vowel in the word pet in English.

    père bête celle français seize

    Try to pronounce the following words: le palais, le lait, la paix, je partirais, laide, la peine, treize, le balai, j’ai, ils s’aiment, la reine, la neige, neiger


    When ai is followed by the letters m or n, or when ei is followed the letter n, these letter combinations generate a change in pronunciation. They take on a nasal sound. The ain or ein combinations sound like the word cat while you pinch your nostrils. Other letter combinations can also sound like ain/aim or ein, namely in, im, ym, yn.

    pain sain* plein peinture éteindre

    * The adjective sain, meaning healty, takes an e when it descibres a feminine singular noun. When the letter combinations ain, aim, or ein are followed by the letter e, their pronunciation is similar to the non-nasal letter combination sounds in français and seize.

    (b) The vowel combinations au and eau make an [o] sound, much like that of the letter o with an accent circomflexe, ô. The sound is similar to the words boat or goat without the glide.

    hôtel peau beaucoup chaud faux

    Try to pronounce the following words: de l’eau, bureau, ;le taux, tableau, un gâteau, mauvais, restaurant, automatique

    (c) Now, we will take a look at the vowel combiantions eu and œu. These vowel combinations have two sounds, a closed vowel sound and an open vowel sound.

    When they are at the end of a word, or before a silent silent consonant, they have a closed vowel sound. They are pronounced like je or le.

    peu bleu nœud vieux peut


    In words with two or more syllables, if the first syllable ends with these vowel combinations, then they maintain the closed eu sound, like in pleuvoir or pleurer.

    When these vowel combiantions (eu and œu) are followed by a consonant, then they have an open vowelsound, much like in the word her in English.

    peur sœur cœur voleur fleur


    The word œuf is a special case. When it is singular and we pronounce the last letter f, then it is pronounced like peur, but when it is plural and the f is not pronounced, then it sounds like peu.

    Try pronouncing the following words: beurre, couleur, feu, lieu, heure, neuf, lieu, vieux, jeune.

    Please note that the past participle of the verb “avoir”, eu, is an exception and sounds like u. Please also note that the letter combinations euil, euille, or œil are pronounced very differently. They sound like the combination of oo in good and the letter y (ooy). Here are a few examples: feuille, seuil, veuille.

    (d) The letter combination ou sounds a lot like soup or tool in English. It is hard for English speakers to distinguish between the sounds u and ou in French. So it is recommended to practice a set of words that contain u and others that contain ou so that you can familiarize yourself with the difference in sound.

    Rue Bu Vue Menu Couru


    roue boulevard vouloir mouton coupe


    When ou is followed by another vowel, it is pronounced like w, like in oui and ouest.

    Practice pronouncing these: toujours, ouvert, couronne, couleur, soupe, partout, bonjour, amour, four, tout, du coup

    (e) Have you ever noticed how the oi is pronounced in the common expression au revoir? Try pronouncing it or hearing it being pronounced and you will notice that it almost sounds like wa in English, like in the word water. So this combination of vowels should be fairly easy, since you already know how to pronounce au revoir.

    moi couloir croire boire toit


    When a word ends in oin, the wa sound is combined with a nasal n. So pronounce wan while pinching your nostrils.

    On pratique !


    Practice pronouncing the following: moins, coin, trois, je vois, la soie, la voie, les noix, la croix, la ville de Blois, les bois, noir, le comptoir.

    This page titled 11.12: Structure - Combinaisons de voyelles is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by William J. Carrasco, Shahrzad Zahedi, & Caren Barnezet Parrish.

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