French Vowel Sounds (Basic)

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From: A Handbook of Diction for Singers (Italian, German, and French)- By David Adams

"a" and "à" when it is not nasalized and is the only vowel-letter in the syllable makes the sound [a] as in...

apparat (or) à

"oi" makes the sound [wah] as in...


e in medial -emm and -enn makes the sound [a] as in...

femme (first e)

â in all common words makes the sound-


a followed by silent s (except in verb forms) makes the sound-


a when immediately followed by the sound [s] makes the sound-

Ex: passer [pαse]

a when followed by the sound [z] makes the sound-

Ex: extase [εkstα:z(∂)]
gazon [gαzõ]

There are several isolated words that have dark a [α].

Ex: diable [djα:bl(∂)]
fable [fα:bl(∂)]
damner [dαne]
trois [trwα]

è ALWAYS makes the sound-

Ex: mère [mε:r(∂)]

ê ALWAYS makes the sound-

Ex: tête [tεt(∂)]

ë makes the sound-

Ex: Noël [n⊃εl]

é only when followed by a mute e in the next syllable makes the sound-

Ex: medecin [mεd(∂)s(E~)]

Medial e when followed by a consonant in the same syllable or a consonant cluster beginning with s makes the sound-

Ex: perdu [pεrdy]
bestiaire [bεstjε:r(∂)]

e when followed by a double consonant makes the sound-

Ex: elle [εl(∂)]

e when followed by a final consonant makes the sound-

Ex: mer [mε:r]

e followed by a final silent t makes the sound-

Ex: secret [s∂crε]
est [ε]
(exception: et [e])

e makes the sound [ε] in the folloing words:

les [lε]
des [dε]
ces [cε]
mes [mε]
ses [sε]
tes [tε]

Except when nasalized, ei makes the sound-

Including e before -il and -ill

And rarely ey

Ex: pleine [plεn(∂)]

Ex: soleil [s⊃lε:j]

Ex: pleyon [plεjõ]

Except when nasalized, ai makes the sound-

Including various spellings of aie(s)

and verb endings -ais, -ait, -aient

Ex: mais [mε]

Ex: haie [ε]

Ex: parlais [parlε]

Medial ay in the sound-
...except when voclic harmonization is applied

Ex: payer [pεje] or [peje]

Final -aye(s) results in the sound

Ex: payes [pε]

* e followed by n or m (including initial emm and enn) in the same syllable results in-

-the nasal sound [ã]
Ex: ammener [ãm∂ne]

* Medial emm and enn often have the sound-

Ex: femme [fam(∂)]

* initial dess, desc, ef, and ess make the sound-

Ex: dessert [desε:r]

(Exceptions: dessous [d∂su]
dessus [d∂sy]

* initial ress usually has the sound-

Ex: ressembler [r∂sãble]

é results in the sound-
(except when the next syllable has a (∂)

Ex: étoile [etwal(∂)]

e (when not nasalized) before final silent consonants, except s and t, makes the sound-

Including verb endings -er and -ez

And polysyllabic nouns/adjectives ending in -er

Ex: pied [pje]

Ex: parler [parle]

Ex: février [fevrje]

e in initial dess- and desc- makes the sound-

Ex: dessécher [dese∫e]

e in initial eff- and ess- makes the sound-

Ex: effet [efε]

ai when final in verb forms makes the sound-

Ex: serai [s∂re]

* When the syllable following ai has a closed vowel, it may be pronounced-

Ex: plaisir [plezi:r]

ay in pays and derivatives makes the sound

Ex: pays [pei]
paysan [peizã]

o when followed by a sounded consonant or h in the same word (except [z])

Ex: dormir [d⊃rmi:r]

o when followed by [z]

Ex: rose [ro:z(∂)]

o when dollowed by -tion

Ex: motion [mosjõ]

o followed by another vowel-letter sounding as a separate vowel sound in the same word

Ex: poète [p⊃εt(∂)]

au only when followed by r
*and in these isolated words:

Ex: Fauré [f⊃re]
Ex: mauvais [m⊃vε]
Paul [p⊃l]

In some words(rare), the spelling -um is pronounced

Ex: album [alb⊃m]
référendum [refer(ε~)d⊃m]

o when final in a word

Ex: écho [eko]

o followed by a final silent consonant

Ex: mot [mo]


Ex: hôtel [otεl]

au usually (except before r)

Ex: automne [ot⊃n(∂)]


Ex: l'eau [lo]

i, î, ï when it is the only vowel letter in the syllable and is not nasalized

Ex: ici [isi]

y or (y**) is the only vowel letter in the syllable and is not nazalized

lys [lis]

in spoke French, final -ie is

[i] though some musical settings have [i∂]
Ex: vie [vi] or [vi∂]

Verb infinitives ending in -ire

Ex: oublier [ublie]

or [je]
Ex: dédier [dedje]

Verbs with medial -ie

Just have [i]
Ex: dédiera

When -ie is followed by another letter in the syllable it will be

[ije] or [jε]
Ex: hier [jε:r]
miel [mjεl]

ou and variations où, oû, aou, aoû

Ex: retour [r∂tu:r]

when ou is folloew by another vowel in the syllable, it usually acts as

the glide [w]
Ex: ouest [wεst]

Musical settings of polysyllablic words with ou plus vowel usually turn the glide into a vowel

Ex: rouet [rwε] = [ruε]

when the combination of oue is followed by a pronounced consonant plus vowel it is ALWAYS

just [u] in speach and singing
Ex: rouerie [ruri]

ou folle by ill results in

Ex: mouiller [muje]

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