French Alphabet

Welcome to your language journey!

  • - 01

    Learn through the article!

  • - 02

    Pass a language test

  • - 03

    Check the results

  • - 04

    Subscribe to reach fluency!

girl point on notes

The French Alphabet is a variant of the Latin alphabet used by the French language. While it shares many similarities with English, there are also distinct differences that make it unique. Let's delve into the components of this beautiful alphabet, which will aid you in learning the language.

French Letters

The French alphabet contains 26 letters, with 6 vowels and 20 consonants. The letters in French are as follows:  
 French alphabet

LetterPhonetic TranscriptionName of the letter
A/a/ah
B/be/beh
C/se/seh
D/de/deh
E/ə/uh
F/ɛf/ef
G/ʒe/zheh
H/aʃ/ash
I/i/ee
J/ʒi/zhee
K/ka/kah
L/ɛl/el
M/ɛm/em
N/ɛn/en
O/o/oh
P/pe/peh
Q/ky/koo
R/ɛʁ/err
S/ɛs/ess
T/te/teh
U/y/oo
V/ve/veh
W/dubləve/doo-bluh-veh
X/iks/eeks
Y/iɡrɛk/ee-grek
Z/zɛd/zed

The French and English alphabets have the same letter order, but the pronunciation of French letters can vary significantly between the two languages.

Relationships Between Characters and Sounds

In French, the correspondence between written and spoken forms is not always straightforward. Certain letters or combinations of French letters can represent different sounds depending on their position in the word or the letters around them. Furthermore, this language has many silent letters, typically at the ends of words, which can make French alphabet pronunciation less predictable for learners.

French Alphabet Pronunciation Guide

Learning the French alphabet, you will find that most of the letters have unique pronunciations. However, many of them have very different sounds in the words depending on various factors. Here we will provide some of the trickiest examples with rules.

The Letter "C" in French

The letter 'C' in French is a versatile character with different pronunciation rules based on its position and the letters surrounding it. It can be hard, like a 'k' sound, or soft, like an 's' sound. Here are the basic rules:

  1. When 'C' is followed by 'a,' 'o,' 'u,' or any consonant, it's pronounced like the 'k' in "koala." For example: "café" (coffee), "corps" (body), "culture" (culture), "classe" (class).
  2. When 'C' is followed by 'e,' 'i,' or 'y,' it's pronounced like the 's' in "see." For example: "célèbre" (famous), "citron" (lemon), and "cycle" (cycle).

There's an exception to these rules: when 'C' is followed by 'a,' ‘o,' 'u,' and it has an accent mark called cedilla (ç), it's pronounced like 's.' The cedilla is a diacritical mark used in French to change 'C' from a hard to a soft sound. For example: "garçon" (boy), "façade" (facade).

The Letter "G" in French

The letter 'G' in French is another letter with different pronunciation rules depending on its context. It can have a hard sound similar to the 'g' in "get" or a soft sound similar to the 'zh' in "vision." Here are the basic rules:

  1. When 'G' is followed by 'a,' 'o,' 'u,' or any consonant, it's pronounced like the 'g' in "get." For example: "gare" (station), "gorge" (throat), "gustatif" (gustatory), and "grande" (big).
  2. When 'G' is followed by 'e,' 'i,' or 'y,' it's pronounced like the 'zh' as in "vision." For example: "général" (general), "girafe" (giraffe), "gymnastique" (gymnastics).

There is an exception to these rules: when 'G' is followed by 'e' or 'i' and there is another consonant letter between them (for example, 'n'), the 'G' is pronounced like 'g' in "get." For example: "magnifique" (magnificent), "signe" (sign).

The Letter "R" in French

The pronunciation of the letter 'R' in French is known for being a challenging aspect of the French language for many learners. It's pronounced at the back of the throat and is often described as a guttural sound. Here are the basic rules:

  1. At the beginning of words, 'R' is pronounced with a more forceful roll or rasp. For example: "rue" (street), "rat" (rat).
  2. Within or at the end of words, 'R' is often less forcefully pronounced but still retains the guttural quality. For example: "par" (by), "mer" (sea).
  3. When 'R' is followed by a 'T' at the end of a word, it is usually silent, while the 'T' is pronounced. For example: "huit" (eight), "fort" (strong).
  4. If 'R' is followed by another 'R' or preceded by an 'H,' it's also pronounced with a more forceful roll or rasp. For example: "terre" (earth), "horrible" (horrible).

The Letter "S" in French

The pronunciation of 'S' in French depends on its position in a word and the letters around it. Here are the basic rules:

  1. When 'S' is at the beginning of a word or when it's a double 'S' (ss) within a word, it's pronounced like the 's' in "set." For example: "soleil" (sun), "poisson" (fish).
  2. When 'S' is located between two vowels in a word, it's pronounced like the 'z' in "zoo." For example: "poésie" (poetry), "maison" (house).
  3. 'S' at the end of a word is usually silent unless the following word starts with a vowel, in which case it's pronounced like 'z,' linking the two words. This phenomenon is known as liaison. For example: "les amis" (the friends) would be pronounced /lez ami/.

In some plural words, the final 'S' is silent but becomes voiced in liaison. For example, "les chats" (the cats) is pronounced /le shah/, but "les chats orange" (the orange cats) is pronounced/lez shahs orange/.

The Letter "U" in French

The pronunciation of the letter 'U' in French often poses a challenge for language learners due to having a unique sound. Here are the basic rules:

  1. The French' U' is typically pronounced by shaping the lips as if to combine the sound of 'oo' (as in English "boot") and the sound 'ee' (as in "see"). This forms a distinct vowel sound, for example: "tu"/tew/ (you), "lune"/leune/ (moon).
  2. When 'U' is preceded by a 'Q,' it's usually silent. For example: "quelque" /kelk/ (some).
  3. If 'U' is preceded by 'G' and followed by 'I' or 'E,' the 'U' is also silent and serves to harden the 'G' as in English "get." For example: "guerre"/gehrr/ (war), "guider"/gee-dey/ (to guide).

Mastering the pronunciation of the French' U' can be a challenge, but it's not impossible. With careful listening and practice, you can learn to differentiate and pronounce this sound accurately.

The Letter "Y" in French

The letter 'Y' in French is known as /ee grek/ because it originally comes from the Greek alphabet. It can serve as both a vowel and a consonant. Here are the basic pronunciation rules of this letter in French:

  1. When 'Y' is used as a vowel and it's not preceded by another vowel, it is typically pronounced like the 'ee' in "see." For example: "style"/steel`/ (style).
  2. When 'Y' is used as a vowel and is preceded by another vowel, it often acts as a consonant and is pronounced like the 'y' in "yes." For example: "payer"/pay-yay/ (to pay).
  3. When 'Y' is at the end of a word, it is usually pronounced like the 'i' in "ski." For example: "pays"/peh-ee/ (country).

Understanding the rules and nuances of pronouncing the letter 'Y' in French will greatly enhance your pronunciation skills and overall command of the French language.

Phonemes in French

Phoneme is a combination of letters that provide a single sound. For example, a digraph is a pair of letters that represent one sound; a trigraph is a combination of three letters that are pronounced as one sound. The French language has a lot of such constructions, so it's vital to understand them:

  • 'ai': pronounced like 'e' in "bet." For example, "faire"/fe-ehr/ (to do).
  • 'au': pronounced like 'o' in "no." For example, "automobile"/oh-toh-moh-beel/ (auto).
  • 'ei': pronounced like 'e' in "get." For example, "seize"/sehz/ (sixteen).
  • 'eu': pronounced like 'u' in "fur." For example, "heureux"/ur-uh/ (happy).
  • 'ou': pronounced like 'oo' in "food." For example, "rouge"/roozh/ (red).
  • 'oi': pronounced like 'wa' in "water." For example, "moins"/mwan/ (minus).
  • 'ch': pronounced like 'sh' in "she." For example, "chocolat"/shoh-koh-lah/ (chocolate).

You will see these combinations of letters in French words very often. Usually, the letters in them don't sound separate, so it is vital to learn digraphs and understand their relationship with the French alphabet.

Accented Letters and Diacritical Marks

French uses five diacritical marks to change the sound value of the letter to which they are added or to distinguish between homonyms. These are:

Diacritical MarkUsage RulesFrench letter with markEffect on WordExamples
Acute Accent (´)Only over 'e'ÉChanges sound to 'ay' like in English "day.”"é" (is), "été" (summer)
Grave Accent (`)Over 'a,' 'e,' 'u'À, È, ÙOver 'e,' changes sound to 'e' like in English "blend." Over 'a' and 'u,' no change in sound, but changes the meaning of a word."ou" - meaning "or," but "où" - meaning "where";   

"a" - a form of the verb "avoir" meaning "has," but "à" - a preposition meaning "to" or "at"
Circumflex (^)Over any vowel except “Y”Â, Ê, Î, Ô, ÛMinor change in pronunciation; often indicates that an 's' used to follow that vowel in older French; can change the meaning of a word"forêt" (forest), ê is pronounced like [ɑ] rather than [a];  

“Hôpital” (hospital) from latin “hospitalis”;  

“jeune” means “young,” but le jeûne means “fast”
Trema or Diaresis (¨)Over 'e,' 'i,' 'u,' 'y'Ë, Ï, Ü, ŸIndicates that the vowel is to be pronounced separately from the previous vowel. Sometimes indicates the changes in meaning.“maïs” (corn) /mais/, but “mais” (but) is pronounced /me/
Cedilla (Ç)Only below 'c'ÇChanges the 'c' sound to 's'"garçon" /gahr-sohn/ (boy)

Learning to use diacritical marks correctly is crucial in French as they often distinguish between words with different meanings. As always, practicing your reading and writing skills in French will help you get comfortable with these marks. 

14

Learn French with Promova

Embarking on the journey of learning French? Promova is your companion on this path, offering an intuitive and engaging way to dive into French language. As a language-learning platform, Promova caters to every aspect of language acquisition, making the process of learning French not only effective but also enjoyable.

Promova equips you with an array of tools to accommodate different learning styles and make your French learning journey easier. Here's what you can expect:

  • Define the areas of development with interactive quizzes that offer instant feedback. 
  • Memorize new vocabulary and phrases with our flashcards.
  • Improve your French pronunciation with a variety of listening exercises. 
  • Master French grammar with our explanations and practical exercises. 

Promova believes in the individuality of each learner. That's why our platform offers a personalized learning experience tailored to your needs and progress. As you advance, the platform adapts to your level, focusing on areas that need improvement and reinforcing those you have mastered.

Learn French with Promova and become a part of a vibrant community of language learners. Share your journey, engage in language exchanges, seek advice, and gain motivation from others who share your passion for French.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the French alphabet is a rich linguistic system with unique characteristics that make it a fascinating subject of study. Understanding it well will significantly aid your journey in learning the French language. Remember that learning a new language is a marathon, not a sprint. Practice regularly, and soon you will reach fluency in French.

Make your next step to fluency with Promova

phones
Try Promova
Learn English with a handy app full of awesome lessons!
English AlphabetKorean AlphabetSpanish AlphabetArabic AlphabetGerman AlphabetItalian AlphabetUkrainian Alphabet Chinese Alphabet

Comments

JacklineFeb 7th, 2024
It helped me a lot