1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email

Silent Letters in French - Lettres muettes

One of the difficulties with French pronunciation is that it is not a phonetic language. A phonetic language (e.g., Spanish, Arabic) is one in which each letter has a single corresponding sound; in other words, spelling matches pronunciation. Other languages, like French and English, are not phonetic: they have letters that can be pronounced in different ways or sometimes not at all. 

There are three categories of silent letters in French.
  • E muet / Elision
  • H muet and aspiré
  • Final consonants

Related Lessons
Silent letters

E muet (elision)
H (muet + aspiré)

This lesson will focus on final consonants; follow the links to the right for detailed explanations of the silent letters E and H. 

The basic rule of French pronunciation is that the final consonant is not pronounced, but there are many exceptions, which are what this lesson is about.*

  
The letters B, C, F, K, L, Q, and R are usually pronounced at the end of a word. Tip: Since B, K, and Q are rare as final consonants, some people find it helpful to use the word CaReFuL to remember the most common of the usually pronounced final consonants.
  
* This lesson is just a guideline - I can't possibly discuss every exception to these rules.

Note: silent final consonants may be subject to liaison when followed by a vowel. 

Usually pronounced Some exceptions*
B le Maghreb
un snob
un club
le plomb
  
C un truc
un flic
avec
un estomac, un tabac, le porc
nasal vowel + c: un banc, blanc
  
F actif
un chef
un oeuf
un nerf, une clef, oeufs
  
K un anorak
un look
le bifteck
  
L il
avril
un hôtel
un bol
gentil, outil  
vowel + -il: à l'appareil, un oeil  
  
Q le coq
cinq

Related Lessons
Pronunciation

Liaisons
Consonants
Nasal vowels

  
R un four
hiver
abrutir
{ boulanger, boucher

-er

-er infinitives: abonnercauser
  -ier suffix: premier, cahier
  
The other French consonants are usually silent at the end of a word, with some exceptions. Tip: many exceptions are proper names or words borrowed from other languages.
  
Usually silent Some exceptions*
D froid
chaud
d'accord
sud
Proper names: David, Alfred
  
G le sang
long
le grog
  
M The letters M and N are usually silent, but remember that they cause the vowel preceding them to be nasal.
un
balcon
parfum
Latin words: amen, forum
  
P un drap
beaucoup
un champ
un slip, un cap

Note

The words plus and tout have their own pronunciation rules.

Plus
Tout / Tous

  
S exprès
trois
vous
bas
un fils, un autobus, le tennis
  
T et
abricot
salut
vingt
brut, ouest, huit
-ct ending: direct, strict
-pt ending: concept, sept
  
X deux
un prix
un époux
six, index, Aix  
  
Z chez
le riz
le gaz  

  

You are here: Learn French --> French Lessons and Features --> Pronunciation --> Silent Letters

  

The free, twice-weekly About French newsletter keeps you informed about changes to this site, including new lessons, articles, and forum discussions. Subscribe today!

Subscribe to the Newsletter
Name
Email

 

You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Related Video
French Dialogues: Directions
French Dialogues: Eating Out

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.