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Liaisons - French Pronunciation

Part of the reason that French pronunciation and aural comprehension are so difficult is due to liaisons. A liaison is the phenomenon whereby a normally silent consonant at the end of a word is pronounced at the beginning of the word that follows it.

Compare...
vous [vu] vous avez [vu za vay]
Pronunciation key*
a
e
ee
u
(n)
   father
bed
meet
fool
nasal n
ont [o(n)] ont-ils [o(n) teel]
un [uh(n)] un homme [uh(n) nuhm]
les [lay] les amis [lay za mee]

Letter Sound
D [t]
F [v]
G [g]
N [n]
P [p]
R [r]
S [z]
T [t]
X [z]
Z [z]

In addition, consonants in liaisons sometimes change pronunciation. For example, an S is pronounced like a Z when it is in a liaison (see chart).

The basic requirement of a liaison is a word that ends in a normally silent consonant followed by a word that begins with a vowel or mute H. This does not mean, however, that all possible liaisons are necessarily pronounced. In fact, the pronunciation (or not) of liaisons is subject to very specific rules, and liaisons are thus divided into three categories:

  1. Required liaisons (Liaisons obligatoires)
  2. Forbidden liaisons (Liaisons interdites)
  3. Optional liaisons (Liaisons facultatives)

 Learn more...

 
  Required liaisons
  Forbidden liaisons
  Optional liaisons
 
  Liaison linguistics
 
  Enchaînement
  
  Silent consonants

  French pronunciation
  

If you are a beginner, I recommend studying just the required liaisons and maybe the forbidden liaison sections, as these are the essentials. If you're more advanced, study all three sections. It may be boring, but your pronunciation and ability to communicate at different levels of formality will improve dramatically.

There is a related phenomenon in French called enchaînement (linking). The difference between enchaînement and liaisons is this: liaisons occur when the final consonant is normally silent but is pronounced due to the vowel that follows it (vous vs vous avez), whereas enchaînement occurs when the final consonant is pronounced whether or not a vowel follows it (pour vs pour elle). See the enchaînement page for an in-depth look at this.

Note that enchaînement is simply a phonetic issue, while the pronunciation of liaisons is based on linguistic and stylistic factors. See the liaison linguistics page for a detailed explanation.

*Pronunciation key - This is only a guide to help you get the most out of the sound files - refer to a dictionary for the exact pronunciation.
 

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