Like English and unlike most other Romance languages, it is not phonetic. The same letter used in two different words can make two different sounds, and many letters are not pronounced at all. In general, it's not impossible to sound out words, but suffice it to say that many experienced non-native French speakers -- and some native speakers -- mispronounce words often.
One thing to note is that final consonants of a word are usually dropped: allez (go) is pronounced ahl-AY, not ahl-AYZ; tard (late) is pronounce tar, not tard. Also a final "e" is usually silent. But if the next word begins with a vowel, the consonant may be pronounced; this is called liaison.
Stress is usually on the last syllable of a phrase, but sometimes when a word is emphasized, the stress moves to the middle of the word.
For many French words, it is impossible to write something which, when pronounced as English, sounds like the French word. Use the transliteration as a guide to liaison and the French spelling to pronounce the vowels.
Vowels in French can have accent marks; except for "e", this doesn't usually change the sound.
like "a" in "father"
like "uh" in "duh"
like "ay" in "say"
like "e" in "set"
like "e" in "set"
like "ee" in "feed"
like "o" in "home", but rounder
more or less like "oo" in "food", but the tongue is like "ee" in "feed"; written uu in transcriptions
like "ee" in "feed"
like "b" in "bed"
like "k" in "kill" (before "a", "o", and "u"), like "s" in "sun" (before "e" and "i")
like "s" in "sun"
like "d" in "death"
like "f" in "fun"
like "g" in "go" (before "a", "o", and "u"), like "g" in "sabotage" (before "e" and "i" and at the end of words).
like "g" in "sabotage"
like "k" in "kill"
like "l" in "like"
like "m" in "me"
like "n" in "nurse" (but see Diphthongs below)
like "p" in "push"
like "k" in "kill" (not like "qu" in "quick")
gutteral; kind of like coughing up a hairball
like "s" in "sun"; like "z" in "zero" (between two vowels)
like "t" in "take"
like "v" in "value"
like "x" in "exit"
like "z" in "zero"
like "i" in "fight", like "ay" in "hay" (at the end of a word)
like "i" in "fight"
like "ea" in "bread" (at the end of a word)
like "ow" in "blow"
nasal; kind of like "ahng", but without the hard "g" at the end
between "ew" in "dew" and "ur" in "burp"; written eu in transcriptions
more or less like "eu", slighlty more "open"
er (end of a word)
like "ay" in "hay"
like "ay" in "hay"
nasal; same as "an"
nasal; like "ang" in "Tang", but without the hard "g" at the end
like "wa" in "walk"
nasal; like "wang", but without the hard "g" at the end
like "oo" in "food"
nasal; like "ong" in "long", but without the hard "g" at the end
like "wee" in "week"
like "wee" in "week", but with the tongue forward
nasal; like "ung" in "hung", but without the hard "g" at the end
like "sh" in "bush"
like "ny" in "canyon". This is particularly difficult (even for little French kids) when followed by oi, as in baignoire (beh-NYWAR) "bathtub".
like "y" in "three years", with some exceptions (ville is veel)
like "f" in "fun"
like "ch" in "chew" (but kind of rare)
like "t" in "tin"
"t" followed by a short gargle
When there is an accent mark on "e", it prevents diphtongs. Letters should be pronounced separately, following the rule for the accented letter. Example: énergumène, (rowdy character), réunion (meeting).
A diaeresis (") may also be used to prevent diphtongs on "e", "u" and "i". Example: maïs (maize).
In the combinations "gue" and "gui", the "u" should not be pronounced, it is there only to force the prononciation of "g" as in "go". If the "u" is pronounced, a diaeresis is added: aiguë (sharp).
In the combination "geo", the "e" should not be pronounced, it is only there to force the prononciation of "g" as in "sabotage" (in the case the "e" should be pronounced, it is indicated with an accent mark as in géologie).
In French, there are several levels of politeness. But to keep things simple this phrasebook is limited to two levels -- formal and informal -- with complex rules about age and social rank that determine which level you use. In France and most of the rest of the world, formal speech is the default; in Canada, it's informal that's used more often. This phrasebook gives everything in the formal level of politeness, on the principle that your friends or peers will just laugh if you address them too formally (vouvoyer), but strangers and "superiors" will find it offensive if you address them too intimately (tutoyer). Except a few phrases, such as "Buzz off", when you want to be offensive.
Note you should try not to pronounce the "G" where "NG" is used in the prononciation hint.
J'ai besoin d'un médecin. (ZHAY bez-WANG dun MAYD-sang)
Can I use your phone?
Je voudrais utiliser votre téléphone. (ZHUH voo-DRAY yoo-TILL-ee-ZAY votr tay-LAY-fong)
six (seece or see)
dix (deece or dee)
soixante-dix (SWA-songt-DEE) or septante (SET-ongt) in Belgium and Switzerland
quatre-vingt (katrhu-VANG) or huitante (WEE-tongt) in Belgium and Switzerland (except Geneva)
quatre-vingt-dix (katrhu-vang-DEE) or nonante (NONG-nongt) in Belgium and Switzerland
deux cent (duh song)
trois cent (trwa song)
deux mille (duh mil)
un million (...)
number _____ (train, bus, etc.)
numéro _____ (new-MER-oh)
demi (deh-MEE), moitié (mwah-tee-ay)
plus tard (ploo TAHR)
le matin (luh mat-TANG)
in the morning
dans la matinée (dahn lah mah-TEEN-ay)
le soir (luh SWAH)
in the evening
dans la soirée (dahng la SWAH-ray)
la nuit (lah nwee)
one o'clock AM
une heure du matin (ewn er dew ma-TANG)
two o'clock AM
deux heures du matin (duz er dew ma-TANG)
one o'clock PM
une heure de l'après-midi (ewn er duh la-pre-mee-DEE)
two o'clock PM
deux heures de l'après-midi (duz er duh la-pre-mee-DEE)
six o'clock PM
six heures du soir (sees er dew SWAR)
quarter to seven, 18:45
sept heures moins le quart, dix-huit heures quarante-cinq
quarter past seven, 19:15
sept heures et quart, dix-neuf heures quinze
half past seven, 19:30
sept heures et demi, dix-neuf heures trente
_____ minute(s) (mee-NUUT)
_____ heure(s) (eur)
_____ jour(s) (zhoor)
_____ semaine(s) (smen)
_____ mois (mwa)
_____ année(s) (ah-NAY)
cette semaine (set SMEN)
la semaine dernière (lah SMEN dehr-NYEHR)
la semaine prochaine (lah SMEN proh-SHEN)
Writing Time and Date
As in most of the world outside America, dates are written with the month in the middle. So if you see 04-12-2003, you know that's le quatre décembre, not April 12. A date (18-12-1963) fully spelled out is le dix-huit décembre dix-neuf cent soixante-trois (you can either use dix-neuf cent or mille neuf cent and so on for years from 1100 to 1999). The ordinal is used only with the first (premier) of the month.
Times are written with the letter 'h' after the hours: 18h30. If there is no indication of matin or soir, it's in the 24-hour clock.
Bus and Train
How much is a ticket to _____?
Combien coûte le billet pour aller à _____? (kom-BYAN koot luh bee-LAY poor a-LAY a)
One ticket to _____, please.
Un billet pour _____, je vous prie. (ung bee-LAY poor ____ zhe voo PREE)
Where does this train/bus go?
Où va ce train/bus ? (oo va suh trang/buus?)
Where is the train/bus to _____?
Où est le train/bus pour _____? (oo eh luh trang/buus poor ____)
Does this train/bus stop in _____?
Ce train/bus s'arrête-t-il à _____? (suh trang/buus sah-ret-TEEL ah _____)
When does the train/bus for _____ leave?
Quand le train/bus pour _____ part-il ? (kahng luh trang/buus poor _____ par-TEEL)
When will this train/bus arrive in _____?
Quand ce train/bus arrivera-t-il à _____? (kahng suh trang/buus ah-reev-rah-TEEL ah _____)
la/cette navette (lah/set nah-VET) (also means a tatting shuttle)
Where is the _____ ?
Ou se trouve _____ ? (oo stroov _____)
...the train station?
...la gare ? (lah gahr?)
...the bus station?
...la gare routière ? (lah gahr roo-TYEHR?)
... l'aéroport ? (lah-ay-roh-POR)
...en ville ? (ahng VEEL)
... la banlieue ? (lah bahng-LYEU?)
...the youth hostel?
...l'auberge de jeunesse ? (law-BEHRZH duh zhuh-NESS)