French (français) is a Romance language originating in France but spoken in many other parts of the Europe including Luxembourg, Southern Belgium (Wallonia and Brussels) and Western Switzerland. There are also small French speaking regions in northwestern alpine Italy. In North America, French is spoken primarily in Quebec and New Brunswick, but is present in almost every other province in Canada. It is also found in parts of the US state of Louisiana and Maine. The majority of Quebec is francophone and the only bilingual province in Canada is New Brunswick. Although Canada is a bilingual nation, French is spoken by a minority of citizens in all the other provinces and territories. Other countries speaking French include former French colonies in North Africa and West Africa; in Haiti, Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean; in French Guiana in South America; in Tahiti and numerous other islands in the Indian Ocean and in Oceania. It has long been the language of international diplomacy and communication, and although largely supplanted by English since World War II, it remains de rigueur (of obligatory requirement) for educated people in many societies around the world to have some level of basic French ability. It is also an official language of the UN and the EU.
There are many differences between French spoken in Québec and that spoken in France. The two main differences are that Québec has retained many 18th & 19th century French words, while French spoken in France has incorporated many English words. Furthermore, aside from Europe & Québec, many French-speaking regions have incorporated many local words or formed a distinctive dialect/language known as creole.
Like that of English, unlike almost all the other Romance languages, French spelling is not very 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 even 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. But if the next word begins with a vowel, the consonant may be pronounced; this is called liaison. A final 'e' is also usually silent if the word has more than one syllable.
Stress is fairly even in French, but the stress almost always falls on the last syllable.
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, which generally have no noticeable impact on pronunciation, but they often distinguish between homophones in writing (ou, meaning or, and où, meaning where, are pronounced the same). The only really important one is é, which is always pronounced "ay", and changes the meaning of the word.
a, à, â
like "a" in "father"
in most cases a central neutral vowel ("schwa") like "a" in "about", sometimes not pronounced at all, sometimes like "é" or "è"
é, è, ê, ai, -er, -es, -ez
è is towards "e" in "set" or "ay" in "day", and é is more nasal, like the a in "cake" in English, except without the "y" sound at the end. They are not equivalent and they make very distinct sounds.
like "ee" in "see" but shorter and tenser
o, ô, au, eau
generally like "oa" in "boat" or "aw" in "law", can be considered equivalent
like a very tight, frontal "oo" sound (purse your lips as if to say "oo" as in "soon" but try to say "ee") - uu in transcriptions
like "oo" in "food", but a pure vowel
like "ee" in "see" ; also sometimes used as a consonant, pronounced the same as in English (in 'yes' for example).
between "ew" in "dew" and "ur" in "burp"; written eu in transcriptions
like "wa" in "walk"
like "wee" in "week"
like "wee" in "week", but with a French u instead of the w
a bit like "eu" but more "open". The distinction between œ and "eu" is very subtle and often irrelevant.
Note: Most final consonants are silent except for c, q, f, l, and r (except in the combination "-er", normally found in verb infinitives). Note that the plural ending "-ent" for verbs is never pronounced, though it is pronounced in other words.
like "b" in "bed"
like "k" in "kill" (before "a", "o", and "u" or before a consonent), like "s" in "sun" (before "e", "i", and "y")
like "s" in "sun" (this letter can only be written before "a" ,"o", or "u")
like "d" in "death" (but a bit heavier than in English, and pronounced on the tongue)
like "f" in "fun"
like "g" in "go" (before "a", "o", and "u" or before a consonent), like "g" in "sabotage" (before "e", "i" and "y").
like "g" in "goose" (before "e", "i", "y")
like "ny" in "canyon". This is particularly difficult when followed by oi, as in baignoire (beh-NYWAR) "bathtub".
usually silent, but may sometimes prevent a liaison with the former word
like "g" in "sabotage"
like "k" in "kill" (not native to French)
like "l" in "like"; some exceptions for "ll" in the combination "ille" (pronounced ee-yuh)
like "m" in "me"
like "n" in "nurse" (but see Nasals below)
like "p" in "push" (unaspirated like the t)
most of the time like "k" in "kill" (not like "qu" in "quick"); in some words like "qu" in "quick" (generally before an "a") or the same but with a French u (generally before an "i")
guttural; kind of like coughing up a hairball (similar to a German "ch")
like "s" in "sun"; like "z" in "zero" (between two vowels)
like "sh" in "bush"; sometimes like "k" in "kill" (in words of Greek origin mostly)
like "t" in "take" (unaspirated, it should sound dry and on the tongue, like that of a Spanish speaker)
like "v" in "value"
only in foreign words, mostly like "w" in "wise" and sometimes like "v" in "value" (in particular, "wagon" is "vagon" and "WC" is "VC"!)
either ks (like "x" in "exit") or gz
like "z" in "zero"
like "f" in "fun"
an, en, em
nasal a (not always pronounced as a nasal, especially if the n or m is doubled: emmental is pronounced as a normal "emm" sound)
nasal o - distinguishing between this and "an" is tricky, it's a deeper, more closed sound
nasal eu (sometimes pronounced the same as 'in')
nasal "wè" (thus, coin is a nasalised "cwè")
like "i" in "fight"
either literally, or like "y" in "three years", with some exceptions (ville is veel, fille is fiy)
When there is an accent mark on "e", it prevents diphthongs. 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 diphthongs on "e", "u" and "i". Example: maïs (Indian corn or 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 on the 2nd vowel : 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).
Note you should not pronounce the "G" where "NG" is used in the prononciation hint.
How are you?
Comment allez-vous ? (koh-mahn t-AH-lay voo) formal; Comment vas-tu? (koh-mah(n) va tew) informal; Comment ça va ? (koh-mahn sah vah) informal
Fine, thank you.
Bien, merci. (bee-uhn, MEHR-see)
What is your name?
Comment vous appelez vous ? (koh-mahn vooz AP-lay VOO?); lit. "How do you call yourself?"
soixante-dix (swah-sahngt-DEE) or septante (set-AHNGT) in Belgium and Switzerland
quatre-vingt (katr-VANG); huitante (wheat-AHNT) in Belgium and Switzerland (except Geneva); octante (oct-AHNT) in Switzerland
quatre-vingt-dix (katr-vang-DEE); nonante (noh-NAHNGT) in Belgium and Switzerland
deux cent (deu sahng)
trois cent (twa sahn)
deux mille (deu meel)
un million (ung mee-LYOHNG) (treated as a noun when alone: one million euros would be un million d'euros.
number _____ (train, bus, etc.)
numéro _____ (nuu-may-ROH)
demi (deh-MEE), moitié (mwah-tee-AY)
plus tard (ploo TAHR)
le matin (luh mat-TAN)
in the morning
au matin ("oh mat-AHN"); dans la matinée (dahn lah mah-TEEN-ay)
in the afternoon
à l'après-midi (ah lah-PREH-mee-dee)
le soir (luh SWAHR)
in the evening
dans la soirée (dahng la SWAH-ray); au soir (oh swahr)
la nuit (lah nwee)
in the night
à la nuit (ah lah nwee)
(Note on time: the French use the 24 hour clock, with midnight being 0h00 (note that, except on digital clocks, the in France an 'h' is used as a seperator between hours and minutes as opposed to a colon in many other countries). However, the 12-hour clock is making some inroads and saying 1-11 in the afternoon or evening will be understood.
From 1-30 past the hour / ___ plus ___
[hour] + plus (ploo') + [number]
Example: 10h20 dix heure plus vignt (deez air ploo VAGN)
For 1-29 until the hour / __ 'til ___
[next hour] + moins (mwan)
quart/le quart (KAHR/luh KAHR)
7h15 = sept heures et quart (set air eh luh KAHR)
16h45 = dix sept heures moins le quart (deez SET air mwan luh KAHR)
half-past : demie (duh-mee); demi (after midnight or noon, duh-mee)
10h30 = dix heure et demie (deez air eh deh-mee)
one o'clock AM, 1h00
une heure du matin (ewn er dew ma-TAN)
two o'clock AM, 2h00
deux heures du matin (duz er dew ma-TAN)
one o'clock PM, 13h00
treize heure (trays air)
une heure de l'après-midi (ewn er duh la-pre-mee-DEE)
two o'clock PM, 14h00
quatorze heure (kaht-orz air)
deux heures de l'après-midi (duz er duh la-pre-mee-DEE)
six o'clock PM, 18h00
dix-huit heure (deez-wheat air)
six heures du soir (sees er dew SWAR)
half past seven, 19h30
sept heures et demi
dix-neuf heures trente
_____ minute(s) (mee-NOOT)
_____ heure(s) (air)
_____ jour(s) (zhoor)
_____ semaine(s) (SUH-men)
_____ mois (mwa)
_____ an(s) (ahng), année(s) (ah-NAY)
cette semaine (set SUH-men)
la semaine dernière (lah SUH-men dehr-NYEHR)
la semaine prochaine (lah SUH-men proh-SHEN)
Note: French calendars normally start on Monday.
Note: Like other romance languages, nouns in french are either "masculine" or "feminine" and adjectives vary accordingly.
brun/brune (bruh/bruhn); marron (MAH-rohn)
Bus and Train
How much is a ticket to _____?
Combien coûte le billet pour _____? (kom-BYAN koot luh bee-YEH poor)
One ticket to _____, please.
Un billet pour _____, s'il vous plaît. (ung bee-YEH poor ____ see voo pleh)
Where does this train/bus go?
Où va ce train/bus? (oo va suh trahn/boos?)
Where is the train/bus to _____?
Où est le train/bus pour _____ ? (oo eh luh trahn/boos poor ____)
Does this train/bus stop in _____?
Ce train/bus s'arrête-t-il à _____? (suh trahn/boos sah-ret-TEEL ah _____)
When does the train/bus for _____ leave?
Quand part le train/bus pour _____? (kahn par luh trahn/boos poor _____)
When will this train/bus arrive in _____?
Quand ce train/bus arrivera à _____? (kahn suh trahn/boos AH-reev-ehr-AH ah _____)
la/cette navette (lah/set nah-VET) (also means a tatting shuttle)