Les poules couvent souvent au couvent. The hens often brood at the convent. If you don’t know how to master final silent letters of this sentence, this guide is for you.
French is not a phonetic language, like Spanish or Arabic for example. So, it means that each letter has a single corresponding sound and you don’t need that much work to understand how to read them. In French and English, it is different; you need to learn some rules and even then, you have a bunch of exceptions. In French, we love exceptions, if you learn a rule without any of them, be careful, you are not learning French.
In French, you have to say pretty much all the letters at the beginning or in the middle of a word. So, be careful, we have a lot of combinations, those are groups of letters that form one single sound. That’s the reason why you definitely need to learn them, for example: AU sounds like O. At the end of a word, you don’t always pronounce all the letters and it has always been trouble for my students. That’s why I decided to write a guide that explains the rules in a simple way. Let’s go back to this sentence:
Les poules couvent souvent au couvent.
In red, you can see the final silent letters. Très bizarre? It’s OK, even for French native speakers, the writing system is confusing. Now, we are going to begin with the vowels, it is very easy.
Les voyelles finales
All the final vowels have to be pronounced in French, except E without accent.
You have to say every letter: ami – vélo – papa – bébé
E is a silent letter: poule – danse – il étudie
In one syllable words, you have to say the E, otherwise, you couldn’t even say the word; je, le, me, etc
Les consonnes finales
Now, it’s going to get a little more complicated. The basic rule of French pronunciation is that final consonants are silent letters, except C, F, L et R. Be CaReFuL!
You have to say every letter: car – bec – social
Don’t pronounce the final consonant: gros – chat – loup
Unfortunately, as I have said, French language loves exceptions. You are going to deal with many of them. Together, we can review some.
Here are some patterns you should read:
Short and common words
Please don’t trust them. They are bad folks. The pronunciation of short and common words is more likely to be strange and irregular. On the contrary, savant vocabulary follows the main rules.
Say the final consonant: Ours (bear), but (goal)
Don’t say it: tabac, nerf (nerve)
Monsieur sounds: me sie
Its spelling and pronunciation are completely weird because it is a word that has been used and write everyday for centuries. Nobody likes changes. Modifying this word would have required bravery from the institution of the French language, l’Académie Française. A thing they don’t have.
C after a nasal sound
In almost all the word with a nasal sound (like an, on, etc), a final C is mute.
blanc (white), franc (honnest), jonc (bulrush), banc (bench)…
Qui vole un oeuf vole un boeuf (He that will steal a pin, will steal a pound)
Those two words are very special in French. The pronunciation of the f is different depending on whether the word is singular or plural.
un oeuf, un boeuf : F sounds
des oeufs, des boeufs : F is mute, as the S
The 5 letters words “oeufs” has the same pronunciation as the letter E.
ER sounds like é
If you know some French, you have probably seen this ending, which is the most common ending for French verbs. In this situation, ER sounds like É and the R is mute, even in nouns or adjectives.
Aventurier, boucher (butcher)…
Attention, you have exceptions to the exception. Did I say we love them?
Hier (yesterday), enfer (hell)..
Final letters in words with latin roots are pronounced. Latin words are an amazing way to learn thousands of words in French in no time. Check them.
déficit, granit, exact, contact, correct, abdomen, pollen, concept, biceps
Attention, you have exceptions to the exception.
In French, we respect the pronunciation of words from other languages (at least we try)
French people have a strong accent. Anybody who’s already lived in France knows how hard it is to say or understand words like thriller, border line or Kung-fu Panda. Ok, this one is very easy.
Anyway, even if the pronunciation of a foreign word is going to be frenchified, we always say all the consonant. That’s why this is also true for foreign names.
All the previous rules don’t apply to those words : fjord, jackpot, internet, schnaps, etc
Matthias, Jacob, Jason, etc
ENT ending is mute in a verb
Remember the sentence: Les poules couvent souvent au couvent.
The first ENT is completely mute. With ILS, ELLES (they), the verb’s ending ENT is always mute.
Ils mangent / Ils dansent / Ils pensaient
Now, you should be able to master final silent letters in French. However, please be aware that there are many words with strange and irregular pronunciation. Therefore if you ever have a doubt, you can always check:
– a French dictionary and look at the pronunciation of the word.
– on Forvo. You can listen the pronunciation of thousands of words for free.
– on Rhinospike. You can ask people to read a text or a list of words.
– ask a native speaker
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