The French alphabet is made up of twenty-six (26) letters, six of which are vowels, with the remaining twenty (20) letters being consonants. Below is the French alphabet with pronunciations.
The highlighted letters are vowels.
a b c d e f g h I j k
l m n o p q r s t u v w
x y z
The first letter of the French alphabet (a) has two offsprings, so to speak: à and â. The first one (à) is called << a accent grave >> and the second one (â) is called << a accent circonflexe >>.
The fifth letter of the French alphabet (e) has three offsprings, so to speak: é, è, and ê. The first one, with a sort of forward slash orientation (é), is called << e accent aigu >>. Click on it for pronunciation. The second, with a sort of backward slash orientation (è), is called << e accent grave >>. Click on it for pronunciation. The third and last one (ê) is called << e accent circonflexe >>. Click on it for pronunciation. The sign on top of the last “offspring” is called “accent circonflexe”. The “accent circonflexe” indicates that the vowel should be dragged a little, as you may have noticed.
The fifteenth letter of the French alphabet (o) has one offspring, so to speak: ô. Click on it for pronunciation.
The twenty-first letter of the French alphabet (u) also has two offsprings, so to speak: ù and û.
French pronunciation is very easy once you know your alphabet well. Words are pronounced as they appear. For example, p + a = pa; and d + a = da;
You can click on each of the syllables to hear pronunciation.
Note: In French pronunciation the accent or stress falls on the last pronounced syllable of a word. However, in French the stress is not as strong as it is in English, and many even assume that it does not exist at all. So the following words for instance should be pronounced based on your knowledge of the alphabet:
The syllables in bold are the ones that are stressed. You can click on the words for pronunciations.
Now in the word “salade” (salad) for instance the accent falls on the second and last pronounced syllable of the word, as the last letter “e” is considered silent. Click on “salade” for pronunciation.
On the contrary, in the word “Pape” (Pope) the stress is on the first syllable as the second syllable “pe” is also considered silent. It is so because when “e” is the last letter of a word it is considered silent, as in the words “salade” and “Pape”. If the final “e” has an accent (é) the stress will be on the last syllable, as in the word “comité” (committee).
French vowels are generally short, even though they can be occasionally lengthened. Contrary to the English language, in French the difference between long vowels (those with an accent circonflexe) and short vowels has become less marked. Historically long vowels were due to the suppression of a [z] or [s] in a word, which had to be compensated by the adding of an “accent circonflexe”, so “dragging” the vowel. In contemporary French this phenomenon is hardly perceptible as a long vowel today is not so much the one with an accent circonflexe – but rather the one that is stressed as explained above. We have a clear example of this in the following words which are pronounced the same way: patte (animal leg) and pâte (dough).