One sound that often trips up learners is the nasal vowel ɛ̃, which is found in words like “temps” and “enfants”.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different spellings of the French nasal vowel “ɛ̃” and give examples to help you pronounce French nasal vowels correctly.
A Brief Explanation of French Nasal Vowels
French has a unique feature that sets it apart from other languages: nasal vowels. Unlike oral vowels, nasal vowels are pronounced by passing air through the nose and mouth.
In English, nasality occurs when a vowel follows a nasal consonant. For example, some people pronounce “can’t” with a nasalized vowel, under the influence of the following “n” [kæ̃nt].
The Nasalization of English vowels is only possible with nasal consonants, as opposed to nasal vowels in French.
Another difference between nasal sounds in French and nasalized sounds in English is that an English vowel’s nasalization does not alter the meaning of the word, which is the case in French.
Let’s observe two homographs in French, that is spelled the same, but only because they contain a different nasal vowel and get a different meaning.
Here’s a list of French words with their IPA transcriptions and English translations:
- “temps” with a nasal vowel /ɑ̃/ means “time”, as in:
Je n’ai pas le temps. /ʒə nɛ pa lə tɑ̃/
I don’t have the time.
- “temps” with a nasal vowel /ɛ̃/ means “weather”, as in
Le temps est mauvais aujourd’hui. / lə tɑ̃ ɛ mɔvɛz odjurdɥi /
The weather is bad today.
In French, there are a total of four nasal vowels. I made a list of nasal vowels, along with examples and corresponding IPA transcriptions.
- /ɑ̃/ – nasal “a”
- /ɔ̃/ – nasal “o”
- /ɛ̃/ – nasal “i”
- /œ̃/ – nasal “u” (disappearing french sound)
Learn more about French Nasal Vowels.
How to Recognize Nasal Vowel /ɛ̃/?
One way to recognize the nasal vowel ɛ̃ is to listen for the “n” sound at the end of a word. Each nasal vowel is actually followed by either “n” or “m” in the spellings.
For example, in the word “Vin /vɛ̃/,” the “n” sound is pronounced as a nasal vowel.
Another way to recognize the nasal vowel ɛ̃ is to pay attention to the way French speakers articulate their words. They will often make a slight buzzing sound in their nose when pronouncing nasal vowels. This is a subtle but distinct feature of French pronunciation that can help you recognize the sound of the nasal vowel ɛ̃.
On the other way, nasal vowels in French can be recognized in spellings too.
How to Pronounce the Nasal Vowel /ɛ̃/
Here’s how to pronounce the nasal vowel /ɛ̃/:
- Begin with the sound of the vowel “e” as in “pet.”
- While holding the “e” sound, push air through your nose, creating a nasal sound.
- Close your mouth slightly and raise the back of your tongue to create a more closed sound.
Here are some examples of French words that contain the nasal vowel /ɛ̃/, along with their IPA transcription and English translation:
Learn more about how can learning IPA transcription help you learn French.
III. Common Spellings of Nasal Vowel
In French, the spellings “in,” “im,” “ain,” and “aim” can sometimes indicate the nasal vowel /ɛ̃/.
List of Possible Spellings for /ɛ̃/
Here is the list with different spellings, followed by the IPA transcriptions and English translations.
For the spelling “in”:
For the spelling “im”:
For the spelling “ain”:
For the spelling “aim”:
Learn more about French nasal vowel /ɑ̃/.
IV. Homophones that Cause Confusion
Homophones are words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. In French, there are several homophones that can cause confusion, especially when they include the nasal vowel /ɛ̃/.
In the following list, you’ll find words that contain the same nasal vowel /ɛ̃/, but with different meanings and spellings.
French has a lot of homophones, which means words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings. Among these homophones, there are some that contain the nasal vowel ɛ̃, which can make them particularly difficult to distinguish in spoken language.
Here are some examples of French homophones that contain the nasal vowel ɛ̃:
- “Vin” and “fin”: both words sound like /vɛ̃/, however, the meanings are different:
- “Linge” and “longe”: both words sound like /lɛ̃ʒ/
long rein or tether
“Pain” and “pin”: both words sound like /pɛ̃/
“Saint” and “sain”: both words sound like /sɛ̃/
saint or holy
healthy or sound
Final Tips on French Nasal Vowels
To start, it can be helpful to familiarize yourself with the different spellings of the nasal vowel ɛ̃. Once you’ve got that down, it’s all about practicing the correct pronunciation.
Don’t be afraid to practice out loud and really focus on getting the sound just right. Listening to native speakers pronouncing nasal vowels on Youtube can help you get that sound about right.
Remember, it’s totally normal to struggle with this at first, but don’t give up! The more you practice, the easier it will become.
To go deeper into French Pronunciation, learn more about French nasal vowels.