The French language is renowned for its multiple nasal vowels, making it a challenging feat for non-native speakers to perfect.
One sound that often trips up learners is the nasal vowel õ, which is found in words like “bon” and “sont”.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the different spellings of the French nasal vowel “õ” and give examples to help you pronounce the French nasal vowel /õ/ 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 are spelled the same, but their meaning is different, only because they contain a different nasal vowel.
- “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. Here, l made a list of nasal vowels, along with examples and corresponding IPA transcriptions, which is a phonetic transcription system that helps you pronounce French words.
- /ɑ̃/ – nasal “a”
- /ɔ̃/ – nasal “o”
- /ɛ̃/ – nasal “i”
- /œ̃/ – nasal “u” (disappearing French sound)
Learn more about French Nasal Vowels.
Today, we’ll focus more on the nasal vowel /õ/.
Oral Vowel [ɔ] vs Nasal Vowel /õ/
The French language has the oral vowel [ɔ] that is called the open o sound, and it’s similar to the short sound as in the English word “son.”
Let’s see an example of the oral vowel [ɔ]:
homme – /ɔm/
pomme – /pɔm/
The vowel [ɔ] also has its nasal variant that’s represented /õ/.
How to Recognize Nasal Vowel /õ/ ?
One way to recognize the nasal vowel õ is to listen for the “n” sound after the vowel o. Each nasal vowel is actually followed by either “n” or “m” in the spellings.
The nasal vowel “õ” in French is pronounced like the “on” in “bon”. Note that the symbol “ɔ̃” represents the nasal vowel /ɔ/ in French.
To recognize it, listen for a buzzing sound coming from your nose while you say the vowel.
Examples of words with this sound include:
Try practicing these words and paying attention to the buzzing sensation in your nose.
How to Pronounce French Nasal Vowel /õ/?
Here’s a step-by-step guide to pronouncing the nasal vowel /õ/ in French for English speakers:
- Start by pronouncing the vowel sound “o” in English, as in the word “go”.
- Now, try to make the sound while keeping your mouth open and relaxed.
- While maintaining the “o” sound, lower your jaw slightly and bring your lips forward.
- You should now be making a sound that’s somewhere between “o” and “aw”.
- Finally, add nasality to the sound by allowing air to flow through your nose while you make the sound.
It may take some practice to get the pronunciation just right, but with time and patience, you should be able to produce a clear and distinct nasal vowel /õ/ in French.
Here are some examples of French words containing the nasal vowel /ɔ̃/, followed by their IPA transcription and English translation:
a long time
un pont /œ̃ pɔ̃/
III. Common Spellings for Nasal Vowel /õ/
In French, the spellings indicate the nasal vowel /õ/. Possible spellings for the nasal vowel /õ/ in French are on and om.
Take a look at these French words that contain the nasal vowel /õ/ followed by the IPA transcriptions.
- “on” as in “bon” /bɔ̃/ (good)
- “om” as in “homme” /ɔm/ (man)
- “ont” as in “dont” /dɔ̃/ (whose)
on – /ɔ̃/
ont – /ɔ̃/
they have (III person plural of the verb etre)
bon – /bɔ̃/
bond – /bɔ̃d/
son – /sɔ̃/
font – /fɔ̃/
long – /lɔ̃/
mont – /mɔ̃/
IV. False Homophones that Cause Confusion
Let’s take a look at French false homophones that often cause confusion to French learners. We call them false, because they are pronounced differently, however to a beginner French learner this may sound the same.
You’ll see two words where the first word has the oral vowel, while the second one has the nasal vowel /ɔ̃/.
peau /pø/ pont /pɔ̃/
mot/mo/ mont /mɔ̃/
/haut/o/ honte /ɔ̃t/
seau/so/ son /sɔ̃/
bucket, sound or his
beau/ bo/ bon /bɔ̃/
Final Tips on French Nasal Vowels
Learning to pronounce French nasal vowels is like unlocking a secret passageway to the heart of the French language.
Firstly, it’s important to understand the difference between the French oral and nasal vowels. Even though it will surely be difficult to pronounce the nasal vowel /ɔ̃/ at first, you can start by learning its possible spellings.
So keep practicing, keep persevering, and before you know it, you’ll be speaking French like a native.
We dare you to pronounce most difficult French words.