i think languages logo

What Not to Pronounce in French? Silent Letters

french silent letters how to learn

The most challenging aspect of learning French is spelling words with silent letters. You know you’ve nailed your French accent once you can tell which French letters are silent.

For those of you who do not know how to pronounce silent letters in French, this guide will help you.

What are Silent Letters?

It’s not what you think! Welcome to the world of the invisible French language. The one that is made of silent letters and is ultimately creating a parallel universe.

You may have been ultimately annoyed by the fact that it’s taking too long for you to master the French pronunciation. Especially, when you take into consideration so many letters that you don’t pronounce.

In French, silent letters are letters that are written in words but are not pronounced when speaking.

Here are some examples of commonly used words in French with silent letters:

  • le temps – /lə tɑ̃/ ( “ps” at the end is silent)
  • le printemps – /lə prɛ̃tɑ̃/ (the “s” at the end is silent)
  • une – /yn/ (the “e” at the end is silent)
  • la nuit – /la nɥi/ (the “t” at the end is silent)
  • l’hiver – /livɛʁ/ (the “h” is silent)
  • avant – /avɑ̃/ (“t” is silent)
  • juste – /ʒyst/ (“e” is silent)
  • après – /apʁɛ/ (the “s” at the end is silent)
  • terminé – /tɛʁmine/ (the “é” at the end is silent)
  • mais – /mɛ/ (“s” is silent)
  • dates – /dat/ (the “es” at the end is silent)
  • peuvent – /pœvɑ̃/ (the “ent” at the end are silent)
  • dit – /di/ (“t” is silent letter)
  • que – /kə/ (no silent letters)
  • amours – /amuʁ/ (the “s” at the end is silent)
  • moment – /mɔmɑ̃/ (the “t” at the end is silent)
  • poussent – /pusɑ̃/ (the “s” and “t” at the end are silent)
  • arbres – /aʁbʁ/ (the “es” at the end are silent)

A Short History of Silent Letters in French

A recent study estimated that 28 percent of French words end with silent letters. It doesn’t include all the silent letters at the beginnings and middles of French words.

If you have ever wondered why French has so many silent letters. Here’s why!

Originally pronounced in Old French, these letters have been abandoned as the language evolved. There are many letters in the alphabet that are pronounced the same way in French, Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish.

It is proof that the original Latin pronunciation is still in use today.

Common French Silent Letters

Generally, the final consonant is not pronounced in French, but there are many exceptions to this rule.

The three primary categories of silent letters in French consist of the silent E, silent H, and final consonants.

Some consonants are pronounced: (c-r-f-l-k-q, and -b)

Silent French Letter /e/

When the letter –e placed at the end of a word is after a consonant, it is not pronounced.

For example, the -e at the end of the word voiture (car) is normally not pronounced.

Here are some French words that have a silent “e” at the end, along with their IPA transcription where the letter that is silent:

  • Table [tabl] – table
  • Chaise [ʃɛz] – chair
  • Livre [livʁ] – book
  • Roue [ʁu] – wheel
  • Voile [vwal] – sail
  • Arbre [aʁbʁ] – tree
  • Ample [ɑ̃pl] – loose
  • Compte [kɔ̃t] – account
  • Route [ʁut] – road

Silent French Letter /h/

The letter -h is usually found at the beginning of a word in French, like in these cases.

  • Hôtel /o.tɛl/ – hotel
  • Homme /ɔm/ – man
  • Honoré  /ɔ.nɔ.ʁe/
  • Héros  /e.ʁo/ hero
  • Huit  /ɥit/ -eight

French does not consider the letter -h silent if it is part of a letter combination like ch or ph.

It is important to note that the “h” may be aspirated in some cases, meaning it is pronounced normally like “h.” 😀 However, this is more common in foreign words, such as “hamburger” and “high-tech”.

Silent French Letter /s/

A final -s is added to most French words in the plural, but it is not pronounced.

  • une étoile /yn etwal/ – star
  • des étoiles /deze.twal/ – stars
  • un livre /œ̃ livʁ/- book
  • des livres /de livʁ/ – books

It’s the same for the final letters x, and z that are added to the plural nouns.

  • un cheval /œ̃ ʃəval/ -> des chevaux /de ʃəvo/
  • un chou /œ̃ ʃu/ -> des choux /de ʃu/
  • un bijou /œ̃ biʒu/ -> des bijoux /de biʒu/
  • un nez /œ̃ ne/ -> des nez /de ne/
  • un prix /œ̃ pʁi/ -> des prix /de pʁi/
  • un gaz /œ̃ ɡaz/ -> des gaz /de ɡaz/
  • un quiz /œ̃ kwiz/ -> des quiz /de kwiz/
  • un faux /œ̃ fo/ -> des faux /de fo/

When To Pronounce Final Consonants In French

Okay. So this post was about silent letters, and we learned that final letters are not pronounced in French (in most cases).

Now we are turning the other page, and taking a look at exceptions to this rule.  There are certain cases where the final consonant is pronounced in French.

This is a non-extensive list of final consonants that are pronounced in French, and they end with letters (c,r,f,l).

Words ending with the letter /c/

When it comes to words ending with the letter “c”, the final “c” is usually silent, with some exceptions.

  • arc /ɑrk/ – bow and arrow
  • rock /rɔk/ – rock
  • avec /a.vɛk /- with
  • sac /sak/- bag

However, the vast majority of French words ending in “c” are pronounced without a final consonant sound.

Words ending with the letter /r/

Overall, words ending with the letter “r” in French are typically not pronounced with a final “r” sound.

The letter -r is pronounced in words like:

  • cher: /ʃɛʁ/ (chair)
  • finir: /finiʁ/ (finir)

However, in the final -er is usually pronounced /e/

  • parler: /paʁ.le/ speak
  • premier /pʁə.mjɛʁ/ first

Words ending with the letter /f/

The letter –f is pronounced in the following French words:

  • neuf /nœf/ new
  • oeuf /œf/ egg

Words ending with the letter /l/

The letter -l is pronounced at the end of the following words:

  • avril /avʁil/ – avril
  • nul /nyl/- zero

As for the exceptions, you should know that the final -l is usually silent after the letter -i like in:

  • gentil /ʒɑ̃.til/ – kind
  • outil /u.til/ – tool

What is the most common silent letter in French?

The most common silent letter in French is the letter “e” at the end of a word. This letter is often silent in French, particularly when it comes at the end of a word and is not followed by another vowel. For example, in the word “une” (meaning “one”), the “e” at the end is silent.

This is also true for many other words such as “parle” (meaning “speaks”), “belle” (meaning “beautiful”), and “gagne” (meaning “wins”), among many others.

To Pronounce or Not to Pronounce?

French pronunciation can seem at times like a Shakespearean question “To be or not to be”, or “To Pronounce or not to Pronounce”.

While it may seem like a challenge to learn, understanding silent letters is a crucial aspect of mastering French pronunciation. It takes time to get the hang of it, but with patience and perseverance, you’ll be able to tell which letters are silent and which ones are not.

So, there you have it – a guide to the silent letters in French.

Learn more about French Vowels

Related Posts

French: How to teach on Italki

Why a guide to teaching languages online I’m ready to reveal my small secrets as I transition from providing online instruction to managing my website.

German: Babbel vs Duolingo: differences

Numerous individuals use software and apps to learn new languages. These days, two well-known online resources for language learning include Babbel and Duolingo. They both

Languages: Babbel vs Duolingo: differences

In today’s post, we’ll talk about the differences between Babbel and Duolingo. These are unquestionably the two most well-known language learning programs out there. Let’s

Top 20 Spanish words used in sports

Discover the top 20 Spanish words commonly used in the world of sports. Enhance your sports vocabulary and understanding with our informative blog. Introduction The

French Phrases You Need in Workplace

Mastering French phrases in the workplace is essential for effective communication. This blog explores key phrases to navigate the professional world en français. I. Introduction

Sea in French: How to say Sea in Italian

Discover the Italian translation for “sea” with our guide. Learn how to pronounce and use this common word in the beautiful Italian language. The sea

Spanish adverbials: Mientras…

The word Mientras can be an adverb or conjunction depending on the sentence and its structure. You can use mientras to connect two actions in

Spanish imperative negative + pronouns

The Spanish structure imperativo negativo + pronombres enclíticos is a bit controversial topic since many Spanish students get confused when using it. Los pronombres enclíticos

7 Myths About Learning Spanish

Unveiling the truth behind learning Spanish! Discover and debunk the 7 common myths that may be holding you back from mastering this vibrant language. Are

Famous French Food You Must Try

Indulge in the flavors of France with our guide to famous French food. Discover must-try dishes like escargots, coq au vin, and crème brûlée. Bon

Famous French Singers You Must Know

Discover the iconic voices that have made French music famous worldwide. Our list of famous French singers features timeless classics and modern hits. French singers

Famous Spanish Food You Must Try

Embark on a delectable journey through Spain’s culinary wonders! Discover the must-try famous Spanish dishes that will tantalize your taste buds. Spanish Food Spain is

Famous German Singers You Must Know

Get ready to immerse yourself in the enchanting world of German music as we showcase the extraordinary talents of renowned singers from Germany. From timeless

Famous Spanish Singers You Must Know

Let the music captivate your senses and ignite your passion for Spanish culture by knowing the famous Spanish singers that ever existed. Importance of Spanish

German Phrases You Need in the Workplace

Discover essential German phrases for the workplace. From greetings to professional conversations, equip yourself with the necessary language skills. German Phrases in the Workplace Learning

Spanish Phrases You Need in Workplace

Master the essential Spanish phrases for the workplace and enhance your communication skills. From greetings to professional requests, we’ve got you covered! Spanish Words in

Top Spanish Speaking Countries

Explore the vibrant cultures and diverse landscapes of the top Spanish-speaking countries in this blog. Discover their history, traditions, and more! Explanation of the importance

Top 20 German Words Used in Sports

Discover the top 20 German words commonly used in sports, from ‘Tor’ to ‘Abseits’. Enhance your sports vocabulary and impress your German-speaking friends! Introduction Explanation

Top 20 French Words Used in Sports

Discover the Top 20 French words used in sports! From “but” to “arbitre,” learn essential vocab to help you better understand the sports world in

How to Say “Food” in Spanish

“Learn the different ways to say ‘food’ in Spanish and expand your vocabulary with our comprehensive guide. Enhance your language skills today!” One of the

How to Say “Food” in French

Learn the various ways to say “food” in French with this comprehensive guide. Expand your vocabulary and impress your francophone friends! “Food” in French: La

How to Say “Food” in German

Learn how to say ‘food’ in German and impress your friends with your language skills! Check out our easy guide and enhance your vocabulary today.

Top 7 Reasons for learning French

Parlez-vous Français? Explore the top 7 reasons for learning French and unlock a world of opportunities. Start your language journey with confidence today! 7 reasons

Top 7 Reasons for Learning German

Discover the power of learning German! Unlock opportunities and expand your horizons with compelling reasons to study German. Start your linguistic journey today! Reasons for

Top 9 Reasons for learning Spanish

Is learning Spanish worth it? What are the top reasons for learning the Spanish language? Start your Spanish journey now! Reasons why learning Spanish is worth

How to learn Spanish through Podcasts

Do you want to learn Spanish through podcasts? Immerse yourself in the richness of the Spanish language with our podcast-based learning guide. Learn Spanish through

How to learn Languages through Podcasts

Unlock the power of language learning with podcasts! Explore the ultimate guide to mastering a new language through engaging podcasts. Start your linguistic journey now!

How to Maximize Your Time in Learning German

Learn German efficiently with expert tips! Discover effective techniques on how to maximize your time in learning German. Tips and strategies for efficiently learning German

How to learn French through Podcasts

Unlock the beauty of the French language with our podcast-based learning approach. Master French effortlessly with engaging lessons and practical tips! The Power of Podcasts

How to Learn German through Podcasts

Master German with ease! Explore the ultimate guide to learning German through podcasts. Gain language skills, cultural insights, and fluency. Start your German journey now!

How hard is it to learn German?

How hard is it to learn German?  Our comprehensive guide provides insights into the challenges and strategies to master the language. How hard is it

How hard is it to learn French?

Discover how difficult it is to learn French in our latest blog post, “Parlez-Vous Français?”. Gain insights and tips to improve your French skills. Parlez-vous

How to say in German

Looking to learn how to say common phrases in German? Check out this blog for tips and tricks on how to speak the language like

How to Pronounce Luxury Brands in French?

Are you a fashion enthusiast struggling to correctly pronounce luxury brand names in French? Look no further! In this French pronunciation guide for luxury brands,

Silent French H: Mute and Aspirated

The silent letter h is often causing trouble to French learners. In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the “h” mute and

Faire la Bise: All about French Kiss

If you’re wondering how to greet in French, either through handshakes or kisses, you are at the right place. Today, you’ll learn how to navigate

Speaking practice: talk to yourself

Improve your speaking skills with these simple tips on how to practice speaking by talking to yourself. Start speaking confidently today! Read more here. Speaking

Spaced repetition for the German language

Master German faster with spaced repetition! Our blog explains how this powerful technique works and offers tips to incorporate it into your learning routine. What

What does TE AMO mean in Spanish?

Discover the romantic meaning behind Te Amo, the Spanish phrase for ‘I love you’. Explore its cultural significance and usage in everyday life. Te Amo

What does JE T’AIME mean in French?

Discover the meaning and cultural significance of “Je t’aime,” the famous French expression for “I love you.” Explore its nuances and usage in this blog.