Are you ready to learn the key to speaking like a native French? Correctly stressing French words is an important aspect of speaking French accurately and fluently.
Learn how to stress French words and sentences correctly to sound like a true Francophone!
Do French have Stress?
In contrast to English, French does not have the word stress, even though it sounds like it has. Rather, stress is placed on phrases or groups of related words.
The French language is syllable-timed, meaning that each syllable carries the same stress, unlike stress-timed languages like English, where the length of syllables can change dramatically depending on the stress.
So, what this means? A syllable-timed rhythm means that each syllable is given equal emphasis during pronunciation.
This differs significantly from English, which is a stress-timed language that focuses on emphasizing only one syllable per word – the stressed syllable – while reducing the vowels in the other syllables, usually to [ə] or [ɪ].
All French vowels in each word must be pronounced clearly, and each syllable must be stressed equally, with the last syllable commonly perceived as the “stressed syllable.”
Listen to the following words spoken in both languages and observe whether the emphasis differs between the two.
Types of Stress in French
In French, there are two main types of stress or accentuation:
- word stress
- sentence stress
Each type of stress plays an important role in the way French is pronounced and understood.
Stress can change the meaning of the statement, and turn the same statement into an affirmative sentence or a question.
If you are an English speaker, then sentence stress plays a big role, especially since it’s unusual in English.
1. Word Stress in French
Every syllable in French is generally pronounced with equal stress, and no syllable is emphasized more than another. However, in some cases, the final syllable of a word may receive slightly more stress than the others.
Here are some examples of French words with stressed and unstressed syllables:
café: stressed syllable = ca, unstressed syllable = fé
école: stressed syllable = é, unstressed syllables = co-le
travail: stressed syllable = tra, unstressed syllables = vail
maison: stressed syllable = mai, unstressed syllables = son
French does not have lexical stress, meaning there is no inherent stress on a specific syllable in a word. However, stress can be applied to words in a sentence for emphasis or contrast. This is called word stress. As an example, consider the sentence:
Je ne vais pas a Paris, mais je vais a Londre.
I’m not going to Paris, but I’m going to London
In this sentence, the word “Paris” is stressed to show the contrast between going to Paris instead of Londre.
Generally, all French syllables are pronounced with equal stress, but certain patterns need to be noted.
Here are some examples of words with stressed and unstressed syllables in French:
- bibliothèque (library): The stress falls on the second-to-last syllable, “thè”.
- informatique (computer science): The stress falls on the third-to-last syllable, “for”.
- jardin (garden): The stress falls on the last syllable, “din”.
- Au revoir (goodbye): The stress falls on the second syllable of “revoir”.
- Bonjour (hello): The stress falls on the first syllable, “bon”.
- Chemin (path): The stress falls on the last syllable, “min”.
2. Sentence Stress in French
Sentence stress in French involves emphasizing a specific phrase or group of words within a sentence. The meaning of a sentence can be altered by this type of stress.
Let’s take the sentence:
Elle a une pomme.
She has an apple.
By stressing the word “pomme,” the sentence can be changed to Elle a UNE pomme (She has ONE apple), emphasizing the number of apples rather than just the fact that she has an apple.
Where is the Stress in French Phrases?
In French, every syllable has the same level of stress, and the final syllable in a phrase – rather than a word – is typically pronounced with a higher pitch.
However, it’s important to note that this isn’t the same as lexical stress since stress isn’t an inherent characteristic of any particular French word.
- Les grands enfants.
- Les grands enfants sont là.
- Les grands enfants sont là-bas.
In all three of these phrases, the higher-pitched syllable that resembles lexical stress moves further to the right as the phrase gets longer.
While there may be some variation in where each speaker perceives the end of a phrase, the final syllable in les grands enfants signifies the end of a noun phrase, while the last syllable in “sont là-bas” represents the end of a verb phrase.
Regardless, the higher-pitched syllable will generally appear at the very end of the phrase, whether it’s on “fants,” “là,” or “bas.”
Learn more about Pronouncing French Vowels.
How French is Your French?
You may learn the French vocabulary and conjugate all the tenses correctly, but if you don’t accentuate the proper way, your French won’t sound the same.
By learning the correct way to stress French words and sentences, you are one step closer to sounding like a native speaker.
Remember, French does not have word stress like English but instead places emphasis on phrases or groups of related words.
With practice, you will be able to master the two main types of stress in French – word stress and sentence stress – and use them to communicate more effectively.
Learn more about French pronunciation