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Learn your French alphabet

learn your french alphabet

We all love the idea of learning French but we often wonder where to begin. You can start with a short lesson on the French alphabet to put you out of that chaos.

The French letters set the basic foundation for all the words and sentences that follow. To understand the French world better, we need to familiarize ourselves with the French alphabet.

the french alphabet

The French alphabet

The alphabet is essential to make sense of anything we read and write. It helps us to understand the pronunciation and sounds oriented with a word.

The French alphabet is similar to the English alphabet in number and appearance. It consists of the same 26 letters but they are all pronounced differently.

Further, the French alphabet also comes with a set of diacritics or accents and orthographic ligatures.

  1. A – aah
  2. B – bay
  3. C – say
  4. D – they
  5. E – euh
  6. F – eff
  7. G – jhay
  8. H – ahsh
  9. I – ee
  10. J – jhee
  11. K – Kah
  12. L – el
  13. M – ehm
  14. N – ehn
  15. O – oh
  16. P – pay
  17. Q – Ku
  18. R – ehr
  19. S – ess
  20. T – tay
  21. U – oo
  22. V – way
  23. W – doo-bluh-way
  24. X – eeiks
  25. Y – eegrek
  26. Z – zede

French diacritics/accents

The French accents add a unique beauty to the sound of the words. Whenever an accent is attached to a letter it is guided by a certain sound that is different from how the letter is usually read or pronounced.

There are five accents in the French alphabet and they are placed on vowels and under the letter “c”.

1. Accent aigu ( ´)

Accent aigu is one of the most commonly used accents in French. It plays a significant role when we use the “er verbs” in the past participle form.

The accent aigu is used only with the letter “e”. It carries the sound “ay” as in “hay” or “pay”. In most cases, when a word begins with é in French, it is usually replaced with the letter “s” in English to uncover the actual meaning behind the word.

Example:

un étranger – a stranger

une étable – a stable

2. Accent grave (`)

The accent grave is used with the letters e, u, and a. When the accent is used with the letters a and u, it is used to distinguish two homonyms and the purpose it serves to the sentence but there is no change in the pronunciation of the word.

Example:

la – definitive article without the accent
là – meaning “there”

ou – means “or” without the accent
où – means “where”

On the other hand, when the grave accent is used with the letter “e”, it carries the sound “ai” as in “said” in English.

Example:

les lèvres – lips

très – very

3. Cédille (¸)

Taking the shape of a hook or a tail, the Cédille is a pronunciation indicator that is placed only under the letter “c”. It provides a more soft sound similar to the letter “s” in English.

Example:

un garçon – a boy

un leçon – a lesson

4. Accent circonflexe(^)

The accent circonflexe takes the shape of a hat and can be placed on all five vowels. Similar to the accent aigu, the circonflexe is also said to replace an “s” in English to identify the meaning of the word in many instances.

Example:

un hôpital –  a hospital

un fôret – a forest

Similar to the grave accent, it also differentiates two homonyms and the meaning attached to them.

Example:

un mur – wall

mûr – ripe

It does not affect the pronunciation of the letters u and i. However, with the letters a,e, and o, the pronunciation of the words is changed.

5. Tréma(¨)

The tréma is used with the letters e, i, and u. If a word is followed by two consecutive vowels, then the tréma is placed on the second consecutive vowel to indicate that each vowel is pronounced independently.

Example:

Noël – Christmas

naïf – naive

maïs – corn

mosaïque – mosaic

Orthographic ligatures in French

When two letters are combined it forms a ligature. The term ligature means connection. They are special characters that combine two troublesome characters creating a smoother transition.

It was used in ancient languages such as Greek and Latin to make writing simpler and easier. In French, œ is the most common orthographic ligature.

œ ligature

The letters o and e are combined to form a typographic ligature and the pronunciation of the word depends on the letter that follows the ligature.

Example:

un œuf – egg

un cœur – heart

une sœur – sister

un vœu – wish

Know your A, B, C’s

Alphabet provides the basic set of speech sounds for any language. We get an overview of how sounds and words work together and eventually help us to read, write, and speak fluently.

The French letters are comparatively easy to learn and pronounce with practice. Once you master the art of reading and writing with the help of these alphabets, you will find an endless way to communicate efficiently.

So, know your French a, b, c’s to understand the French language right from the start.

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