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French pronunciation: fricatives

Like English, French has a number of fricative sounds. In simple terms, these are the "hissing" or "buzzing" sounds1 like v, f, z, s. They are the sounds whereby a small gap is created in the mouth, so that when the air passes through, friction is caused.

Note that the French r sound, also often pronounced as a fricative, is dealt with on a separate page.

f, v, s, z

In French, the letters v, f, s and z are generally pronounced in a very similar way to in English. It is also worth noting:

The French j sound

French has two further fricatives similar to sounds that occur in English. Firstly, the sound represented by the letter j in French is similar to the sound represented by the s in English words like vision, leisure.

In French, this j sound is also represented by the letter g when followed by e, i or y. On the other hand g is pronounced as a g sound (as described on the previous page) when followed by a, o or u. When followed by u, the u letter itself isn't usually pronounced: it just signals the pronunciation of the g, as in the last example in the list below:

je jette "I throw"
page "page"
gîte "holiday cottage"
gigue "jig", "haunch" — Notice the gu is pronounced as a g sound.

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The French ch sound

In French, the letter combination ch represents a sound similar to the English sh sound in words like sheep:

chat "cat"
tache "stain"
chic "chic, elegant"

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Avoid pronouncing French ch like the English ch in church: it is generally always like the English sh sound.


On the next page, we look at the French o vowels.

1. Note, however, that technically fricatives include some sounds that we might not think of as being "hissing" or "buzzing". For example, the th sounds in English this or thistle (which don't readily occur in French) are fricatives, as is one possible pronunciation of the French r sound, produced by holding the back of the tongue so that it causes friction with the uvula.