* French dictionary * French grammar * French phrases
Utter French! 1,200 French pronunciations on your iPhone!
FREE! GCSE French Audio Quiz for iPhone/iPad

French pronunciation: alternations with nasalised vowels (e.g. masculine vs feminine forms)

On the previous page, we gave an introduction to nasalised vowels. We saw that a nasalised vowel is generally marked by the letter n (or occasionally m) after a vowel, but only in some cases. We mentioned that n marks a nasalised vowel when it occurs on the very end of a word, or before another consonant.

This means there are actually some cases where adding a suffix to a word ending in a nasalised vowel changes the pronunciation, so that the n is pronounced, and the vowel before it potentially changes. This notably happens when the feminine -e ending is added to adjectives and nounds ending in a nasalsed vowel.

Adding -e to -ein, -ain

Recall that ein and ain on the end of a word (or before another consonant) are generally pronounced with the nasalised in vowel. However, when an -e is added, -eine and -aine are pronounced with the open e vowel, and the n is pronounced (though not normally the final -e).

plein "full" (masculine)
pleine "full" (feminine)
américain "American" (masculine)
américaine "American" (feminine)

Pronounce these words Listen to these words

Adding -e to -in and -un

When -e is added to a word ending in -in or -un, a similar thing occurs: the n is pronounced, and the vowel is no longer nasalised. In this case, the vowel reverts to its "normal" pronunciation as reflected by the spelling (so an i vowel for -ine and an u vowel for -une).

fin "fine, thin" (masculine)
fine "fine, thin" (feminine)
brun "brown" (masculine)
brune "brown" (feminine)

Pronounce these words Listen to these words

Addine -e to -on

This case is essentially similar, but in the spelling, the n is usually doubled. The vowel is essentially pronounced as an open o vowel.

bon "good" (masculine)
bonne "good" (feminine)

Pronounce these words Listen to these words


The next page looks at the French l, m, n sounds.