French language

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Spoken in

BelgiumBelgium Belgium France Canada Luxembourg Monaco Switzerland large parts of North , West and Central Africa , Oceania , the Caribbean , archipelagos in the Indian Ocean and partly in Southeast Asia . (See official status )

speaker approx. 300 million (2018)
Official status
Official language in FranceFrance France ("métropolitaine") Belgium ( Wallonia ) Luxembourg Switzerland ( Romandie ) Monaco Canada ( Québec and Nouveau-Brunswick ) United States ( Maine ) West Africa : Benin Burkina Faso Ivory Coast Guinea Mali Niger Senegal Togo Central Africa : Equatorial Guinea Gabon Cameroon Democratic Republic of the Congo Republic of the Congo Chad Central African Republic East Africa : Burundi Comoros Djibouti Madagascar Mayotte Reunion Rwanda Seychelles Caribbean : French Guiana Guadeloupe Haiti Martinique Saint-Barthelemy Saint-Martin other North America : Saint Pierre and Miquelon Oceania : French Polynesia New Caledonia Vanuatu Wallis and Futuna rest of Europe : jersey ( Jèrriais ) Guernsey Aosta Valley, Italy ( Franco-Provencal ) United Nations (UN) African Union (AU) European Union (EU) Organization of American States International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) Latin Union Universal Postal Union
BelgiumBelgium Flag of Wallonia.svg
CanadaCanada QuebecQuebec Flag of New Brunswick.svg
United StatesUnited States USA MaineMaine 

Burkina FasoBurkina Faso 
Ivory CoastIvory Coast 

Equatorial GuineaEquatorial Guinea 
Congo Democratic RepublicDemocratic Republic of Congo 
Congo RepublicRepublic of the Congo 
Central African RepublicCentral African Republic 


French GuianaFrench Guiana 
SaintbarthelemySaint Barthelemy 
Saint MartinSaint Martin 

Saint-Pierre and MiquelonSaint Pierre and Miquelon 

French PolynesiaFrench Polynesia 
New CaledoniaNew Caledonia 
Wallis FutunaWallis and Futuna 

Aosta Valley 

United NationsU.N. 
African UnionAfrican Union 
European UnionEuropean Union 
Organization of American States 
Flag of La Francophonie.svg

Other official status in Maghreb ( North Africa ) :AlgeriaMoroccoMauritaniaTunisia Middle East :Lebanon East Africa :MauritiusFrench Southern and Antarctic Territories North America :Louisiana, USA Southeast Asia :CambodiaLaosVietnam


French Southern and Antarctic LandsFrench Southern and Antarctic Lands 

USA LouisianaLouisiana 

Recognized minority /
regional language in
EgyptEgypt Egypt Italy
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2 ( B ) fre ( T ) fra
ISO 639-3


French or the French language (own designation (le) français [ (lə) fʁɑ̃ˈsɛ ], (la) langue française [ (la) lɑ̃ɡ fʁɑ̃ˈsεz ]) belongs to the Romance group of the Italian branch of the Indo-European languages . This language is therefore more closely related to Italian , Spanish , Occitan , Catalan , Portuguese and Romanian, among others .

French is used by around 235 million people every day and is considered a world language , as it is spoken by around 300 million speakers on all continents in over 50 countries and is often learned as a foreign language worldwide. French is the official language in France and its overseas territories, in Canada , Belgium , Switzerland , Luxembourg , the Aosta Valley , Monaco , numerous countries in West and Central Africa and in Haiti , while it is widely spoken as a secondary language in Arabic-speaking North Africa and Southeast Asia is. It is also the official language of the African Union and the Organization of American States , one of the official languages ​​of the European Union and one of the six official languages ​​as well as English as the working language of the United Nations , and also the official language of the Universal Postal Union . The French language is regulated by the Académie française , the so-called Loi Toubon (a law protecting the French language in France), the Office québécois de la langue française (an authority in Québec ), the Service de la langue française (a Belgian Institution for the Maintenance of the French Language) as well as the Délégation générale à la langue française et aux langues de France .


French in Europe

French in France and adjacent areas

In Europe, French is spoken primarily in France itself, but also in large parts of Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as in western Switzerland and in the Aosta Valley (Italy). It is also the official language in Monaco .

According to the Eurostat study “Europeans and Languages” , which was carried out from May to June 2005 in the then 25 member states of the European Union and published in September 2005, 11% of EU citizens speak French as a foreign language . This makes French the third most widely learned foreign language in Europe after English (34%) and German (12%). According to the study, French native speakers are 12% of EU citizens.

In addition to German and English, French is the most important official and working language of the European Union. One of the reasons for this is that France is a founding member of the organization and that many EU institutions are located in the mainly French-speaking cities of Brussels , Strasbourg and Luxembourg . French is also the traditional internal working language of the European Court of Justice , the judicial organ of the EU, and the Council of Europe . However, due to the growing relevance of English, the influence of French on the world of work is steadily declining within the EU.

French in the world

French as the official language proportional share of speakers
French as the official language
proportional share of speakers
English-French stop sign at the Colline du Parlement in Canada's capital, Ottawa
Trilingual sign of a city in Algeria ( Arabic , Berber and French)
  • Francophone countries in Africa. The population of these countries was around 431 million in 2019 and will increase to 845 million in 2050. French is the fastest growing language in Africa.
  • Francophone countries in the broader sense.
  • States whose official language is not French but which have joined the International Organization of Francophonie .
  • French at international level

    The French language is considered a world language , it is used on all continents of the world and is the official language of numerous important international organizations. Even in the globalized age in which many areas of society are dominated by the English language, French is still regarded as the second language of diplomacy .

    French is the official language of the United Nations , the African Union , the Organization of American States , the Universal Postal Union (UPU), Interpol , the International Olympic Committee , FIFA , UEFA , the Latin Union , Reporters Without Borders , from Doctors Without Borders , the World Trade Organization , Francophonie and many other institutions and organizations.

    The role of French in individual countries

    Except in the countries where French is the official language, such as B. in the overseas territories of France and states of Africa, the Antilles and Oceania, it is spoken in many former colonies of France and Belgium as a lingua franca and culture. In the Maghreb states , French has been retained as the language of instruction and culture.

    In the United States , French-speaking minorities are mostly found in Maine and Louisiana , and to a lesser extent in New Hampshire and Vermont . See also: French Language in the United States .

    In the Canadian province of Québec , the vast majority of people speak French as their first language. The Quebec French differs in terms of grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary only slightly from the standard French. There are smaller French-speaking minorities in Ontario , Alberta , south Manitoba , north and south-east of New Brunswick / Nouveau-Brunswick (New Brunswick) and in south-west Nova Scotia (Nova Scotia). Over 20 percent of Canadians are French as their native speakers, and French is an official language alongside English (see also: Francophone Canadians , French in Canada ).

    In Mauritius , Mauritania , Laos , Cambodia , Vietnam , Lebanon , the Channel Islands and Andorra , the French language is used to varying degrees as an educational and administrative language.

    Language variants of the French language

    French dialects (yellowish, green and blue hues) and other language groups in France

    French is an Indo-European language and is one of the Gallo-Roman languages ​​divided into two groups: the langues d'oïl in northern France and Belgium and the langues d'oc in southern France.

    The status of what is dialect and what is independent language is disputed. Most of the time we speak of two languages ​​and their respective dialects (often referred to as patois in French ). The French is assigned to the langues d'oïl and goes back to a dialect from the Île de France , the wider area of ​​the capital Paris .

    They are differentiated from the langues d'oc , which are spread south of the Loire River and represent a language of their own. The distinction relates to the form for "ja" ( oc in the south, <Latin hoc ; oïl in the north, <Latin hoc Genealogie ). In addition, in the langues d'oc , which are collectively referred to as Occitan , the Romance character is stronger, while in the langues d'oïl the influence of the Franconian superstrat can be seen.

    There is also Franco-Provençal , which is sometimes classified as independent from the other two Gallo-Roman languages. However, since it has not developed a high-level language, it is also regarded as a dialect of the langues d'oc .

    The Jèrriais , a variety on the Channel Island of Jersey , which is structurally different from the mainland varieties due to its isolated geographical location , is usually assigned to the group of Oïl languages .

    In many African countries, French is learned as a second language and also used as an official language (see also Francophone Africa ). In these countries, the language is often characterized by an accent , a specific vocabulary and grammatical and pragmatic features.

    Various French-influenced Creole languages have developed from French in the former (mainly Caribbean ) colonial areas . However, because of their structure, which differs greatly from standard French, they are usually viewed as a separate language group and not as a French variety, e.g. B. Haitian .

    The Gallo-Roman language group :

    History of the French language

    Gaul at the time of Caesar (58 BC)

    In Gaul there were three great peoples with their own languages: the Celts (who were called Gauls by the Romans ), the Aquitaine in the southwest and the Belgians in the north. The romanization took place in two steps. The Latin language came to southern France with the establishment of the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis , beginning with the founding of the fortress Aquae Sextiae (120 BC, today Aix-en-Provence ) and the settlement of Colonia Narbo Martius (118 BC, today Narbonne ). From 58 BC BC Gaius Iulius Caesar conquered Northern Gaul in the Gallic War . Subsequently, Latin spread throughout the country.

    Influence of the gallic substrate

    Within a period of four centuries, Latin prevailed over the native mainland Celtic (Gallic) dialects. The Romanization first happened in cities, schools and administrations, only later in the remote areas of Gaul. The Celtic languages ​​did not disappear without a trace, but found their way into spoken Vulgar Latin with an estimated well over 240 word stems . As a result of the later establishment of Latin in the rural regions of Gaul, terms of Celtic origin from agriculture in Vulgar Latin were retained, which are also used in today's French, e.g. B. all go, '(cf.. Grain. Ello , he'll go'), craindre fear '(see. Bret. Kren , tremor), mouton , sheep' (cf.. Whale. Mollt , Ram '), soc , Ploughshare '(cf. ir. Soc ' Schar, Saüsselüssel ') etc. But also the way of counting in the twenties system ( vigesimal system ), which the standard French to this day partially maintains, is often attributed to Celtic influences (e.g. soixante et onze : sixty and eleven = 71, quatre-vingts : four (times) twenty = 80). Such an influence of a declining language on the prevailing language is called substrate .

    Superstrate influence of the Franks

    The Gallo-Roman population in northern Gaul came into contact with Germanic tribes mainly through trade relations, but also through mercenary services of the Germanic peoples in the Roman army . As a result of these contacts, in addition to the Celtic substratum, a number of words of Germanic origin found their way into the French language. Such a process of peaceful influence through neighborly relations is called an adstrate .

    The West Germanic tribe of the Franks later exerted a stronger influence . After their final victory over a Roman province in 486 AD by Clovis I, the Franks conquered the territory of Gaul and played a decisive role in shaping the French vocabulary . Around 700 word stems were taken over from the Franks (e.g. alise 'flour or service tree ' [cf. nl. Els 'alder', corresponding to German alder ], blanc 'white', danser 'dance' [cf. ahd . dansōn 'pull, stretch'], écran 'umbrella' [cf. German closet ], gris “gray”, guerre “war” [cf. mnl. werre “annoyance, confusion”, corresponding German confused ], jardin 'Garten', lécher 'lick', saule 'Salweide'), and those place names in northern France that end in -court, -ville and -vic are mostly of Germanic-Franconian origin. Here the historically remarkable process took place that the Franks adapted linguistically to the vulgar Latin of the defeated Gallo-Roman population, with the exception of a few remaining Franconian influences. Such a language that u. a. that leads to the inclusion of words from the language of the victors into the language of the vanquished, which is the dominant language, is called a superstrat .

    This process dragged on from the 5th to the 9th century. Even Charlemagne (crowned 800 n. Chr.) Spoke as a mother tongue Franconian. Only in the very north of Gaul could the Germanic language border be shifted into what is now Belgium through the Frankish conquest , which today divides the country into Flanders and Wallonia . The unbroken dominance of Vulgar Latin is explained, among other things, by the still high prestige of Latin and by the extensive takeover of Roman administration. The Franconian Lex Salica , in which Roman legal thought was combined with Germanic features, also favored this development. The Franconian influences were not only reflected in the vocabulary, but also in the sound system (such as the so-called h aspiré , the "breathy h", which is not tied in the original), as well as in the word order (e.g. prefixing some adjectives before nouns : une grande maison - "a big house").

    Further development in the Middle Ages

    At the time of Charlemagne, the pronunciation of Vulgar Latin differed considerably from the spelling. Because of this he initiated the Carolingian educational reform , encouraged by Alcuin , whereby Latin was learned with the aim of a classical pronunciation. This was intended to facilitate the proselytizing of the Germanic sections of the population, which was mainly based on Irish monks , for whom Latin was a foreign language. In addition, any uncertainties in the debate should be resolved. This emerging bilingualism led to considerable difficulties in communicating between the Latin-speaking clergy and the people. At the Council of Tours in 813, a language that the people could understand for sermons in churches was established. Latin was retained as a written language. The Council of Tours appears to mark the birth of an awareness that the language spoken was different from Latin.

    Extract from the Strasbourg oaths / Les Serments de Strasbourg

    Different dialects emerged, which are summarized as Langues d'oïl , bordering on the southern Langues d'oc , named after the respective word for "yes" (in today's French oui ). The first documents to be assigned to the French language are the Strasbourg oaths , which were written in 842 in both Old French and Old High German . This also destroyed the conventional diglossia of writing in Latin but speaking Romansh. In official usage, Latin remained dominant for centuries.

    Under the Capetians , Paris and the Ile-de-France gradually emerged as the political center of France, as a result of which the local dialect, French , matured into a standard language . In the east of the country, in Burgundy , Champagne and Lorraine , there was an eastern French dialect group. Due to the increasingly centralized politics, the other dialects were strongly pushed back in the following centuries. After William the Conqueror ascended the English throne in 1066, Norman French became the language of the English nobility for two centuries . During this time, the English language was heavily influenced by French, but French also by Norman , as evidenced by words such as crevette, quai and the cardinal points sud, nord , etc.

    Franz I. (François I er ): French becomes the official language in France

    With the Albigensian Crusades in the 13th century, France expanded its territory to the south ( Corsica followed later ), and the culture and language of the victorious north were imposed on the south. The Occitan was initially expelled from the official, during the 19th and 20th century also from the private use of language; a similar development happened to Low German (with High German ) in northern Germany. This waned the importance of Occitan (see above), which was previously a prestigious language of culture and literature .

    On August 15, 1539, Francis I , the second French king of the Renaissance era , issued the Edict of Villers-Cotterêts , whereby French replaced Latin as the office language . Since then, French has been the official language in France.

    In terms of linguistic history, the period from 842 to around 1340 is used to speak of Old French , l'ancien français , and from 1340 to around 1610 of Middle French , le moyen français .

    Further development in modern times

    In 1635, Cardinal Richelieu founded the Académie française , which still exists today , which deals with the "standardization and maintenance of the French language". From the 17th century, French became the lingua franca of the European nobility, initially in Central Europe, and in the 18th and 19th centuries also in Eastern Europe ( Poland , Russia , Romania ); numerous Gallicisms found their way into the languages ​​of Europe. For centuries, French was spoken by the nobility and intellectuals of Europe and was considered the language of the court and the educated. Even today, words such as manners, noblesse, cavalier, etiquette or conversation testify to the strong reliance on French customs and traditions. During this time France developed into a colonial power and thus laid the foundation for today's spread of the French language outside Europe and the French Creole languages . Belgium , which emerged from the United Netherlands in 1830 , also acquired a colony ( Belgian Congo ) and introduced the French language there.

    In the 18th century, French took over the domain of international relations and diplomacy (previously: Latin ) as the language of the nobility . After the French Revolution and the failure of Napoleonic great power politics, which brought about nationalism and freedom movements of the subject peoples, the use of French declined sharply; the emerging middle classes in Germany, for example, thought nationally and spoke German.

    With the rise of the English-speaking United Kingdom to the dominant colonial power in the 19th century and the English-speaking United States of America to become a superpower in the 20th century , English became the de facto main language of the world and displaced French from large parts of diplomacy, politics and the world Trade. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919 was no longer written in French alone, but also in English. As a counterweight to the British Commonwealth , President Charles de Gaulle , who was keen to maintain the country's international status , built up a system of cultural relations between the motherland and former colonies since the beginning of the Fifth Republic , including the Organization internationale de la Francophonie , the world federation of all French-speaking countries.

    In 1977, Canada went into law 101 making French the only official language in the province of Québec .

    With decentralization in the 1980s, the regional languages and dialects in France were given more freedom, which resulted in a revival. In 1994, the Loi Toubon , named after the Minister of Culture, was passed in France : a law aimed at protecting the French language. According to this, Anglicisms should be deliberately avoided in official language usage: accordingly, for example, the computer is called l'ordinateur and the walkman le baladeur .

    According to a demographic analysis by Canada's Université Laval and Agence universitaire de la Francophonie , the number of French speakers will be 500 million in 2025 and 650 million in 2050. In 2050 this would make up seven percent of the world's population. The main reason for this strong increase is the rapid population growth in Arab and African countries.


    The pronunciation and melody of the French language pose problems for many German speakers, as French contains several sounds that are unknown in German. These include above all the nasal sounds . The emphasis also differs from the German: A word group (or a single word) is emphasized on the last syllable.

    Further difficulties arise in learning the written language because the typeface and pronunciation have diverged for centuries. The pronunciation follows quite simple, consistent rules without many exceptions from the spelling. Conversely, however, the script contains many historical elements that are missing in the pronunciation and cannot be derived from it.

    Phoneme inventory


    Vowel trapezoid for the French language

    French has 11 to 16 vowel phonemes, depending on how they are counted; all are monophthongs :

    • Oral vowels:
      • seven leading vowels, including both rounded and unrounded:
        • / i /: si - / si / - if
        • / y /: su - / sy / - (he knew)
        • / e /: fée - / fe / - Fee
        • / ø /: ceux - / / - this
        • / ɛ /: sait - / / - (he) white
        • / œ /: sœur - / sœʁ / - sister
        • / a /: sa - / sa / - his
      • three to four back vowels, including both rounded and unrounded:
        • / ɑ /: pâte - / pɑt / - dough
        • / ɔ /: sort - / sɔʁ / - fate
        • / o /: sot - / so / - stupid
        • / u /: sous - / su / - under
      • the central vowel Schwa :
        • / ə /: ce - / / - this
    • Nasal vowels :
      • two leading vowels, one of which is rounded and the other unrounded:
        • / ɛ̃ /: brin - / bʁɛ̃ / - stalk
        • / œ̃ /: brun - / bʁœ̃ / - brown
      • two back vowels, one of which is rounded and the other unrounded:
        • / ɑ̃ /: sans - / sɑ̃ / - without
        • / ɔ̃ /: son - / sɔ̃ / - to be , sound

    The oppositions / ɑ / - / a / and / œ̃ / - / ɛ̃ / are disappearing or are already being ignored by the majority of the speakers, usually in favor of the latter phoneme. As a result, earlier minimal pairs for speakers who do not have one of the two phonemes become homophones .

    The nasal vowels

    The nasal vowels always appear when the vowel is followed by an “m” or “n” and then another consonant or the end of the word. In these cases the “m” or “n” only serves to indicate the nasal pronunciation of the vowel in front of it. In the following, the nasal pronunciation is clarified by the tilde [̃]:

    If the "m" or "n" is followed by the same consonant or a vowel, then no nasalization occurs:

    • grammaire - [ ɡʁaˈmɛʁ ] - grammar
    • pomme - [ pɔm ] - apple
    • Anne - [ to ] - Anne (first name)
    • une - [ yn ] - one

    Exceptions: With the prefixes em- and en- , the nasalization is retained (e.g. emmancher, emménager, emmerder, emmitoufler, emmener, ennoblir, ennuyer ), with im- it only rarely applies (immangeable immanquable) . Imports from English to -ing (faire du shopping) and from the scientific language to -um (read as an exception: [ɔm] , e.g .: uranium ) do not nasalize.


    French has 20 to 21 consonant phonemes, depending on whether the phoneme / ŋ / is counted:

    • six plosives:
      • / p /: pou - / pu / - louse
      • / b /: boue - / bu / - mud
      • / t /: tout - / tu / - everything
      • / d /: doux - / du / - soft
      • / k /: cou - / ku / - neck
      • / ɡ /: goût - / ɡu / - taste
    • four nasals:
      • / m /: mou - / mu / - soft
      • / n /: nous - / nu / - we
      • / ɲ /: agneau - / aɲo / - lamb
      • / ŋ /: parking - / paʁkiŋ / - parking space
    • six fricatives:
      • / f /: fou - / fu / - crazy
      • / v /: vous - / vu / - you
      • / s /: sous - / su / - under
      • / z /: zoo - / zo / - zoo
      • / ʃ /: chou - / ʃu / - cabbage
      • / ʒ /: joue - / ʒu / - cheek
    • three approximants:
      • / w /: soin - / swɛ̃ / - care
      • / j /: sien - / sjɛ̃ / - be, you
      • / ɥ /: suint - / sɥɛ̃ / - wool fat
    • a lateral approximant:
      • / l /: loup - / lu / - wolf
    • the phoneme / r / regional or, in older pronunciation, also as one of the following variants: Voiceless uvular fricative [ χ ] (after voiceless consonants, e.g. proche , huitre ), voiced uvular vibrant [ ʀ ], voiced alveolar vibrant [ r ], Voiced alveolar tap [ ɾ ].
    bilabial labio-
    alveolar post-
    palatal labio-
    velar uvular
    stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth. stl. sth.
    Plosives p b t d k G
    Nasals m n ɲ ( ŋ )
    Vibrants r (outdated / reg.) ʀ (outdated / reg.)
    Fricatives f v s z ʃ ʒ χ (reg.) ʁ
    Approximants ɥ j w
    Lateral  approximants l

    The phoneme / ŋ / occurs almost exclusively in foreign words from English ; by some French it is realized as [ n ].

    Mute characters

    Due to its history, in which the pronunciation has partly changed clearly but the spelling has not changed at all, the French language has a very large proportion of silent characters. Entire groups of characters can remain silent, especially at the end of a word.

    Beginning of word

    An h at the beginning of the word remains silent. However, it is - between two different - especially from said historical reasons h distinguished: In addition to the originally from the Latin writing tradition h there is the h aspiré ( "breath- h "), which is silent until the 16th century in the debate. This h aspiré has indirect effects on pronunciation to this day:

    1. The definite article in the singular has the same form before h aspiré as before any word that begins with a consonant, cf. le haricot "the bean", la haine "the hate".
    2. There is no liaison (see below) before a word that begins with h aspiré , cf. les | haricots "the beans", ils | hates "they hate".

    Consonant at the end of the word

    If the consonant at the end of the word is a -t (except after s ), a grammatically conditioned -s or -x, one of these two letters in place names, the ending -d in the verbs ending in -dre, the finite verb ending -nt or a German - g in place names, it is not pronounced, and any preceding p, t, c / k, b, d, are not pronounced before it .

    • hau t - [ o ] - "high" ( masculine form, singular )
    • sui s - [ sɥi ] - "(I) am" / "(I) follow" / "(you) follow"
    • peu x - [ ] - "(I) can" / "(you) can"
    • Pari s - [ paʁi ] - "Paris"
    • Bordeau x - [ bɔʁdo ] - "Bordeaux"
    • donne nt - [ dɔn ] - "give (them)" (at the end of a word is also a [⁠ ə ⁠] failed)
    • atten d - [ atɑ̃ ] - "(he / she / it / man) is waiting"
    • Strasbourg g - [ stʁazbuʁ ] - "Strasbourg"
    • rom pt - [ ʁɔ̃ ] - "(he / she / it / man) breaks"

    Furthermore, a mute r

    • the infinitives of verbs ending in -e r like donne r "give",
    • the trade names on -e r like boulange r (fem. boulangère ) "baker" and
    • the masculine of most adjectives ending in -e r / -ère, but with the exceptions cher "expensive" and fier "proud", where the r is also spoken in the masculine .

    Furthermore, asse z have "enough", che z "bei" and the verb forms ending in -e z (2nd P. Pl.) Have mute z . The adjectives ending in (in the feminine) -ille have in the masculine dumb l ( genti l [ ʒɑ̃ti ], gentille [ ʒɑ̃ti j ə ] "friendly"); in Liaison is this as double l, ie According mnemonic as the feminine pronounced ( genti l homme [ ʒɑti j ɔm ] "Gentleman").

    The consonant falls out irregularly at

    • vain c - [ vɛ̃ ] - "wins"
    • assie d etc. - [ asje ] "sets"
    • pie d - [ pje ] - "foot" and
    • cle f - [ kle ] - "key" (hence now mostly written clé )
    • e st - [ ɛ ] - "is".

    In certain word combinations, an otherwise silent final consonant is pronounced when the next word begins with a vowel (so-called liaison ). This includes the following connections, among others:

    • indefinite article (masculine) plus adjective or noun: u n ami - [ œ̃ n ‿ami ] - "a friend"
    • certain article in the plural plus adjective or noun: le s amis - [ le z ami ] - "the friends"
    • Verbs in the 3rd person plus personal pronouns: es t -il - [ ɛ t ‿il ] - "is he?"
    • Adjective before noun.

    In principle, apart from punctuation marks, liaison can always be made, but not after infinitives with -er and probably also not after professional names with -er .

    Vowel at the end of a word

    Even an e at the end of a word is mostly silent. The consonant in front of it in the script is to be articulated.

    The apostrophes (see below) is a very similar process, but appears in the typeface; an a can be omitted there for the female article . Where an h aspiré prevents apostrophes, the e cannot be omitted in pronunciation either, at least in high-level language:


    In the rare clusters of consonants, one or the other letter is often only a mute remnant of the etymology because it stood in the way of the euphoria:

    • le doigt - [ ləˈdwa ] - the finger, the toe
    • les doigts - [ leˈdwa ] - the fingers, the toes

    Occasionally, however, silent consonants appear again at the end of a word in the pronunciation when the following word starts with a vowel. A so-called liaison is then made, i.e. both words are pronounced together.

    • vous - [ vu ] - you / her
    • vous êtes - [ vuˈzɛːt ] - you are / you are

    Since the h is not spoken in French , a liaison is made with many words that begin with h .

    • deux - [ ] - two
    • deux heures - [ døˈzœʁ ] - two o'clock / two hours

    However, a liaison is not always carried out. In some cases, both are possible.

    There are also a number of words that begin with an “aspirated h” (h aspiré) . This h remains mute as well, but its existence to a certain extent preserves the autonomy of the word, i.e. no liaison is made.

    Rules of thumb

    For the pronunciation of certain letters or groups of letters, rules can usually be found quickly, which are also valid in most cases.

    Letter (s) pronunciation Remarks
    à [ a ] only in: à "an etc." (on the other hand a "has"), là "there" (on the other hand la "the"), derived from this voilà, and in the rare çà "da" (on the other hand ça "that").
    æ [ ɛ ], [ e ] occurs only in Latin foreign words
    ai [ ɛ ] does not apply if the "i" belongs to the letter group "ill". High Linguistically exceptionally [ e ] in j'ai "I" Ind. (Contrast j'aie "I" Subj.), And the forms of Passé simple ( depending Donnai "I gave", however, depending donnais "I gave" seed. ) and future tense simple (je ferai “I will do”, on the other hand je ferais “I would do”).
    on [ ɑ̃ ] if nasalization (see comments above)
    c [ s ] or [ k ] [ s ] before "e", "i" and "y", also with diacritical marks , otherwise [ k ]
    ç [ s ] only before “a”, “o” and “u”, also with diacritical marks
    ch [ ʃ ] [ k ] before "r", otherwise in a few exceptions (e.g. charisme )
    e [ ɘ ], [ ɛ ] and [ e ]

    Failure of [ ɘ ] see above. [ ɛ ] before several consonants, x or a closing consonant, even if it is mute, with the exception of -s and -nt in the verb plural. [ e ] before mute “r”, mute “z” and in mes, tes, ses, des, les, ces and et. Exception: femme [ fam ] "woman".
    é [ e ] [ ɛ ] the exception z. B. in médecin and the second in événement
    è, ê [ ɛ ]
    (e) au [ o ] instead of the usual "s", it is followed by an equally silent "x"
    en [ ɛ̃ ]
    next to [ ɑ̃ ]
    when nasalization. This is also omitted in the finite verb forms ending in "-ent". Although mostly associated with the sound [ ɛ̃ ], it only occurs in a stressed position; otherwise and also with the word «en» and the stressed ending -ent (e) one speaks [ ɑ̃ ].
    eu mostly [ ø ] (next to [ œ ])
    except for [ y ] at eu "had". For gageure (since the spelling reform in 1990 also gageüre written) they say / ɡaʒyʁ /, as it is gage is + "-ure". x instead of s as above.
    G [ ʒ ] or [ g ] [ ʒ ] before “e”, “i” and “y”, also with diacritical marks, otherwise [ g ]. In conjugation, and in gageure so, silent (not just muted) "e" can occur: nous mangeons from manger.
    gu [ ɡ ] only before “e” and “i”, also with diacritical marks, also before “a”, “o” and “u” in conjugated verb forms, e.g. E.g . : nous conjuguâmes, nous conjuguons . If u is spoken [ ɥ ] itself , it is provided with a trema (ü).
    (a) in [ ɛ̃ ] when nasalization.
    ill after vowels [ j ] elsewhere [ ij ], rarely [ il ]

    “Ill” is pronounced as / j / after vowels (e.g. canaille, nouille ). Elsewhere, “ill” is mostly spoken as / ij / ( fille, bille, grillage ). After words written with “-ill-” in Latin, / il / is pronounced (for ville, villa, mille, million ).
    j [ ʒ ]
    O [ ɔ ]
    O [ o ]
    on [ ɔ̃ ] when nasalization.
    œ [ œ ], [ e ]
    œu mostly [ œ ] (next to [ ø ])
    "X" instead of "s" as in eu. Special pronunciation (un) oeuf [ œf ], (deux) oeufs [ ø ]
    oi [ wa ], [ ] does not apply if the "i" belongs to the letter group "ill"
    ou [ u ], [ w ] the latter an engl. "W", before vowels (mainly at the beginning of the word)
    [ u ] only in "where".
    ph [ f ]
    q (u) [ k ] In a few words qu is spoken as [ kw ] ( aquarium )
    r [ ʁ ] closer to the German “ch” in “Bach” than to any other German way of speaking an “r”.
    s [ s ], [ z ] The latter is the soft "s". At the beginning of the word there is a sharp "s", with liaison always soft (difference in meaning ils sont [ ilsɔ̃ ] "they are", ils ont [ ilzɔ̃ ] "they have"). Otherwise difference as in the German high words.
    u [ y ], [ ɥ ] the latter like “w”, but formed with “ü” instead of the u sound.
    U.N [ œ̃ ] when nasalization. Pronunciation varies from [ ɛ̃ ].
    v [ v ] so German "w"
    w [ w ] or [ v ] Rare
    x [ ɡz ] or [ ks ] Liaisons-X is to be pronounced like "s".
    y [ i ] or [ j ] the preceding vowel is usually pronounced like a diphthong formed with "-i". In the case of ay , however, this only affects the frequently occurring words, namely pays [ pɛi ] "Land" and the verbs ending in -ayer . Never speak German "ü".
    z [ z ]
    Vowel + m Nasal vowel as with + n.

    The apostrophes

    French its sound gets not only by eliminating the pronunciation ( elision ) "unnecessary" consonants, but also by the omission of vowels, especially the [⁠ ə ⁠] so that it no accumulation ( hiatus comes); see above. In certain grammatical circumstances, this is also followed by the spelling and indicated by an apostrophe.

    • ce [ ] "es" (before dark vowels with cedilla: ç ' ). Especially c'est [ ] "it is", c'était [ setɛ ] "it was", Qu'est-ce que c'est? [ kɛskəˈsɛ ] "What is that?"
    • que [ ] "what, how, that (s)" Instead of the quite common qu'on "that one", que l'on is considered more elegant.
    • each [ ʒə ] "I" before verb forms and the pronouns y and en . Example: j'ai [ ʒe ] "I have", J'en ai marre. [ ʒɑ̃neˈmaʁ ] "I'm sick of that!"
    • me [ ] "me"
    • te [ ] "you" example Je t'aime. [ ʒəˈtɛm ] "I love you."
    • se [ ] "itself"
    • ne [ ] is the negative particle (is often left out in colloquial language). Example: Je n'habite pas en France [ ʒənabitˈpɑ (z) ɑ̃fʁɑ̃s ] “I don't live in France.” By the way, German not corresponds to French pas, not ne .

    Except [⁠ ə ⁠] a case is also used in each case [⁠ a ⁠] or [⁠ i ⁠] omitted:

    • la [ la ] “die” (feminine article), e.g. B. l'huile "the oil" (with h must !)
    • si [ si ] "falls" (conjunction), only in s'il "falls he".

    In everyday language also is [⁠ y ⁠] in tu like omitted (as in t'as instead of tu as ).

    Before an h aspiré (see above) it cannot be shortened.


    As a rule, homographs are also homophones in French , with exceptions:

    • (le / les) fils [ fis ] "(the / the) son / sons" - (les) fils [ fil ] "(the) threads"
    • (tu) as [ a ] "(you) have" - (un) as [ ɑs ] (an) ace
    • (il) est [ ɛ ] "(he) is" - (l ') est [ ɛst ] "(the) east"
    • (nous) portions [ pɔʁ.tjɔ̃ ] "(we) carried" - (les) portions [ pɔʁ.sjɔ̃ ] "(the) parts"
    • (le) couvent [ ku.vɑ̃ ] "(the) monastery" - (ils) couvent [ kuv ] "(they) brood"
    • (le) lot [ lo ] "(the) lot" - (le) Lot [ lɔt ] "(the) river Lot"


    French is a Romance language ; that is, it emerged from ancient Latin . As in many other languages ​​of this branch of language, such as Spanish or Italian , the French grammar is characterized by the fact that the declensions of Latin have been deleted, in some cases with the exception of the personal pronouns (e.g. je - me, tu - te). French has two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. The articles that are used evolved from the Latin demonstrative pronouns . In addition, the inflection of the verbs has changed in several tenses, which are now constructed with the auxiliary verb and participle.

    The structure of language in French is as follows: subject - verb - object . This rule is only broken when the object is a pronoun . In this case the sentence order is: subject - object - verb. Some archaisms , which are also typical of Romance languages, deviate from this rule, especially in the subordinate clause.

    Language example

    General Declaration of Human Rights :

    «Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doués de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité. »

    "[ Tu lez‿ɛtʁəz‿ymɛ̃ nɛs libʁ‿e ego ɑ̃ diɲite e ɑ̃ dʁwa il sɔ̃ dwe də ʁɛzɔ̃ e də kɔ̃sjɑ̃s e dwavt‿aʒiʁ lez‿œ̃z‿ɑ̃vɛ lez‿otʁ dɑ̃z‿œ̃n‿ɛspʁi də fʁɑtɛʁnite ]"

    “All people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should meet one another in a spirit of brotherhood. "

    Language traps: false friends ("faux-amis")

    The following articles deal with the typical mistakes that can occur when learning and translating the French language:

    See also


    Web links

    Wikibooks: French  - learning and teaching materials
    Wiktionary: French  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
    Wiktionary: Category: French  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations
    Commons : French language  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
    Commons : French pronunciation  - album of pictures, videos and audio files
    Wikisource: French dictionaries  - sources and full texts

    Individual evidence

    1. [1] (website, in French, accessed November 14, 2018)
    2. Qui parle français dans le monde - Organization internationale de la Francophonie - Langue française et diversité linguistique. Retrieved November 14, 2018 (fr-fr).
    3. Qui parle français dans le monde - Organization internationale de la Francophonie - Langue française et diversité linguistique. Retrieved November 14, 2018 (fr-fr).
    4. La langue française dans le monde 2010. La Francophonie, accessed on January 24, 2013 (French)
    5. Languages ​​in the EU ( Memento of October 17, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
    6. Internships within the UN system
    7. European Union: Eurobarometer - Europeans and languages ( Memento of January 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), (PDF file, in English, accessed on September 6, 2006; 148 kB)
    8. World Population Prospects: The 2019 Revision. United Nations , accessed September 28, 2019 .
    9. Agora: La francophonie de demain. Retrieved June 13, 2011 .
    10. List d'organisations internationales ayant le français comme langue officielle in the French Wikipedia
    11. ( Memento from March 2, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
    14. ( Memento from July 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
    16. Guus Kroonen: Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic . Keyword "* þansōn-". Brill, Leiden 2013. page 534.
    17. Gérard Averdet: French: areal linguistics / Les aires linguistiques, IV Dialectes de l'Est.. In: Günter Holtus u. a. (Ed.): Lexicon of Romance Linguistics (LRL),: Vol. 5. French, Occitan, Catalan. 1. The individual Romance languages ​​from the Renaissance to the present: French. Tübingen 1990. pp. 654-671.
    18. For the infiltration of the French language into English see z. B. Hans-Dieter Gelfert: English with aha. Beck, 2008, ISBN 978-3-406-57148-0 (and other editions from other publishers).
    19. Cf. Joachim Grzega : Latin - French - English: Three Epochs of European Language and Vocabulary History. In: Grzega, Joachim, EuroLinguistic Parcours: Core knowledge of European language culture. Verlag für Interkulturelle Kommunikation, Frankfurt 2006, ISBN 3-88939-796-4 , pp. 73–114.
    20. Agora: La francophonie de demain. Retrieved June 13, 2011 .
    21. Bulletin de liaison du réseau démographie ( Memento of January 17, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 198 kB)
    22. Online language course by TV5 Monde : The stress on the final syllable
    23. Vowel triangle - frequency position of the first two formants (schematic for sound engineering) (PDF file; 230 kB)