How do you pronounce…
- Un écureuil = a squirrel?
- Un fauteuil = an armchair?
- Un accueil = welcome / hospitality / an entrance lobby?
These French words have a strange spelling and strange pronunciation, thanks to their use of the “euil” sound. But, don’t panic! I’m going to walk you through it.
Today, let’s see how you can pronounce and read the sound “euil.”
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1. Deconstructing the sound
In the word un fauteuil (= an armchair), the sound “-euil” sounds (and looks) intimidating.
Here’s a tip: it can be divided in two sounds… eu + “ye” (/j/ in the phonetic alphabet)
- “eu” is the French “e” sound in le (= the) or jeune (= young).
→ It sounds like an English “uh”
- “il” is pronounced [“ye” = /j/], as in the middle sound of the French words payer (= to pay) or mouillé (= wet).
→ It sounds like the beginning of the English “Yes”
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2. Other spellings
A sound in French almost always has several spellings.
For instance, the sound [“euil”] can be spelled:
- “euille.” For feminine nouns, for instance.
→ Une feuille (= a leaf, or a sheet of paper.)
- “ueil.” So that the c or g that comes before it keeps its “hard” sound.
→ In French, the letters “c” and “g” sound like [k] / [g] (as in “car” / “gift”) before a u, but like [s] / [jj] (as in “mercy” / “giraffe”) before a e.
→ L’accueil (= a welcome, hospitality, or an entrance lobby)
- “Un œil” (= an eye.) This is a special case, in its own category.
→ œ = “l’e-dans-l’o” = “the e inside the o.” It’s a letter that pops up in a few French words, like “un œuf” [“uhff”] (= an egg.)
By the way, the plural of “un œil” is: des yeux (= eyes) [“yuh”]
3. Final challenge: écureuil
Fauteuil is easy to pronounce, once you’ve practiced the “euil” sound. Indeed, “Faut-” roughly sounds like “phot-” in the English word “photography.” So there’s no trick here.
However, here’s an extra challenge for you:
Un écureuil. (= a squirrel)
It’s a mix of:
– The French é
– The French u
– The hard French “r”
– The sound “euil”
→ [Ek – uugh – “euil”]
Listen to my pronunciation in the video above, and try to practice it yourself!
Here are some more lessons to help you out with these specific issues of French pronunciation:
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À tout de suite.
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