French Pronunciation Fundamentals Part 4 : La Liaison

La liaison in French is a way for silent letters to get pronounced. It happens when a word ending with a silent letter comes before a word starting with a vowel.

For instance: Un + ami = un ami (= a friend ; the “n” is heard here)
Or, in a stranger way:

Quand est-ce que tu arrives ? = At what time do you arrive?
Here, the “d” in “Quand” isn’t silent anymore… but it sounds like “t” !

It’s confusing, I know! This is why a lot of French learners feel their written French and reading comprehension is at a vastly different level than their spoken French. And really struggle with spoken French when they can sort of read French decently!

Today, let’s try to make sense of la liaison. By practicing together!

Index:
1. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Basic Liaison
2. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Liaison & nasal sounds
3. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Liaison with pronouns & verbs
4. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Special expressions
5. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Final Examples
6. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Rules Recap

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1. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Basic Liaison

Rules are confusing, so for once, let’s get right into practicing. Train your ear with real modern French examples, remember a few template examples, get the feel for la liaison.

Just like French people do!

Here’s a first liaison:
Les copains (= buddies, pals)Les sounds like “Ley”, no liaison
Les amis (= friends)Liaison! Les = “Lez”, the silent “s” sounds like “z”.

Rule #1:
Les + vowel sounds like “Lez”
– Same Liaison after all determiners, such as:

  • Des (= some) → “dez”
  • Ces (= these) → “cez”
  • Un (= one, a) → nasal sound “un” + “n”
  • Mon (= my) → “Mon” (with nasal sound “on”) + “n”
  • Ton (= your), Ses (= his / her)…
  • And all numbers : Trois (= three,) etc.

Don’t worry! If you want, you’ll find written rules at the end of this lesson. As well as throughout this written lesson.

2. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Liaison & nasal sounds

Liaison also happens when an adjective comes before a singular noun.

As in: Bon appétit ! (= good appetite / enjoy your meal; an everyday polite expression that we use whenever we begin sharing a meal with someone.)

Bon (= good, with the nasal sound “on”) sounds like “Bonn” here. The liaison replaces the nasal sounds with a regular “o.”

Or in: un ancien ami (= an old friend, a former friend)
→ The “-ien” (= “i” + nasal sound “in”) can sound like “-ienn.” Or not! That’s the ambiguity of la liaison: it depends a lot on the speaker. Anyway, the silent “n” at the end of “ancien” is always pronounced.

However, there’s no liaison when the adjective comes after a singular noun.
Un instrument étrange (= a strange instrument) → No liaison between “instrument” and “étrange

Rule #2:
– Liaison after an adjective that comes before a noun (singular or plural).
– No liaison after a singular noun that comes before an adjective.

3. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Liaison with pronouns & verbs

There’s usually no liaison just before and just after a verb.
Un ancien ami parisien utilisait un instrument étrange. = An old Parisian friend was using a strange instrument.
→ No liaison with “utilisait” (= “was using,” verb)

There are exceptions, of course.

Subject pronouns (Nous, Vous, On, Ils, Elles) always make la liaison with the verb right after. In general, there’s always a liaison after a pronoun or preposition.
Elles ont embarqué dans un avion. (= They boarded a plane.)

Rule #3 :
– No liaison just before and just after a verb.
– Except for subject pronouns (before), always.
– And for the verbs “avoir” and “être” (after), but it’s optional, more formal.

Rule #4:
– There’s a liaison after most pronouns and prepositions.

4. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Special expressions

Sometimes la liaison is just weird, so you’d rather learn the expressions instead of the rules.
For instance:

  • Les États-Unis (= The United States.)
  • À tout à l’heure ! = See you soon!
  • Quand est-ce que… (= When is…) → A silent “d” with la liaison sounds like “t” !

That’s why we’d say:
Quand est-ce que tu arrives ? Je pensais que tu serais en avance. À tout à l’heure ! (= When are you coming? I thought you’d come early. See you later!)

5. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Final examples

In Rule #2, we’ve seen that there’s no liaison in “singular noun + adjective.” Well, in the plural, it’s optional.

Des amis alsaciens vont dans un restaurant asiatique.
= Friends from Alsace are going to an Asian food restaurant.
In “amis”, you can leave the “s” silent, or make it sound like “z” for more formality.

Now, let’s build up to our final example.

Rules used in final challenge:

  • Neuf (= “nine,’ determiner) + vowelThe “f” sounds like “v”
  • Chez (= [shey], “at,” preposition) + vowel → “z” is not silent… except before a proper noun!
  • Et (= “and,” preposition) + vowel → Never a liaison.
  • Silent “x” + liaison → sounds like “z” (as in Deux = “two”)

With these rules, how do you pronounce:
Neuf heures. = Nine hours.
Tu viens à neuf heures ? = You’re coming at nine ?
Tu viens à neuf heures chez un ami ? = Are you coming at nine to a friend’s house?
Tu viens à neuf heures chez Arthur ? = Are you coming at nine at Arthur’s place?

Tu viens à neuf heures chez Arthur et Apolline, avec des truffes et un ami ?
= Are you coming at nine at Arthur and Apolline’s house, with truffles and a friend?

Tu viens à neuf heures chez Arthur et Apolline, avec deux autres amis ?
= Are you coming at nine at Arthur & Apolline’s house with two other friends?

Watch the video lesson to check if you had the liaison in the right place!

Congratulations! I’m so proud of you for getting all the way to the end of this lesson. 🎉🎉🎉

Now you can revisit the whole set of French Pronunciation Fundamentals!

Click on the link to get your free lesson!

6. French Pronunciation Fundamentals: Rules Recap

Rule #1:
Les + vowel sounds likeLez
– Same Liaison after all determiners, such as:

  • Des (= some) → “dez”
  • Ces (= these) → “cez”
  • Un (= one, a) → nasal sound “un” + “n”
  • Mon (= my) → “Mon” (with nasal sound “on”) + “n”
  • Ton (= your), Ses (= his / her)…
  • And all numbers : Trois (= three,) etc.
  • Neuf (= “nine,’ determiner) + vowel → The “f” sounds like “v”

– Silent “x” + liaison → sounds like “z” (as in Deux = “two”)

Rule #2:
– Liaison after an adjective that comes before a noun (singular or plural).
– No liaison after a singular noun that comes before an adjective.

Rule #3 :
– No liaison just before and just after a verb.
– Except for subject pronouns (before), always.
– And for the verbs “avoir” and “être” (after), but it’s optional, more formal.

Rule #4:
– There’s an optional liaison after most pronouns and prepositions, like dans (= in), en (= in), sous (= under)

Special expressions:

  • Les États-Unis (= The United States.)
  • À tout à l’heure ! = See you soon!
  • Quand est-ce que… (= When is…) → A silent “d” with la liaison sounds like “t” !
  • Chez (= [shey], “at,” preposition) + vowel → “z” is not silent… except before a proper noun!
  • Et (= “and,” preposition) + vowel → Never a liaison after the word “et.”

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next lesson!


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