French Sounds: How to pronounce “ou” vs “u”

U” is a typical French sound, but it’s hard to pronounce for foreigners. My mom is Mexican, and she never spoke any French until moving to Paris 40 years ago. To this day, she still struggles with the “u” sound.

A simple sentence like Où es-tu ? (= Where are you?) is a tongue-twister for her — and for many other non-native French speakers!

And you? Did you hear the two different sounds in the video lesson? Ou and u ?

Today, let’s try to differentiate between those two sounds… and learn to pronounce them better! This lesson will help you boost your French oral comprehension and French speaking skills.

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1) Ou

“Ou” is a common French sound. This sound is quite common in other languages too, like in Spanish where it’s the sound for the letter “u”.

It’s pronounced like “oo” in English, as in “food,” but a bit more rounded.
Your tongue should touch your palate at the back of your mouth.
In the International Phonetic Alphabet, its symbol is the letter /u/.

Practice your French pronunciation with the video lesson! Can you say these words out loud?

Ou (= Or)
(= Where)
Nous (= We)
Vous (= You (Plural))
Sous (= Under)
Dessous (= Underneath)

As you might notice, the “s” is silent at the end of all these words. I dive deeper into this in my lesson about Dessus vs Dessous.

” (where) sounds just like “Ou” (or). The accent is only used to mark the difference in written French.

2) U

U is a strange French sound, especially for English speakers.
In the International Phonetic Alphabet, its symbol is the letter /y/… strangely.

How do you pronounce it?
Well, you can start by saying Ou… and then push the middle part of your tongue to the front of your mouth.

You can also say “eee” and, in the same breath, push your lips in a small O shape.

Try practicing with the video!

Can you pronounce these words in French?

Tu (= singular friendly “You”)
La musique [muzeek] (= music)
Une voiture [unn vwah turr] (= a car)
Super ! [supeyrr] (= super, wonderful)

3) “Ou” vs. “U”

Both sounds are quite similar to the untrained ear. But, when you’re able to notice the difference (when speaking and listening to French), you’ll understand French much better – and you’ll be much more clearly understood!

Like: Super cette robe ! Tu l’as eue où ?” (= Nice dress! Where did you get it?)

Tu es sûr ?” (= Are you sure?)
Tu es sourd ?” (= Are you deaf?)

Now can you hear the difference in the words I use in the video? Be sure to practice your French oral comprehension with the video!

Some French words that are opposites use the “ou / u” difference to distinguish themselves. For example, learn more in my lesson on French grammar: Tu vs Vous !

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

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Join the conversation!

  • For a Dane like me U and OU is one of the few easy aspects of French, because we have the same sounds but we don’t ude the same letters. A Dane uses Y when French use U , and a Dane uses U to sound like the French OU. When the French use Y the Danes would use I.

  • I learned the difference between u and ou the hard way. I was in staying with French friends in Normandy and trying to find a phone number for someone in Lugano, Switzerland. I said to the operator in French, “Je cherche un abonné a Lugano.” She replied, “Lugano n’existe pas.” I insisted that Lugano was a major city in Switzerland, but the operator continued to say there was no such place. One of my French friends was nearby and overheard the conversation. She grabbed the phone and said to the operator, “C’est Lugano, pas Lougano.” Problem solved!

  • Cette leçon est quelque chose de nécessaire
    pour créer une bonne prononciation en français.
    C’est toujours très intéressant d’entendre une
    leçon de la méthode correcte pour améliorer
    la conversation. J’apprécie beaucoup tout ce
    que tu as fait pour cet étudiant (moi) et pour
    toute la classe en même temps. Ce n’est pas
    une leçon qu’on doit oublier.
    Merci beaucoup Géraldine ~ 🙂

  • Géraldine, je vous remercie de toutes ces leçons. Malgré ayant étudié le français depuis 50 ans je trouve toujours vos conseils utiles.

    Quant à ‘ou’ et ‘u’… on se rend compte maintenant pourquoi le langage du contrôle du traffic aerièn est l’anglais !

    Amitiés, Brian Nicholson
    Coleshill
    Warwickshire

  • Still trying to pronounce it well thanks so much ,l also have problem with letter e ,ê,ï but especially e please l need your help, Merci
    Bonne journée.

  • The tip about starting to breathe out an “ee’ sound and form an “o” with your mouth is a good one. Did you know Scottish people don’t have the two standard English pronunciations of noodle “oo” as in “book” and “oo” as in “noodle” We use the second for either.

  • A l’universite aux USA on allait au laboratoire des langues pour nous entrainer. Je me souviens de beaucoup repeter “Tu as tout lu? Tu as tout bu? Tu as tout vu? Tu as tout su? etc!”

  • Une leçon très utile!
    Peut-être on peut examiner la prononciation de quelques terminaisons—par exemple j’irai vs. j’irais.
    …ou peut-être il n’y a pas de différence ?? Je me demande…
    Comme anglophone, je trouve aussi les verbes que se terminent avec ‘ir’ très difficile à prononcer dans la forme conditionnel– comme : il/elle obéirait. Je ne sais pas ou il faut mettre le ‘r’- dans la gorge ou sur les lèvres 😊 Merci Géraldine !

  • Une leçon très utile!
    Peut-être on peut examiner la prononciation de quelques terminaisons—par exemple j’irai vs. j’irais.
    …ou peut-être il n’y a pas de différence ?? Je me demande…
    Comme anglophone, je trouve aussi les verbes que se terminent avec ‘ir’ très difficile à prononcer dans la forme conditionnel– comme : il/elle obéirait. Je ne sais pas ou il faut mettre le ‘r’- dans la gorge ou sur les lèvres 😊 Merci Géraldine !

  • Geraldine – in English the two sounds are like FOOD (which you pointed out) or like FEUD (for the other sound). I think this gives English speakers a hint at the difference.

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